Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Managing a 21st Century Classroom

December 11, 2011

One of the greatest challenges for me in implementing PBL has been learning to be more flexible, moment to moment, each and every day. I like a well run classroom, everyone engaged, on top of what's happening... the proverbial "well oiled machine." A classroom of 36 teens with laptops sometimes feels like chaos, and I am not referring to the noise. Who really thinks teens are going to be quiet!? Of course, they can be quiet, especially first period, but I have never really felt strongly that quiet meant very much, especially in a World Languages classroom. They are here to learn to talk, so let them talk! Unless it is my turn, of course. No, what I mean is I feel like it is chaotic because we need to do things differently.

After 29 years of teaching, my classroom has changed from desks to tables with chairs on wheels (a Freshman boy's delight!). I now need to think through how to put away a class set of laptops in as short a time as possible so the computers can recharge for the next day, and so we don't lose too much valuable class time. There are other things as well. It has been an experience which has tested my endurance. Yet, the results so far have been very worthwhile.

Here is an example. Recently in my French 3 class, we began a project on "France in the year 1900" using The students are supposed to work in small groups of 4 to answer some key questions:

What was France like in 1900? What important events occurred that year? What contributions did France make to the world community at that time of history? How did people live? What characterized their family relationships? What was it like for a child? What was it like for an adult? What was it like for women and for men? What technological inventions were developed then? What was fashionable and why?

They were asked to chose an overall small group theme, then sub-themes, one per person, to research. They were each asked to create an electronic poster on which included pictures, an embedded video (from or, for example), and a composition of 2-3 paragraphs. They were also asked to prepare a group presentation of their findings, coordinated, organized into a single, collaborative whole, and of course, all in French.

We had been working on this project for about 3 weeks, off and on, while we were reviewing how to describe and narrate in the past (with passé composé and imparfait), while reading a short story which is set in that same time period, and a while viewing a film (La Gloire de mon père). Then Glogster decided to update their software to use the latest version of Flash!

Now we must update a class set of 36 netbooks to the latest software, and right now, because the projects are due next Monday, with final exams right on the heals of the presentations. Be flexible, my colleague reminds me! Yeah, I know! Still, it is all worthwhile, especially when I see more critical thinking, deeper digging, discoveries, longer term memory, more original work, creativity, engagement... So, I will be flexible, live the existentialist moment, and embrace the absurdities for the benefits of the outcomes.

As my colleague says, "it is what it is." I will keep smiling as well! Best wishes to everyone for the holidays! May you enjoy happy times with family, friends and loved ones, and enjoy your well deserved break from the routine. As for me, I am looking forward to having my sons and my niece home again for a couple weeks. That too, will necessitate some flexibility, but I will relish every moment.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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  • Project-Based Learning (PBL)
  • Technology Integration
  • World Languages

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