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"Pieces of the Puzzle" from pixabay

“Pieces of the Puzzle” from pixabay

“Not all of the puzzle pieces of life seem to fit together at first, but in time you’ll realize they do, perfectly.” ~ Doe Zantamata

Although Zantamata’s quote is directed at life in general, I think it applies to my learning experiences in EdTech 542 as well. Building a PBL project is like putting together a 1000+ piece puzzle. At first you aren’t sure if everything will come together or not! In the end though, all the pieces came together to form a completed puzzle–I mean, project. Let me explain.

The PBL planning process is quite unique because it starts with the end in mind. This means the teacher starts with the desired results or goals first, then she determines the assessments; after these two phases are done, the teacher plans the learning experiences and instructional methods. Having little experience with the Backward Design Model, I was quite surprised to learn that the process actually works. In the end, all of the PBL pieces came together to create a thoroughly developed project: Heroes Rise. This design process helped me learn to love PBL.

What do I now understand best about Project-Based Learning? What do I understand least well?

Based on the introduction you might think that the Backward Design Model is what I understand the best about PBL. However, it’s not the only thing that has helped me learn to love PBL. The eight essential elements of PBL really sold me on the process and the end product. Projects developed with these elements in mind are not merely busywork; instead they involve meaningful inquiry that engages students’ minds (Larmer & Mergendoller, 2012). Learning about the eight essential elements made me realize that most of my previous projects were nothing more than busywork. Sure my students seemed engaged–more than likely though, they were simply jumping through the hoops because they wanted to pass the unit, or the course for that matter. I don’t think they really found these projects personally meaningful nor something they needed to know in order to rise to a challenge. Even though I know that authentic real-world learning is the crux of PBL, I still struggle (less now than before) with the implementation of these experiences while teaching provincial exam writing and reading skills at the same time. Providing public audiences outside of the school, encouraging role-playing and implementing adult tools or processes are definitely a step in the right direction. I think being more aware of these specific elements will make it easier to develop authentic learning experiences in the future. Of course some of the other elements like focusing on significant content, encouraging student voice and choice, and incorporating critique and revision have always been important aspects of my planning. Seeing how well these go hand-in-hand with twenty-first century learning and in-depth inquiry also reinforces the fact that planning should be rigorous and student-centred as much as possible.

What did I expect to learn in this course? What did I actually learn? More, less, and why?

I expected to learn what PBL is and why we should implement it in our classrooms. I also expected to see what PBL looks like in practice. The fact that I was able to see my peers’ projects develop before my eyes has helped me realize what PBL is and why we should implement it. For many of us this process was unfamiliar, and daunting at times; yet in the end, most of us have come to the realization that PBL will benefit both our students and colleagues. The Buck Institute for Education website and their PBLU site also exceeded my expectations. These stellar resources definitely assisted my journey through the PBL planning process. They also reinforced and supported everything we learned throughout the course. Furthermore, I respect BIE’s interpretation of twenty-first learning. Yes PBL is student-centred, but it also helps students remember what they learned for longer periods of time and teaches them to take responsibility for their learning while building confidence and improving problem-solving and collaborative skills at the same time (Larmer & Mergendoller, 2012). Now more than ever students need to take responsibility for their learning. We can no longer permit our students to be passive learners. This means the role of the teacher also has to change. Some of us find this frightening but this change is necessary. Teaching on demand appeals to me. Clearly we are still there to support and guide our students. However, I like to think of us as experts that students turn to when needed. That’s the key–when needed. Another thing to remember is that we are not the only experts. While planning my project, I really enjoyed the process of figuring out which experts to bring into the classroom. A question that I am going to ask myself from now on is this: How can I enrich my students’ learning experiences by bringing the outside world in? Teachers (and their schools) should utilize their communities more so. I know I do not invite the community in as much as I should. This practice must change. How can I prepare my students for the twenty-first century workforce if I don’t develop that much-needed relationship with our community? Of course, with technology we can cast our nets even wider. The other day I came across an American teacher who was looking for a teacher who was willing to have his students blog with her students while exploring the play Julius Ceasar together. Brilliant! Now that is twenty-first century teaching and learning!

What will I do with what I have learned?

Even though I haven’t implemented my first PBL project yet, I am already co-planning a PBL project with another ELA teacher this month. We decided to improve one of our grade 12 units using the PBL methodology. This all came about because of this course. I mentioned it to her and she said “let’s do it!” Both of us really like the fact that PBL supports Alberta Education’s Inspiring Education initiative as well. After planning the grade 12 unit, I would also like to develop a project for my grade 11 course. Because this course occurs year-long I will be able to work on this project later.

Now that the course is drawing to a close, I really appreciate the fact that I have an actual unit to use this fall. How great is that! I look forward to field testing both units while learning how PBL works first hand. This is a great learning opportunity for my students too. Together, we will truly complete the PBL puzzle!

References

Buck Institute for Education. (n.d.). PBL Essential Elements Checklist. bie.org. Retrieved from http://bie.org/object/document/pbl_essential_elements_checklist

Larmer, J. (2012, June 5). PBL: What Does It Take for a Project to Be “Authentic”? Edutopia [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/authentic-project-based-learning-john-larmer

Larmer, J., & Mergendoller, J. (2012, March). 8 Essentials for Project-Based Learning. bie.org. Retrieved from http://bie.org/object/document/8_essentials_for_project_based_learning#

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