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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

PBL Frustration!

PBL Frustration!

Related Tags: Project-Based Learning
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14 Replies 2740 Views
Hi All, I'm so frustrated right now! My school is brand new and is an all-PBL School. Sure, we have classes, but our classes are designed around PBL, so the idea is that I'll always have students working on projects with me, and I'm there to facilitate and guide them (particularly through the mathematical portions, since I am a math teacher). I'm just so frustrated with my students! I've attempted 2 projects with my Algebra 2 students (The Great Debate: Which Cell Carrier is really best? and The Rocketeers: Real life PBL & The RocketBoys). and I'm in the middle of my 2nd project with Geometry (Building Bridges was first, and now we are doing ProjectHOME). Some of these projects have been designed by myself and my colleagues with whom I integrated the projects,and some, like the ProjectHOME that I'm working on now, come from bie.org. My frustration is that my students aren't engaging. They are whining and asking for a test and asking for a lecture and notes, etc. I just can't seem to get the buy in (which seems silly since they knew when they registered at our school what our mission was!). Can anyone help me? Help them?

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John Bennett's picture
John Bennett
Emeritus Faculty in the School of Engineering / University of Connecticut

You are getting some good advice from what I read in the earlier comments. My first piece of advice is to join the #pblchat PBL chat each Tuesday night at 9PM on Twitter. In fact, go on to Twitter, search #pblchat as soon as you can and search the entries that typically are posted on Wednesdays that summarize the night before. We all get new contacts, new links, new ideas, AND new encouragement and motivation each week!

My advice reinforces what has been sort of mentioned already: DON'T TRY TO LEAD THEM WITH IDEAS FROM YOU. Start with a broad question or challenge THAT'S IDENTIFIABLE AND INTERESTING AND REAL-WORLD TO THEM. And the step back, mentor when appropriate, redirect when needed, and don't try to be the expert. They will make mistakes; remind them this is normal. They will need to remember that this approach is very real world, that learning will occur during it, and that the knowledge will be retained and along with the skills developed, will prepare them for exciting lifelong learning and career opportunities.

It is all about the process. So don't feel you have to teach them process, rather help them discover and improve the process. Projects don't have to be long and, indeed, can early on even be guided. By that, do it small step by small step with lots of reflection with each step. And for sure, have the teams self-reflect within the team, and then as a class - reflecting on each team's outcomes. This is where the objective effort in problem solving becomes the skill of defining; and it's where the reflection / documentation effort in problem solving becomes the source of success of success and ever-improving skills.

Above all, have fun and don't set arbitrary deadlines. Hope you join us next Tuesday. @jcbjr

Ms. Zack's picture
Ms. Zack
Math Teacher @ a Project Based Learning Charter High School Brighton, MI

Hi All,

Thank you so much for your encouragement! I'm trying to brainstorm ways to get this project more engaging for my students this week, and you have all inspired me to do so. I'm so happy to be a part of the Edutopia community!

Alexa Savich's picture

We had the same problem in our school. The approach we took was to teach students that yes, there will be times in life when they will be tested for knowledge, skills, and aptitude (driver's license, promotion opportunities, i.e. sargeant's test, as entry-level credentials and the like), but that much more importantly employers hire and keep employees for their research, project-planning and product-development skills. PBL emphasizes creative thinking and problem-solving, communication and collaboration, and cross-cultural interactions, all attributes that help students more so than being a good test-taker. Students learn time management, evaluation, accountability, and technical skills that test-taking cannot teach and strengthens students' character and ethics, also. Transitioning to a "grown person" point of view comes hard for some students, and may require interventions to help students change their coping mechanisms that reinforce their doing less and accepting less. An emphasis on 21st Century skills (American Association of School Librarians) could be introduced as a schoolwide initiative in your school, if not already in place. Good luck with turning around your students underachieving philosophy and transforming them into future productive citizens.

Alexa Savich

John Yu's picture

I agree with your statements on activities in your classroom. Often times, I will forget to tie the activities in my lesson with the learning essential question.

Julie Elkan's picture

Kristin,
I don't think your experience is so unusual when students are new to PBL. Often times they have been used to being more passive 'receivers of content and knowledge'. Now they are being asked to start questioning and thinking for themselves! It's harder work and can require more effort on their part. In my experience some students manage the transition smoothly but others find it more challenging and want to go back to what they are used to- listening to the teacher talk, worksheets and tests.

Changes I made to help solve similar problems:
1. Review the driving question to ensure it is stimulating and engaging for students.
2. Introduce the project with a fun/intriguing hook.
3. Review the guiding questions to ensure they support the learning and take students through the necessary steps/stages to enable them to process the content and answer the driving question.
4. Review the formative assessments to include reflective assessments/checklists that can be used as discussion pointers between me as the teacher and students who are having issues with engagement.
I hope something here might be of help, I found the suggestions from other people very helpful myself.

Julie

Chad Heidtke's picture
Chad Heidtke
Middle School Science in Eugene, OR

Hey,

I have noticed that when I up the ante on the end result of the project students really get grinding. I have had students present to people from the local University (grad students often have clubs that love to get involved) and local professionals. When students know that their work matters and will be taken seriously by adults outside of the 'classroom setting' their work takes on more meaning for them and they really dig in.

Phil Greco's picture
Phil Greco
Society for Ethics in Education, Chair

Hi,

This is a wonderful example of how 10 or more years of telling students to sit still, "behave", and participate in the drilling of decontextualized trivial facts, often in isolation, can lead to a decline in curiosity and feeling a need to collaborate in order to solve complex problems....

....in school.

At home, however, I'm always amazed to find out that students - people - are always involved in projects that we tend not to ask about. Perhaps you can find out what they're engaged in when they "get off the bus". Are they painting their room? Are they comparing prices of items they are looking to buy in the near future? Believe it or not, the meaningful things that students are doing at home can be valid contexts and pathways toward discovery and uncovery. Ultimately, if the new knowledge they seek helps them improve a real-life problem, then they are more likely to become engaged.

I always thought that the most difficult task in designing projects is creating a need for students to seek knowledge. Perhaps we need to (1) interview our students and find out what meaningful investigations they are already involved in... (2) validate them...(3) and then allow them to use their investigations as a road to discovery. Yes - this may mean many different projects going on at the same time and in one classroom. Regardless, the teacher can tie all projects together by focusing on big and fundamental ideas and concepts. As a matter of fact, having students see fundamental concepts in multiple contexts may enhance their understanding.

Good luck "de-programming"!

Allen Berg's picture
Allen Berg
curriculum and projects learning centers

Dear Colleagues,
This is a fun engaging arts & crafts PBL and Discovery Learning website:
http://hsgeometryadventure.wikispaces.com/
It is not a textbook, but an invitation to learning (150+ pages of very visually fun activities and explorations... all levels and merely alphabetical... :-)

So enjoy it anyway you like...

Caretaker of Wonder,
Allen Berg

Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate
Blogger 2014

[quote]

...I'm always amazed to find out that students - people - are always involved in projects that we tend not to ask about. Perhaps you can find out what they're engaged in when they "get off the bus". Are they painting their room? Are they comparing prices of items they are looking to buy in the near future? Believe it or not, the meaningful things that students are doing at home can be valid contexts and pathways toward discovery and uncovery. Ultimately, if the new knowledge they seek helps them improve a real-life problem, then they are more likely to become engaged.

[/quote]
Phil,
Great suggestions for building on students' interests. As you suggest, interviewing students about their out-of-school interests is a good way to start. I wonder about other strategies teachers might consider, such as: Having students interview each other? Develop interest inventories that could be springboards for projects? Using game-based approach to identify students' special "powers"?
What else?
Would love to hear how others are coming at this.

ellie's picture
ellie
high school, physical education

I am just beginning to take the step and dare to create a PBL unit for my Physical Education classes. Is there anyone who can help me find some sample PBL units for P.E.? I would love to collaborate with other educators to accomplish a successful, meaningful PBL.

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