Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Awesome Ideas: #Project-Based Learning by Kids, for Kids

I participated in a Twitter chat last night on #edtechchat that was very interesting. There were a lot of excellent ideas, about Project-Based learning, and Technology. People had a lot of excellent advice to share, but many had questions about where people got their PBL ideas. What I was having trouble with, was the very idea that one needs #PBL resources. There is no shortage of great ideas in a class full of curious children. In my classroom, most of the ideas, most of the resources, and most of the best thoughts have come from the children themselves. We call them Awesome Ideas, and there is never any shortage. This is a video tour of a group's tour of the Titanic model they built in Minecraft:

Titanic from Scott McKenzie on Vimeo.

Another group took us on a tour of their Titanic project in Minecraft during their presentation. They had inforgraphics embedded throughout the tour.

To get ready for the challenges involved with Project-Based Learning, we spent time looking at famous inventors, and how they failed many times before they were successful. Failure leads to success. This student designed a garden in Minecraft, in the village outside his Medieval castle. The first castle wasn’t successful, and wasn’t growing produce.

He watched a video clip on how to create a successful garden, and rebuilt the garden which is now very productive!

Some of the ideas we've done together, when the whole class was interested in a topic. Some ideas we have done as individuals, or small groups depending on who is interested in those ideas. The best part of it all is, in spite of the fact that there is so much variety and so many things going on at once; in the midst of all this chaos, there is a hum of engagement. There are whole crews of students working away at a vast variety of different things all at the same time. Sometimes I feel a little left out. I'm walking around and everyone is completely engaged in what they're doing. It's actually hard to say who has learned more this year, them or myself.

This is not to say I haven't nudged students in one direction or another with a carefully worded question. When I wanted my class to try coding this year, I did mention to someone "Wouldn't it be cool if we could make our own character do something on the computer. Later on in the year we all tried the Hour of Code. There have been many times where I have said, "Wouldn't it be cool if..." I have chosen my moments carefully, and held back more often than not. Students generally take to the suggestions. The trickiest part is knowing when to step in with a suggestion, or an idea. Watching them fail at a task, my first instinct is to tell them what they are doing wrong, but I hold back and just ask "What went wrong? How are you going to use that to improve your design?"

We do have curriculum to cover, and Social Studies and Science. I find it difficult to constrain everyone when we’re doing these topics. My model this year has become an introduction of the general topic with lots of different possible areas that could be interesting to students. Then I let students brainstorm together and come up with ideas that they'd be interested in learning and sharing about. These ideas often change, and are modified as the students go down their individual path, but they eventually come up with a grand idea. Here is a plasticine model of an ear that some girls designed and built. 

This was during our light and sound unit. Other students used iMovie to create videos that explain different experiments. Many of those videos started with “Bill Nye the Science Guy” style beginnings that were very amusing and obviously came from the video clips we watched. It was these comedic parts, these little inserts the students put in, that made the presentations very interesting. Normally when we do presentations, half of the students are disengaged, or outright not paying attention to the presentation at all. As the students have had more control over what they’re designing and creating, and because everything is so different, they’ve paid close attention to all of the presentations.

I'm not sure if this is PBL learning, or if it's a hybrid PBL learning style, but it's working for us and it's what we're using. The best part of every day is the genuine excitement both for the students and myself, because we're always asking...

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