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, 18 June 2013

Planning, Managing and Exhibiting Projects. Part One - Planning.

This will be a post in three parts, and will form the basis of my Workshop at the Cramlington Learning Festival. It is indebted to the Unboxed article, by Jeff Robin of a similar title! It is based on my successes and failures of running projects, as well some of my reading too. The Innovation Units guide to project based learning "Work that matters" is a very useful compendium.

Do the Project first.

Mantra can be a good thing. Mantra can be a good thing.Mantra can be a good thing...... Do the Project first is still the best advice I have had on Project Based Learning. The benefits are huge.

  1. It will help you work out if the project is viable. Can YOU do it?
  2. It will determine if the project  deliver the content that you want it to.
  3. It will help you determine where you need to support the students more?
  4. It will help you determine what will you need to teach?
  5. It will provide a model to aid students co-construct success criteria.
The final one for me is a great safety net. The idea of projects can seem potentially chaotic, this really helps tie the outcomes down. Yet, to the students it feels like they are determining the outcomes. It is a game changer.

The 10x rule.

Yet another "steal" from Jeff Robin, that has proven time and time again to be successful. The rule says that students will take ten times longer than you to complete the work.

I recently used this to plan the "Cities in a Box" project. Knowing We had around 10 hours to complete the product. Some of the staff that ran this project, questioned if they would have enough to do during these sessions. After all, on the surface the task was to produce a single "tile" with an image on one side and a couple of paragraphs summarising what they had learned on the other. By the time the students have researched, drafted, critiqued and redrafted, the time limit was indeed very short. All of the doubters did comment on how little time they actually had. Quality does take time.

Use a planning tool.

I have a long been a fan of the Buck Institutes planning structure. I particularly like the  way it forces you to plan content and process concurrently. 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 their first project experience 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.

Backwards planning versus "standards/content" lead.'

Backwards planning can be useful, even if you are trying to fit specific content into a project. Thinking what might make a great project product is a good place to start, but will loose some the content control we crave in the U.K. Working backwards is a good way to see exactly what you can "fit" into the project. If it's not what you want, then you will have to find another product or teach those things separately. Not everything needs to be IN the project.

Planning with the end in mind is a Project Based Learning given, but it is worth thinking about what teaching will need to take place and when, as well as what you will assess and when. This is basically what I did in this example, which starts with the design of the product, an academic poster. Without this I could not work out what needed to happen over the next few weeks.

Starting with standards appears more difficult, but it is not impossible. At my school we benefit from taking a blended approach, of taught lessons and project/ enquiry learning. So, it is important to remember that projects do not need to cover everything. It is OK to focus in on a couple of curriculum standards for the project and cover the rest within your "normal" lessons. Projects are great at creating the "need to know" with students, so that any subsequent teaching is purposeful for students, the project will help them see the relevance of what is being taught.

The Planning of assessment is also critical. It can still be relevant to have an exam at the end of the project, if it will give you some useful information about the learning and performance of the students who have done the project
Finally, not every project has to be weeks and weeks long. Smaller mini projects can be just as valid  in developing the students dispositions.

Plan more than just the content .

For me, the reasons for using Project Based Learning as part of the teaching blend, is not just to find an engaging way of teaching content. It's an effective way to develop a culture that will allow students to become the students we want them to be. Any one who has read Ron Bergers An Ethic of Excellence or Kathy Greelys Why Fly that way, will already be sold on the cultural qualities project based learning can bring.

The Critical skills approach is very useful in developing the learning dispositions that will lead to success. The simplest way of doing this is through the use of Quality Criteria. These can be on any relevant skill, from being a critical friend to drawing a scientific graph. The power lies in co-construction, use of teacher recommended models and feedback based around the criteria. Each project will present many opportunities for these, but it is important to focus on one at a time, and revisit this throughout. Think about what is important for your student and what they would find useful in the project.

How to plan a "driving question".

This article from IN-SIGHT blog, is a useful guide, as well as this from Edutopia.

Although , I do differ in what I think a driving question can do, partly due to the nature of projects as opposed to enquiries. Projects for me are a much tighter way of ensuring the content that you want to be learnt is learned ( as much as any teaching situation can control this, as Nuthalls uniqueness measurements show.)

This should be an umbrella question, that can be broken down in smaller components . It also sets the context for the project that connects the students to their world.   I am an advocate of connecting students to their home town. This was serendipitously discovered during the "Call of the Wild Project", while I was pointing out that some of the birds had travelled from Sub Saharan Africa to be here. Their responses where fantastic " Living in Cramlington, we should take pride in the wildlife we have here" and "living in a busy area we need to get away and see the wildlife living in our community". The first time it was an accident, but it has been something I have then exploited in many of the subsequent projects I have done.

To summarise Driving Questions

helps to initiate and focus the inquiry.

also captures and communicates the purpose of the project

Helps frame the curriculum

Creates a challenge

It is evident that to get the driving question "right" you need to engage the team, keep going back to the point of doing the project and be willing to draft it.

The Tubric.

The Tubric is a handy start point.

 I love the tongue in cheek nature of both this presentation and  the TUBRIC itself. However, upon scrutiny it is a great start point for generating a useful driving question, it has all the components that will  a connected, relevant project.

The Tubric can be downloaded from here.here/

How to determine what to teach "within" the project.

Below is the Scheme of Work for the Physics of the Olympics project.


This scheme shows where the assessment and critiques will take place, has lesson plans to the taught parts. it highlights the components to the project.  It also has relevant homework planned in and optional lessons, where students can request attend if they or their project needs. This is an unusual project as the entire module is taught through a project

This is a simple way of keeping the momentum in a project, share what is coming next critiques are and when the when the deadlines are. This can be difficult if you are teaching multiple class projects at the same time. I simply do not have wall space, although sharing this with the students is good practice. I try to display keydates for students as best I can. High Tech High has a real culture of doing this, so every room has a schedule on. They also use points (rewards) for handing in that contributes ( a little) to the final grade.