My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Get Inspired. Getting ideas for project based learning.

In " Yes Minister" speak this is a brave post, maybe that is why I've found it so difficult to find advice an guidance on getting initial ideas for projects. So, I thought it might be useful to compile a list of strategies and sources of inspiration, it may all be egg sucking, but, as I have just began a Professional Enquiry Group on "project based learning" I thought it might be time well spent. These will not appear in order of importance.

A very useful start point may be this article "Where do projects come from?" by Angela Guerrero in High Tech Highs fabulous unboxed.

1. Time. Probably a no brainer, but sometimes ideas are hard to come by, be aware of this and start thinking about projects early and informally. Serendipty, can be a wonderful thing so plant a seed, revisit it and wait.

2. Be a hoarder of ideas. Some ideas seem great straight away and when you start to work through their implications they become unfeasible, or, not what you want. Don't discard them but shelve them. Around four years ago I had an idea for a small task to summarise and revise a module. It involved taking key ideas and then turning them into a Dr Seuss style image and ditty, inspired by the hours I had spent reading with my son. I tried a few and felt that that the points the students would take from this task would not suffiiciently focus on the content. Recently, searching for an idea, I remembered these and found the scan I had taken and I am now about to start drafting examples for a year 7 Space science module. I think the fact that they will be describing processes as opposed to recalling facts might help.

3. Mimic and modify. Plagiarism is an ugly word, but emulation is a different ball game all together. If you see a great set of student work or some highly engaging project then use it. There's no shame in that, after all there will still be a lot of work to be done to the project to modify for your context. the content will change, the students, the timescale etc.This is why the work of High Tech High , Expeditionary Learning, Calgary Science School and the Buck institute are so important for us mortals.

4. Consider the content to be taught. Remember, that not everything you want your students to learn will appear in the project. Some of parts of a module, even a Project led one, will have a structured teacher taught part. Focus in on what what would benefit from being taught through a project.

5. Consider the audience the product is for. This again is something that you will want to revisit at a later stage of development, but, considering what may appeal to your audience may help narrow down what the product could be. 

6. Critical skills product list. I was fortunate enough to be trained in the Critical Skills approach many moons ago, and one of the most regularly used tools is a list of around 100 products. Some of which I still don't understand what they are but the list is a frequent start point. Start a list of potential ways students can show learning.

7. Use your interests and passions. I have touched on this in a previous post but if you're enthused and excited by what  is coming up then your students are more likely to be too. Your hobbies and interest may give you another angle to approach your subject from. The line "That's why we want you to teach here because this is what you ..." sums it up nicely. I wish I could capture that more often in my classroom. 

8. DTPF.  (Defined)I know this should happen later, but an initial play around will help a basic idea develop into a more substantial idea. Just setting a side an hour to have ago at roughing out the project and attempting a small part will help clarify your thinking, help you make connections and reflect on what you really want the project to be like.

9. Think of themes. If you want to do a book project, or a podcast or a movie, your thoughts might be refined by tagging on a "in the style of ...." may give your idea wings.

10. Consider the skills you wish to develop. This could be part of your subjects content, but it could easily be a literacy focus, a particular way of thinking, collaborating or communicating.

11. Visit galleries and museums. Doing this will help with two aspects of coming up with ideas. Firstly, the content of what's on show may be grist to the mill, but on a more generic level HOW the information is communicated might give you the required inspiration. The wonderful museum box demonstrates this nicely.

12. Consider which external partners your students would benefit from working with. An informal visit and chat might be the trigger for some wonderful student work, and add an authenticity to the project. 

13. Consider what parts of the real world you want to expose your students to. A David thing this. Partly, David Perkins notion of finding a junior version of a real "game" and partly a David Price "work should be like learning, and learning should be more like the world of work" thing. Thinking about this and your subject discipline may lead you to an authentic project for your students. What parts of your subject is being applied in the workplace? Take inspiration from Jay Vavra at High Tech High, and his Bush meat project.

14. Revisit old projects or tasks and rebuild them. You may have a great project under your nose that just requires a little care and development.

15. Take a systematic approach. Using a structure like SOLO taxonomy may help breakdown or indeed build up the elements of a project. This Youtube clip of Naomi Hart outlines her early attempts at doing this. Inspiring.

16. Ask how you can engage art or design and construction element. I have quoted this before from High Tech High's Jeff Robin " Art and artist communicate." So, looking for some artistic angle for the project work may at the very least bring part of the critique, drafting high qualityculture that art does by tradition. Indeed, High Tech Highs philosophy of head and hands leads to one of the most engaging curriculums around.

17. Realise that projects can come from anywhere. Obviously, having planted a few thoughts to mull over helps but a simple anecdote may illustrate a wider point. The project I am currently developing on Space Science for our Year 7's almost became a mug decorating project, with diagrams of celestial movements to help explain seasons etc. The reason for this was my son asking for a drinking and picking out his favourite "Pedriodic table" mug when the idea came. I even got as far as Googling ceramic pens and thinking about creating mugs for the staff room (an authentic audience if there ever was one for a mug) before my requirement for some literacy work in this project rendered it "shelved". I may well return.

18. Multiple steps may be necessary to get an idea you're happy  with and "do the project first" with.

19. Use the team. An invaluable resource, to share your initial thoughts, the conversations do not have to be commital such as " I'm doing ..." but will benefit from a speculative approach  " I'm thinking about...." Seems a little thing but a lot safer for both parties. I would also seek colleagues outside your department, they help see things from a students perspective (or at least one with a less subject specific lens). Colleagues from within your discipline are probably best deployed when your planning in detail.

So, they you have it, sorry I couldn't make it twenty but that would just have been arbitrary and we have plenty of that in education. Obviously, if anyone has hints and tips on getting ideas fro projects I'll be glad to add them. Even ones that apparently suggest how to suck eggs.