As I headed into weeks three and four for Ed Tech 542 my task was to search through the myriad of information about and resources for PBL projects. Having an idea in mind and a solid handle on my instructional style and preferences I found this to be a quite enjoyable endeavor.
First I found an awesome PBL centered around the Holocaust. This PBL was designed for a ninth grade, English classroom. The degree to which this instructor dove into and required students to do the same in their thinking and tasks about this subject, one that causes a great deal of emotional response and uneasiness, was one of the factors that made me truly love this project. Additionally, I appreciated that the instructor used these experiences and the perhaps raw emotions it would illicit into a learning experience for students to tap into these feelings with the language of their writing, encouraging them to use such feelings to create vivid imagery and detailed descriptions. This was an excellent resource and I was quite confident that I had found a strong starting point in my PBL research. You can check this amazing lesson out for yourself by clicking here.
With some ideas in mind after exploring the previous resource I set out on a mission to search for some PBLs that may currently exist featuring the topic I had in mind, disasters. This is our currently unit that we are focusing on in my classroom and it is one that we are building from the ground up, so I’m loving the opportunity to work on activities and learning experiences that are so immediately available for implementation in my classroom. Through this search I found some good sites that helped me further cement how I wanted to combine the raw emotion and English content featured in the resource described above with the study of various disasters. Most of the PBLs I found when I narrowed my focus to disasters were either well below the ability of my students as they were created for elementary or they had pieces that I loved but not an overall structure that excited me like my first resource. However, it was through this search that I decided my end product would transform from just one presentation option to a menu board of presentation options to ensure I get the best product from the various learning styles and strengths in my classroom.
Initially my final project was going to be a virtual newsroom presentation in which the students worked in teams to create a newsroom featuring an anchor, reporter, and special segment. In this newscast the students would be required to report on a disaster of their choosing. When looking through the various disaster PBLs I found one resource that outlined a variety of products that students could create including a mural, children’s book, and various types of scripts. At this point in the year I know my students interests and abilities quite well and I know that by opening up the end project to incorporate more than just one option is not only going to ensure their best work but to increase the depth of the learning that will take place as well.
Lastly, with my rough idea in hand I began the planning phase. In doing this and through my explicit study of PBL I have come to the confident conclusion that I am what some might call a “type B” teacher. I do not feel the need to have the most organized classroom nor the complete conformity of my students. If you were to come in to my classroom during any part of the day you would most likely walk in on a scene that looks more like a bad roll in Jumanji than your typical 7th grade classroom. I have abandoned most of my desks for rolling chairs and tables , Adirondack chairs with lap desks, and even standing desks with high stools. If my students find that they work best on the floor they are free to sit or sometimes even lie down anywhere that they may remain productive. I even have a student that does his brainstorming by doing a headstand in the back corner, and quite surprisingly this works extremely well for him. I’ve always believed that learning can and should be fun. Maybe the concept we are learning at a certain point in time isn’t the most entertaining but that does mean the path we take to accomplish that learning can’t be one that is enjoyable and/or memorable. These things used to make me nervous. I have had a few remarks thrown my way about me the “fun teacher” that had undertones of disrespect or questioning of my methods. However, after 11 years of crafting my style and becoming confident in my ways I’ve had more compliments that criticisms and I am able to say that without a doubt I believe my teaching style was made for PBL type learning. I’m extremely excited about this portion of my teaching journey and know that it is going to add another successful element to my classroom.