What if they all just copy you?
This is a phrase that I heard a couple times when visiting teachers would ask about my most recent project, Lakeview. While the kids are working, my complete prototype is hanging on the wall behind them. I use it a lot to show the class how I put something together or what size hole I drilled or whatever. While some might see imitation and copying as a problem, I see it as an essential part of learning.
How to make sure your project gets moving quickly! or How to check that your project will work.
Sometimes when planning projects, it is easy to lose focus of what the class will be doing the whole time that you've set aside for this work. What will the day to day tasks be? For a project to be successful, it is necessary that students start with experience before moving on. Good projects also involve multiple drafts and revisions. The best projects will turn your classroom into a kind of cycling museum, with new stuff going up and being replaced and showing what the class is working on. All projects should end in a final deliverable or final product that the students are proud of. How can you be sure that you are doing all this and that your project is aiming for greatness? Make sure you have a First Friday Deliverable.
How do I scaffold complex tasks in an authentic and engaging way? or What is the day to day of PBL?
Earlier in my teaching I used to think that in PBL we were intentionally withholding information. It felt like we were asking students to discover concepts and skills that were well established in academics and I didn't like the dynamic that it created. My perspective has changed since then and thought I'd share.
So you are trying PBL, and you need your class to learn how to do something that is complex, like writing a comic book or building a glider. How do you scaffold all the skills that go into that task? How can you individualize the learning for each of your students? In short, you need to let them try it first, then fill in the holes over time. Here are my suggested steps for doing that. I'll give examples for a few different types of projects.
What are we really learning?
In the past I've had a hard time adding content to my projects. They usually involve skills, like woodworking and CAD, but not easy content pieces that I could point to to say "look what we've learned". I think that this is for 2 reasons: first is that my projects didn't require very much content. to build furniture for your school doesn't really require much knowledge of physics so it doesn't come up. In fact, for the Making Space project I finished the project early so that I could go back and fill in the holes for the students with more content. The second reason is because I never asked my students what they wanted to learn.
Part of what draws me to PBL is the removal of the fluff around teaching. When I'm showing students how to make something the class structure is focused and intentional. I give a lesson in the moment because the class needs to know it to finish this part of the deliverable. Where I've fallen short in the past is picking deliverable that require both content and skills.
With Along for the Glide , the class need both content knowledge and skills to complete the objectives for each unit. Built a kite that flies, build a glider with a high glide ratio, these require building skills and knowledge of aeronautical physics. But with such a huge topic it's hard to know what to start with. So, I asked the class. Once they had had a chance to build a kite and try flying it, I had each of my students write down 3 questions on a card and turn it in at the end of the day. I combed through these for commonalities and found 3 overall questions:
- What makes a kite fly?
- What makes a kite not wobble when it flies?
- How do you fly a kite?
The answer to all these questions gets us into topics of lift and drag and balanced forces etc. And the set up for these lessons is really authentic: "Ok class I had a lot of questions last week about how to make your kites more stable in flight so I'm going to give you some ideas." or "Some of you were really able to get you kites up high last week, so I'm going to have us share some thoughts on what might make the difference when actually getting a kite into the air."
Instead of positioning myself as only the deliverer of knowledge but a part of the collaboration, these lessons are way more fun for me and engaging for the class and bring everyone in, which is the whole point.
How do I record and assess what kids learn while doing PBL?
A big question to be sure. In my practice I don't give tests or quizzes. I find these to be inauthentic assessments of what students have learned and what's more they cater to a certain type of learner. Lately I've been tweaking an assignment that serves as an assessment, reflection, and documentation of what the student has been learning in a given amount of time. I call it the T.I.L. (Things I Learned)
This week, as part of the Pendulum Project Prototype I asked all the students to give a presentation regarding their experiences and plans for future paintings. To communicate my expectations for the presentations I planned to show them an example presentation and give them a model to work from. While this has worked in the past I wanted to try something that I heard from a colleague. The three level grading system.
The three level grading system is something that I saw while browsing Mike Amarillo's blog, another HTH teacher in Chula Vista. I saw that he had these descriptions of different "levels" of student work for presentations. Through a few emails he told me about the system that he uses. What I liked about it was that it clearly described expectations for student work in 3 levels of completion.
For example I used this for our presentations today as follows.
Basic Presentation: Key information included. All group members speak. Clear delivery
Advanced Presentation: Basic and diagram showing variable effect is high quality and well organized.
Challenge Presentation: Advanced and group shows expert knowledge by including calculations, answering audience questions, posing meaningful questions for themselves, etc.
After I gave my example presentation I had a discussion with the class where we categorized my work as Basic, Advanced, or Challenge. We talked about why it fit as one or another. In reality what I was doing was critique as a lesson, but what was different was that my expectations had already been outlined and so we were able to get specific very quickly.
The following is a reflection on what it's like to use critique as a lesson format. I wanted to improve the quality of the writing in reflections that my students were writing, so I decided to show them examples of high quality writing and have them critique it.
Note on Format
Ever since I was exposed to the Launch, Explore, Summarize model of lesson planning I have been using it for just about everything. Whenever I need to deliver information to the class I try to collect it into those categories because I have had such success with it. This lesson was delivered in LES format and so I have chose to discuss each phase in this post.
** revisited after 1 year. Notes at end of post
For the last few weeks I've been hosting a type of lesson in my class that I'm really excited about. It has a lot of potential. Since I do these lessons once a week I call it Technical Tuesday. I don't always get it right. In this post I'm going to try and summarize what makes these lessons work and what slows them down. I've written two previous posts on the subject but after doing four I'm starting to get the hang of it.
Motivations and Goals
This is my 1st full year teaching physics. Last semester I gave it my best shot and felt that one of the biggest improvements I could make would be to expose the students to more formal physics. For this reason I set out to find or develop a lesson style that would give my kids both and intuitive understanding of physics content as well as exposure to more formal physics notation and problem types.
I also wanted to design these lessons to reduce the amount of time that I spent in front of the class delivering information. I'm not really good at that skill and don't feel that I make it very engaging to my students. In search of a more student centered approach I attempted to build a lesson values experiences over content.
My class has two more weeks to finish our project. It's a complex build between groups of 3 and 4 that requires lots of planning and revision and detailed work. Each of the students in the groups also have commitments to other projects that they are involved in and often the building portion of the project gets forgotten. It's common for me to find a student meandering and ask them how much they have left to do on their building project and they'll almost have forgotten all about that aspect of it.
Philip Estrada is a teacher at High Tech High Media Arts in San Diego California. He teaches Physics by having kids build things in a woodshop.