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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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PBL Campers Off to a Fast Start

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate

Edutopia's first-ever Project-Based Learning (PBL) Camp has shifted into high gear. Teachers, administrators, pre-service educators, and others interested in project-based learning have come together for this four-week, online adventure in collaborative project planning. Although Campers represent a wide range of locales, subject areas, and grade levels, they are forming a thriving community around this question: How do we turn the Gulf disaster into meaningful learning opportunities for our students?

Just what happens at PBL Camp? Short answer: Plenty! This community has gotten off to a fast and productive start. Here are few highlights.

PBL Strategies for PBL Camp

We're using PBL strategies to plan and implement PBL Camp. We started with a kickoff webinar event and will wrap up with a celebration of learning. In between, teachers are teaming up to work on project plans. We have experts and advisers standing by ready to help. Open-ended questions are driving the learning activities, and as co-facilitator, along with Edutopia Community Manager Betty Ray, I find myself repeating the PBL teacher's refrain: "I'm not sure -- how could we find out together?"

Tools for the Tasks

Like any real-world project, PBL Camp uses a variety of technology tools to help us do important work. We're using a wiki for project planning, online discussion groups and Twitter (#pblcamp) for conversations, and Delicious for tracking resources (Delicious tag: pbl_camp). Wallwisher helped us kick off brainstorming and start building a community before camp even started. And we're archiving everything as we go, so that others can benefit from what we learn.

Many of these tools are new to PBL Campers. That means they're getting a reminder of what it feels like to be a learner (which can range from frustrating to exhilarating!). They're also building a toolkit for the projects they'll do with their own students.

Stream of Conversation

Many Campers had their first experience with a Twitter chat this week. We used the edchat format to check in, address any urgent questions, and help Campers find potential team members. Most of all, it was a chance to share and exchange ideas in real time (prompting this comment from @ashers1stgrade: just had fun on my first tweetchat! Thanks #pblcamp for a great 'head-swimming' experience!)

The chat drew participants from as far away as Morocco and France, opening the door for global collaboration. But just as importantly, some Campers discovered they have potential partners right in their own home towns. Local connections matter, too.

The full chat transcript is available with Week Two activities, but here are just a few examples of the project ideas that were percolating during the conversation:

jennymacant: I wonder if there are webcams set up along the impact zone.

annhyde631: @jennymacant real time, just like volcano cams???

impatientriangl: I intend to have my Pre-k students scrub oil submerged plastic toys with dish soap.

kmhmartin: Maybe students could digitally tell stories from the point of view of animals that are affected by the spill.

tcash: Love the idea of digital stories... RT @WeaverOfTales: Storytelling would be a great way to share those personal stories.

snflwr66: How about taking feathers from various birds, weighing them and then dipping them in various oils, and reweighing them?

keersyandheyhey: What about a Theatre production....a play.

peterfarran: Did someone express interest in robotics? Lego Mindstorms NXT robots might be suitable for some kind of clean up simulation?

veisman: RT @keersyandheyhey My class has done interactive reader's theater of The Lorax. Perhaps a rewrite by the kids.

And so on!

These conversations and connections will be continuing in the Edutopia community. If you're not taking part in PBL Camp, you can enjoy a ringside seat on the planning, brainstorming, and research process. It's a great window into what happens before a project launches in the classroom. And if you are part of PBL Camp, thanks for your creativity and spirit of collaboration -- and your willingness to learn in plain sight. I can't wait to see what you come up with next.

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate
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