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PBL Campers Off to a Fast Start

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate
Related Tags: Project-Based Learning
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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.

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Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate
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Tina's picture

As a parent, I must tell you that I absolutely hate PBL. My children are all high achievers who only accept A's. Invariably their teacher groups them with one or two kids who couldn't care less. I don't know how many times we have stayed up all night because one of their group members just decided to do nothing on the assignment, or read the rubric and decided that they would only do enough to get a C. Since the entire group is being graded on every piece of the project, my child will get a lower grade because of the idiots in their group. And why do you insist on punishing the good kids by sticking them in a group with these non achievers? How hard is it to grade each child individually? My son actually had 10 points taken off a group presentation because the other kids didn't speak up. (One didn't speak any English and the other had a pyschological disorder that caused him such anxiety that he spoke no louder than a whisper.) How is my child responsible for making them speak out loud? It is usually about December, when I call for conferences and inform my children's teachers that they are no longer allowed to participate in group projects. Then there is the issue of teachers assuming that all students have the same available resources. My children actually had a project in which they were supposed to create a professional quality video. We don't have the software available to edit video? My kids are in high school, we don't even have a video camera anymore. There is software in the school library, which closes at 3:30. (Sports practice run from 2:30 - 5 pm) There is no available cameras for use. Do you honestly expect me to purchase a video camera and software in order for my child to complete his homework? This is a class required for graduation. What are teachers thinking? My only solice is that someday all of the teachers assigning these ridiculous projects will have children of their own, who have teachers that assign ridiculous projects. Good luck paying for it on a teacher's salary.

Rachel's picture

Hi Tina,

As a teacher, I completely identify with a need for interesting projects, but as a parent I also understand how taxing this can be on our kids. I'm wondering if you have suggested to your children's teacher sending home a survey to gather data on which children are equipped for the projects? That way the teacher could re-evaluate the project requirements, or pair up students according to who has access to what materials. That may be a way to aviod having parents purchase expensive technology.

I also understand your frustration with your children receiving lower grades when they put forth maximum effort. I think that is a downfall for teachers who don't want to take the time to do individual grading. Perhaps suggestions to the teacher prior to the grading process may help? As a teacher I would be eager to hear your concerns so that I could modify my policies/projects for the following year. I hope maybe this gives you some alternative ideas.

Lisa J. Cooley's picture
Lisa J. Cooley
School Board member, parent of 2 public school students.

If your kids are being "graded" on the basis of other kids' work, then you're not looking at a happy, healthy PBL system. You can do PBL, or you can do it right. I think badly-done PBL is a lot worse than traditional classroom practices. It takes a lot of help and support (parent volunteers are critical!) to do it, and every student should be evaluated based on an individual learning plan. If an individual student needs to work on research skills, their evaluation is on that aspect of their part of the project. It all hangs together in the final presentation of the project, but the individual learning is between the student and the teacher.

I think one skill kids aren't learning now in conventional classrooms is how to collaborate -- which doesn't make sense since it's a highly-valued skill in the real world. If one person is carrying a group, then not only is the group not functioning, but that student is overstepping into other kids' areas. The first thing kids need to learn is the ABCs of working together.

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