Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…


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Evaluating Project Awesome (Part 2)

Continuing on from my last post I’m going to assess how well #projectAwesome13 went in meeting the final 4 essential elements of project based learning from BIE.

 

Need to knows

The driving question for project awesome was ‘How can we teach others about the importance of sharing life stories’? In order to answer this question, students needed to know the features of a life story.

What makes a life story interesting? What can we learn from the life stories of others, and how can this information help/benefit others? What are the key events that make up that particular person’s life story? What are the key events in my life that I think are interesting, memorable and worth sharing?

Students designed project products which also demanded that students knew how to see through the process of production from beginning to end. Most of these products included a technological aspect, with many students deciding to create videos.

All of the life story products were planned using mind mapping and timeline tools with which students brainstormed and sequenced their interesting and significant life events.

For the students who made videos, these timelines were used to create a script which then formed the basis of a voiceover for their life stories.

For Project Awesome, I’d say the established need to knows were:

Concepts (life stories – around the DQ)

Knowledge (life stories – around the DQ and also of language features used by others to create an interesting life story)

NB: for above we read and analysed The Little Refugee as well as several ‘Draw My Life’ videos to help students gain this knowledge.

Skills (the technological skills to create their products and the ability to plan and produce these by the presentation deadline; presentation and team-work skills)

Project Awesome was my first ever attempt at PBL and I think it went pretty well. However in regards to establishing need to knows, I think that in future I’d like to think through this aspect of a project in a bit greater detail at the planning stage.

In fairness, planning for #projectAwesome13 was a little unconventional, as much of the planning was done via Google docs with Michael living in a rural community some seven or eight hundred kilometres away. Also I was honestly very excited about the idea of being lucky enough to try PBL during my practicum, so perhaps it’s understandable that some of this was overlooked at the planning stage.

Having said that, however, as mentioned above I think there was still a lot that students needed to know in order to get through Project Awesome.

 

Voice and choice

I’ve mentioned this previously, but one of the things I’m really happy with is that at the beginning of #projectAwesome13 we gave the students the choice between two DQs. As I’ve already said, this resulted in a conversation with students around the differences between the two and how this altered the projects, making one a little bit more tricky than the other. I’ve also previously mentioned that students ended up going for the trickier project.

Some good things about this were:

a)    giving students the choice between two DQs allowed them some ownership and direction over what they were doing

b)   by choosing the trickier DQ and project students were openly accepting to be more challenged

c)    the trickier DQ and project permitted a greater range of products, this allowed students a greater freedom to choose what they were going to do and make in answering the DQ

One day I’d like to have the kind of classroom that (at least from time to time) that has the kind of trusting teacher-student relationship whereby we can look at the curriculum together and negotiate some cool, student-led ways in which we can approach it together. This didn’t happen with Project Awesome, but I still believe that we gave students a good deal of freedom (and responsibility) as to how and what they were doing. 

 

Incorporate revision and reflection

Reflection … aagh, there’s that word again! Lulz.

I think that #projectAwesome13 did pretty well in relation to this element of PBL.

The project included a project wall, on to which we’d post things related to what students were doing. The project wall also had a KWL table which we referred back to quite regularly, noting down things that the students had learned and making sure that we had answered the ‘want to knows’.

We also held a couple of Skype sessions with the year 8 students from Davidson High School in which students discussed what each of the classes had been learning. These were quite good, informal discussions between the classes whereby Bianca, Michael or I would pose a question for one of the classes to answer, a student or two would nominate themselves to answer it and share what they’d been learning. These discussions characteristically focused on similarities and differences between the texts that they were reading.

Typically, each session would begin with a discussion of what we had been doing in the previous session, allowing students to recap and figure out where they were.

One of the final tasks that the 3456 students had to do was complete a short interview video answering the DQ. This was a reflective task in which students revisited the KWL table and were asked to again focus on what they had learned, giving at least one answer to the following three questions:

  1. What have you learned from reading The Little Refugee?
  2. What have you learned from connecting with the Davo kids?
  3. What have you learned about the importance of sharing life stories?

Finally, students presented their work at an end of project presentation, and several of the students got up to speak to the parents and other students about what they had been learning.

I think when incorporating revision and reflection into projects like this it is important not to ‘force it’. Something like a project wall with a KWL, KWHL, PMI or some other reflective table or tool is good because it allows you to go back and discuss what everybody has learned and assess how well the project is going.

The DQ itself is also a good way of evaluating where everybody is at, and I found myself looking at the DQ and assessing whether or not we’d looked into it deeply enough.

 

Public Audience

The public audience for Project Awesome included YouTube, where students were posting their video introductions to the Davo kids, their answer to the DQ and also their final products if they were making videos.

The year 5 & 6 students also have class blogs and wherever it was appropriate they would post #projectAwesome stuff there too, for example the 6 word memoirs that they did at the very beginning of their project, as well as their video products at the end of the project.

I’ve mentioned that they connected with the Davo kids, who provided an audience for what they were doing and making in class as well a peer group to discuss what they’d been learning.

Finally, Project Awesome culminated in a presentation at which the class presented everything they’d been doing to their parents, grandparents, and the students in years K – 2.

We weren’t able to track down an expert, or ‘rock star’ for the project, and this is something that I should have considered more deeply at the beginning. Some of the students filled out Anh Do’s contact form at his website to see if he’d be interested, but as is understandable, given the short notice, his people didn’t respond.

Having an expert is something that I think would add a degree of authenticity to a project and something that I want to make happen in future.

Well, there you go. That’s my evaluation of #projectAwesome13, my first ever attempt at PBL. Now I can stop spamming with #projectAwesome13 stuff!

I think it went pretty well, and I’m pretty keen to have another go during my upcoming internship.


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Evaluating #ProjectAwesome13 in relation to BIE’s ‘8 essential elements’ (part 1).

I’ll have to warn you. This post is quite long. I didn’t intend for it to be, it just ended up that way. I ended up cutting this task in two. I’ll post about the other four elements later.

I’m not much into the word ‘reflection’ as a descriptor of the process of evaluating how things have been going.
Maybe it’s because I’ve heard the word used so many times at university and elsewhere that it seems to have been ‘watered down’, not as meaningful as perhaps originally intended, or maybe it’s because I’m a cynical bastard who wants to pick things apart. I do think however, that if we are actually intending to add some purpose to the process of what many call ‘reflection’, we should be doing more than simply looking back on past events, revisiting them, seeing what happened. We should be evaluating what went well and what didn’t, with the intent of utilising this insight to increase the likelihood that similar events will have better outcomes in the future.
I hasten to add that this evaluative process is probably what most people are doing when they speak of ‘reflection’. But I stand by my assertion that reflection is not strong enough a word.

Insomuch as it might seem a mere matter of semantics, I reckon the word ‘evaluation’ is better, and that’s what I’m going to use from now on.

I recently completed my second prac, a month-load of fun up at North Star Public School. Whilst there, my supervising teacher (the awesome Michael Sky), the class (The Phenomenal 15) and I worked together on ‘Project Awesome’ – a PBL project on life stories.

The purpose of this post is to evaluate (reflect on) how that project went. As part of this evaluation I’m going to assess how well the project was able to achieve, or approach achieving the 8 essential elements of PBL as provided in this checklist here by the BIE.

1. Significant content

When we first started planning this project, Michael and I were unsure whether or not we had significant content covered. However when I revisit some of the stuff that the 3456 kids did, I become more confident that #projectAwesome13 had significant content at the core of its focus.
To begin with, this was a project focused on the NSW English Syllabus and, whilst I’m satisfied that students were able to achieve the intended syllabus outcomes of the project, I think that they learned more than that.
For example, I consider skills such as extensive planning and working toward a deadline as important skills for primary aged children to learn, and even though I hadn’t necessarily considered this as much as I should have at the time of planning the project, these skills were absolutely essential for students to learn in order to get their products finished on time.

For evidence of how tough this was at times, you can look at some of my previous posts, if you want.

Admittedly, some students were better than others at this planning process and definitely need to hone their skills in this area, but I think that with additional interesting and motivating projects in future, these skills would develop quite naturally.
Also, the 3456 students connected with a year 8 class from Davidson High School as part of this project, and this connection lead them to consider the lives and perspectives of those living in a different part of Australia. There were several classroom discussions around how, despite their differences, students from each of the classes were ultimately not as different from each other as they might have originally thought. ‘Different but similar’ was a phrase that regularly came up in class.

I believe the above to be important issues for primary students to engage with and I have confidence that significant content was a strong focus of Project Awesome. Rad.

2. 21st Century Skills

I don’t think that skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication and problem solving are necessarily 21st Century skills, but I definitely agree that they’re important skills, worth practising and it’s debatable whether anybody would learn them very well in a ‘traditional’ or ‘drill and kill’ classroom.

Here are some memorable ways that I think these skills were demonstrated by the NS kids during project awesome.

Critical thinking/problem solving

We all considered important aspects of sharing life stories:

Why is it important to do so? How much do you know about your family history? How can your experiences benefit, enlighten those of others (vice versa)? What makes a life story entertaining? What are the key themes, messages of that person’s life story, what can we learn from those? How are you going to visually represent your life story? How much time will that take?

These are some of the questions that we continued to revisit throughout the  project, I’d call that critical thinking.

Much of the problem solving came through students working through how to get their products completed, both through technical difficulties and keeping the process manageable within the timeframe, by the deadline.

Collaboration

I think that there are at least a couple of senses of the word collaboration. One sense might be ‘everybody working on the same thing, all of the time’. And if that’s your sense of collaboration, then I’d say that collaboration was not fundamentally part of #projectawesome13.

However I think that there is another sense of the word collaboration which includes working together toward some kind of common goal, a shared interest, at various times, at varying degrees of intensity, depending on what other commitments each party might have.

In the absence of shared goals, a further sense of the word collaboration might involve the shared conversations and feedback which occur as people discuss with one another what they are doing and why, and help each other toward achieving this goal by sharing their insights.

As students worked together through Project Awesome 13, the latter two senses of collaboration above were certainly part of their learning experiences.

For example, answering the DQ ‘How can we teach others about the importance of sharing life stories?’ was a goal that the class shared, revisited regularly.

Part of this process involved continual updating of a KWL table which was on the project wall at the back of the room.

Also, as the students were working on a range of products depending on choice, they tended to work together in groups based on the type of product they were creating, for example, those making their own life stories in Minecraft tended to work together in collaborative groups, as did students making ‘Draw My Life’ representations of their life stories. This was a naturally collaborative process.

Additionally, even when students were working on different products to their peers, they would often provide feedback, encouragement and direction for others’work – much in line with the latter sense of collaboration above.

So I guess I’m confident that Project Awesome included collaboration as one of its elements.

I also think that the end product of a project dictates how much collaboration takes place, there would be less collaboration on a single person PowerPoint presentation than a class garden, for instance.

Communication

I could be facetious and say that the manner in which this ’21st Century skill’ was part of/developed through/used during #projectAwesome13 ‘speaks for itself’ … but I won’t.

I’ve mentioned how students were providing each other feedback and encouragement throughout the process of developing their products. There is also the fact that at the very beginning of the project Michael and I gave the students the choice between two projects, involving slightly different DQs and products. As part of doing this we ended up discussing the difference between the two projects, and ultimately getting students to commit to completing the project which we all thought was the most challenging.

There were also some deep classroom discussions around some of the themes in The Little Refugee (the picture book we analysed throughout the project). The students connected with a year8 class at Davidson, and had several discussions via Twitter and Skype around the texts they were reading in class, their pastimes and daily life in general.

Also, the things that the students were making as part of Project Awesome were fundamentally communicative, visual representations of their life stories.

Finally, the project ended in a presentation whereby students showed their parents what they had been doing in class, with several of the students explaining some of the process to those present, including the students in years K-2! 🙂

Taking the above considerations into account, I would say that #projectAwesome13 helped students to further develop their collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving and communication – AKA ’21st Century Skills’. I would say that important elements of the Quality Teaching Framework such as substantive communication and higher order thinking were part of the above situations too.

3. In Depth Inquiry

In the checklist linked to above, BIE defines this as a process whereby “Students are engaged in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, using resources, and developing answers”.

I’m unsure of how ‘in depth’ the inquiry was as part of #projectAwesome13, but students were definitely engaged in a process similar to the that described above.

As we read The Little Refugee students had many questions to ask about Anh Do’s experiences as a refugee and subsequent life in Australia. As we connected with the Davidson students, each group had many questions to ask of each other, many of these questions and discussions related to making connections between the texts they were reading and the lives they were living. When it came time for students to create their own representations of their life stories, there were many questions around what constituted events that might be deemed interesting enough (or not) to share, and how was the best way to do this. The students used mind maps, timelines, HTML code (when creating 6 word memoirs) in order to plan and share their stories. The creation process itself resulted in many questions, particularly around the technical difficulties that arose for some of the students.

When focusing on the DQ, there were also the discussions around certain issues and recurring themes already mentioned above.

When I say I’m not sure about how ‘in depth’ this inquiry was, I mean that I’m unsure that the DQ was looked in to at length by all of the students, however I might be a little too self-critical here. After listing some of those things I can now see that there was a lot of inquiry and learning that took place throughout the course of the project in addition to that around the DQ itself.

4. Organise tasks around a Driving Question

I’ve already discussed how Michael and I gave the students the choice between two DQs, a decision which ultimately lead them to choose the DQ that was the most challenging of the two. I’ve also mentioned how the DQ was revisited throughout the courses of the project. The DQ was also put up on a project wall which was continually updated as we completed the KWL table posted on the wall.

So perhaps my previous concern regarding how in depth students’ inquiry was in relation to the DQ is unnecessary. I can however say with confidence that #projectAwesome13 was organised around a Driving Question.

This post has ended up more mammoth than I’d intended. I’ll post a follow up with the remaining essential elements later.


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Project-learning Swap Meet, 2013. #plsm13

Late last year Bianca and I went out for an impromptu dinner meeting with one of the guys from BIE. He was here to visit PBL school Parramatta Marist and naturally, given all the awesome that Bianca has been doing over the last few years, was interested in meeting her to talk about PBL. As is often the case, I tagged along (we tend to do a lot of stuff together). One of the things that came from the meeting was the idea of holding some kind of conference (for lack of a better word – we were thinking more like a meeting, or get together, something informal).

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