Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Picking a Start of the Year Project for PBL

By on June 29, 2010

So just as school started to wrap up, I decided that at the start of next year, we would be picking a local cause and trying to solve it. Now, I was entertaining the thought that the kids would pick their own cause, but I’m thinking of building up to that later on.  I think instead we’ll start with a common cause, one that we might actually make an impact on.

My school is currently under construction.  Despite the fact that things are tight and we are a Title I district, our community voted to pass a bond that could update our school’s desperately inadequate facilities.  So we’re getting a new media center (although budget cuts have cut back our librarian’s position), a new field to share with the community recreational center,  and a new administration building at the front of the school.  And we are grateful.

But what little green exists on our campus is under threat, including our few trees. In fact, the biggest and oldest tree which can be seen from the front of our school, which kids hang out under waiting to be picked up, and under which students read, is smack dead in the center of the scheduled covered walkway. (I’m not sure why in Southern California, we need a covered walkway, but – shrug – I guess that’s what was decided.)

So I think we should try to save the tree. I know it sounds all tree-huggy, but schools need green. Right now there’s only one grassy strip on our campus and it seems to be where all the dogs in our city go to do their business.

This grassy strip leads up to the tree, and a huge indicator as to the plans to disrupt the grass and its tree is the fact that it hasn’t been watered in months, and the browning has begun. My classroom and three others happen to sit right next to this anemic strip of nature, and we used to complain that the industrial size grass trimmer seemed to always appear on testing days. But I swear, if we can save this patch, we won’t bitch about the distracting noise again.

So I started by just trying to get an answer as to when the tree and grass was scheduled to be cut for good. This is proving difficult. So far, no response from the administration nor the director of the construction on campus. Growl. Normally, I would be having students do this portion of research, but I want to know that when we return, there will be a tree still there to fight for.

Once I get that answer, it will give me a timeline for our project.  I can backplan due dates and students can goal-set appropriately.  We can begin preparing for a writing campaign, a publicity campaign, and oral speaking activities.  We can stage informational lunchtime classes and even create a blog, perhaps create a petition.  By the time the kids arrive, they will be the creators of the tree-saving movement, however, not I.

I’m starting with a local, applicable topic so that students can see the difference their efforts may make (hopefully). The immediacy may help them in their own learning. From there, later in the year, we’ll move into student choices of topics, the further development of polls, and the writing of an executive summary.

On a side note: it’s a pity that the test scores of one single setting can’t reflect the learning that will occur in training our students to be advocates for a cause.  Regardless of the cause, we want our students to be adults that can stand for something and who will put their abilities to use in society.  So far, no bubble test I know can capture the deep learning that can occur within a unit of PBL.

Anyway, I’ll give you an update, dear readers, as soon as school starts and the battle really begins!

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  1. Marsha Ratzel
    June 30, 2010

    I’m working on a PBL myself. Maybe we can bounce ideas off each other!!!

    One of the things I’m trying to incorporate into my project is something called the Driving Question Board (the idea comes from a NSTA article by the same name). The cool technique the article presents is this….kids generate their questions they have about the topic. Then you get to show them the categories that their questions should fit within. I think that’s a great trick because it helps give the project shape while letting them retain ownership.

    So you give them the categories and they move the questions around so everything they generated fits under one of the categories. If something doesn’t fit, you put it in the parking lot…checking back periodically to see if you could answer it or not.

    Then you go through each category, one at a time. Kids can pick from the questions they genereated…maybe it will even spur them onto the asking more related questions. nevertheless they are in charge of driving the project forward and the article reports that it gives enormous motivation.

    I envisioned having a lab conference (I’m a science teacher:->) where they present the answers to their questions from that category. I wanted to add in soemthing I’ve seen at conferences called a poster session. But I’m talking about some cheesy cut and glue on paper poster board….I mean a serious presentation.

    From those presentations, we can discuss our collective wisdom. Students could summarize what they’ve learned up to that point…maybe go back to the Driving Quesiton Board and see how it all works together. It’s at this point that I think we could develop a communal concept map. Then I want them to individually process the learning somehow….I haven’t figured it out yet.

    Then you move onto the next category of questions, repeat and continue this cycle until you’ve moved through all of them.

    Do you see any overlap of our process? You working on a community cause me working on storms!!!!! I think we could help each other figure out how to get these done!!! Wouldn’t it be cool if our kids got together and chatted about the process….maybe they could write a kids’ guide to problem based learning!!!

  2. tweenteacher
    June 30, 2010

    You are totally on to something! I think there’s a Skype date in our future and in our students’ future. Maybe if we can overlap categories, we can even have groups work together, assigning them expertise in a particular category? More like structure on kids to work more with. Also, if you are familiar with http://www.kidblog.org, we can set up groups that can discuss and comment with each other.

    How many periods are you going to be doing this with? I don’t know the answer myself yet, so I’m just starting the idea bouncing!

    Talk to you soon.

    -Heather WG
    aka Tweenteacher

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