When we started a cohort group in our school on Project-Based Learning, many questions started to arise about real life difficulties: finding an authentic audience and product that really engages students, being able to actually contact experts willing to communicate, etc. All these questions stared to emerge at a professional development retreat on PBL, where we had Suzie Boss‘ awesome guidance. After the retreat, teachers started to work on their PBL plans, having Suzie Boss still as a consultant along the way.
PBL is awesome, but it requires thinking and troubleshooting of ideas and plans. Because PBL is about real life issues, real life people and audiences, then we do come across real life issues. In other words, not all is planned as in traditional classes, as there is room for adapting as we move along.
Sharing and getting feedback
Seeing each other’s PBL plans and providing feedback on them during the retreat was a very good learning experience. So to keep the sharing alive, a Google+ Community was created. Suzie Boss agreed to provide feedback in this platform. Because PBL has an organic development, such sharing can benefit everyone, as we learn from each other’s attempts and ideas. We are just starting to explore the platform and become comfortable being open.
Embracing collaboration that is possible
One of the PBL projects involves our 3rd Grade Interdependence Unit. Their Teaching and Learning Coach, Aaron Van Borek, posted a request for expert support. They were looking for someone to accompany them to a park near the school. As I posted his request to the High School, one of our Biology teachers suggested a class visit, where his HS students would teach the 3rd Graders about Ecology. That would help the 3rd Grade team with their project and also serve as formative assessment for the HS students. The proposal was accepted and it became a very successful class, where both HS students and 3rd Graders were very engaged. Therefore, being open to possibilities that emerge can generate good results.
A Skype call with Africa: adapting to connection issues
As part of a PBL project at the High School International Relations class, students had a Skype call with a grassroots worker from Sierra Leone. This expert was an indication from Jennifer Klein at Taking IT Global. The Skype conference was very powerful, as students learned first hand what it is really like in Sierra Leone, where outside help is not reaching. However, the call was not without its difficulties. As we learned about the poor education and health infrastructure in Sierra Leone, I could only imagine what the Internet infrastructure is like within the country. Apart from that, as we look at the Submarine Cable map below, we can see that we have only a single indirect connection with Africa. Also considering that Internet connections do not follow the smaller path, but can follow any path. So I believe that type of understanding of the reality is also very important in a PBL that attempts to be authentic.
Below you see a video from the Skype call which was edited to eliminate the waiting times and all the reconnection trials that were done along the way. The video sounds great, though reality in the classroom was different. But it was true to the reality of the country and the reality of how Internet operates at this point in time. You can see in the video that most of the time we cannot view the image from Sierra Leone, because we had to disconnect the video to make room for voice in the connection. The Skype Messenger was also used for some of the time. So having a plan B is important, as well as appreciating the reality of the event, not as a struggle or disappointment, but as reality itself. Being able to use this type of experience to interpret the reality of how someone like this worker tries to reach out to find support and how difficult it can be, can also be illuminating.