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.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Why I Love the Buck Institute Planning Proforma!

This blog post is a quick restoration of an accidentally  deleted previous version. I hope it remains useful. I have reposted it as I think it highlights the usefulness of the BIE form and how I used it non sequentially. 

First things first, I did not start planning the headlands project using this pro forma. It was a much messier affair, starting with a practical field investigation idea. Before I began the detailed planning I  attempted to draw out themes and content to be learned from the potential  project. In a way I  was answering the question “Is this project worthwhile doing?”. This probably stems from the criticism of any inquiry approach is that its effect size is low (Hattie). Understandable if the project starts out as just a “cool” idea or something that sounds “fun” then the academic learning will demonstrably  limited. However, if the content of what you want the students to learn is at the core of the project then it may well be a different outcome. ( Learning future as is shown here 

This project almost did not get off the ground. The problems of designing a project for every student in a year group of nearly 400 is frankly daunting. The solution was sought in the strength of the teaching team. I sent an email with suggestion of different projects to see who wanted to develop a project of their choice, meaning that each teacher would be responsible for one project. The pro forma I am about to dissect would therefore become a model for others. We hosted a twilight session to plan as a team, a savory choice.  The result and consequent pedagogical decision was that we would be able to offer students in each cohort a choice of at least three different projects.

This dilemma  also begs the question in why you would use project or inquiry based learning in the first place. Is it solely for the acquisition of someone else knowledge, or, is it to develop the motivation, skills and attributes to make effective independent learners. It should for both, as one without the other trivialises both. I would also hope it’s more than this. I may be thinking a little too subject specifically here, but the as a Science Teacher the Scientific thinking that the students would use is a key bit of “content” knowledge. It is something that the system will be able to measure and assess.

The wider implications that project based learning offers cannot be understated. I cannot and will not be able to state it as eloquently and as exemplarily as Mark Moorhouse in his wonderful Unboxed article  . 

http://www.hightechhigh.org/unboxed/issue8/want_to_get_home_on_time/I hope Mark can forgive me in the hatchet job of my summation of his article.

How we teach, the relationships we build and maintain are essential in the formation of communities which we (should- my addition) serve. We accept that academic success is vital but so are the people that schools and teachers influence.

SO why does the B.I.E pro forma help?

It  to contextualise the project and asks for its purpose.
The first three sections focuses the teacher to plan this wider context. What is the problem? Although not specifically requested, this section requires context, after all a project on the San Diego Bay ecology, would not be relevant to the students in Cramlington.  Context is both problematic and emancipating in Project Based Leaning. The engagement of external partners is essential as part of this planning, and potentially more valuable in later stages (The farm manager at Hartley Farms not only gave me permission and directed me to a site where it would be worthwhile, but, provided a lot of insight into the issues surrounding the project.)
The driving question at this stage of planning is essential for clarity. If this task was “just” a science investigation, this would be the title I would use. It helped  frame all of the planning and student tasks from this point forward. This is the question we will keep coming back to. It can be broken down into sub divisions but this is the big picture.

How do I know it’s the right question?  Firstly, I had to ensure it would allow the students to learn what I had intended, so by plotting out the outcomes and formulating what the product could be like but, , was the study authentic?
It balances skills and content, helping you decide what needs to be taught.
Project Based Learning needs to place the content and skills at the heart of it planning. To be honest, this section was tricky, I could have added many other items, and indeed not everything that could be taught within a project based module needs to appear in the final product. The process of filtering and correlating what was important FOR the project, gave the rest of planning purpose and direction , as it would any well planned “teaching”. Although no decision was made at this point, I had already began to work out what the valuable assessments would be. I also know that the student Scientific writing skills were going to be a big part of this. Subsequently , the planning of looking at real research article and how to read scientific articles was going to be important. The LSS first and second glance strategies are invaluable for this. http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/science-society/activities-infectious-diseases-now

Assessment and therefore "rigour" is at the heart of the plan.
Which brings up neatly the issue of assessment.  You may not enjoy the nomenclature of 21st Century Skills, but this does not matter, what’s important here is that the skills that are useful FOR the project are highlighted. The added dimension of assigning whether it is a vital part of the project ie Taught and assessed or if its something that will be useful and therefore worth looking for opportunities to exploit. This is  helpful in developing the essence of the project, how would this project run for students, what would the conversations be like?  It was at  this point that I decided that the use of data and the drawing of conclusions were to be the focus, as opposed to say the designing of an experiment to produce valid data. The earlier decision to run one project not only ensured teacher sanity but that we would be gathering a lot of data, adding value and  rigour to our study. The consequences of this are two fold.
Firstly  I must design the experiment so that the data the students get is valid and valuable. Secondly how will I actually assess this and how will I then support (diferentiate) ALL my students.

The following section on Performances, was not completed sequentially, and indeed why should it be? It remained enigmatic for  a good while with the phrases “ Journal Article” and in the individual part “different sections “. Subsequent planning and writing of a write up guide, allowed this to become concrete.

It brings feedback to the surface of your thinking before the project has begun.
I'm not claiming that the BIE performa does all the planning required but it does concentrate your mind on what matters for example what will you assess and  what feedback could you provide. Why else would you  assess?  Here lies THE contradiction, Hatties research has deified “feedback”, so how does a pedagogy that is obviously built around feedback not have an “equivalent” effect size?  I suspect it's the planning, and potential task orientated approach that may have previously been the undoing of a project based approach. This article is called Why I Love the Buck Institute Project planning proforma for a reason, consider in the plan revealed so far how much has been about the product, and how much has been about the content, the assessment and the feedback." Nuff" said,.

Thh following sections does not diminish this. In fact it make it even more manifest, requiring consideration to the format of the assessments. Asking what will be summative and what will be formative entices you link the two things together. This isn’t radical stuff here, just common sense, a well founded pedagogy.

It considers engagement.
The little section which preludes this asks for consideration to be given to the selling and the WIIFM of the project. I think these particular projects benefit from the choice element, but it also serves to give the wider context of all projects. As part of this process,  a Google maps image of Cramlington was shown to the students asking them to say how important Agriculture was to this place. It obviously is.The students were then asked to say where in the country this was, the majority of responses where Yorkshire, Durham and Scotalnd, although some students speculatively ask “ is it Cramlington?” This bring the article back full circle to Mark Moorhouses unboxed article, students need at least an opportunity to connect to where they live in a wider context, appreciate some of working of where THEY live. This helped enormously, with engagement and subsequent field visits were now relevant. The trips out of school, enhanced and enabled by our block scheduling of half day sessions for science, also benefited from what learning futures would describe as “School as base camp”;a simple trip out of school gives purpose to what you do in school, this leads to engagement.
It helps you consider how students will reflect on the content and the process.
I must confess that the reflection section has remained blank, although, I know it should not. The student reflection from the Wild about Cramlington project tells me this. Its remained blank as it needs planning, I haven’t got there yet, although, it has in some of the individual sessions.

Although after the laboratory session, identifying the invertebrates captured, the students were briefly debriefed using the above questions. I am don’t think I've yet got the balance right over completing the project work and ensuring the process is open and valued. I hope to get better at this. However the student responses have been  interesting. I am not too concern that I have again neglected the process part, more frequent short evaluations will over the duration of the process do the job of providing me ways of helping student develop their skills, attributes and learner behaviours.,
Assessment is really at the heart of this document. Asking for what the formative and summative assessments should be. Planning these at the start, helps focus the planner on what is important for the student learning in the project, making the formative assessment genuinely formative having an impact on the quality of the learning and project.

It demands that content is linked to specific activities.
The final section is my favourite, a demand to plan strategies for the content and not planning the content around the tasks. Again this is simple but effective pedagogy. Here it ensures planning FOR the project, helping to keep the “teaching”  relevant and useful. This is the section where this planning tool took on a new dimension. I would do this for my “everyday” lessons, so why would I not do it within a project.

As I made these connections this section  seemed an obvious depository to compile the resources I had, or had to create or had located elsewhere. I also found it useful to phrase the outcomes as questions so that the whole project could be a problem solving activity. This does not mean it was discovery, It is entirely valid that within a project for me to teach, as I normally would. This is a year 7 project and its there first one of this magnitude. Of course I'm going to structure it and support them at every step,and I now know where this will be needed, thanks to the Buck Institute Project Planning Proforma. You gotta to love it.