October 30, 2013 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin
It was on Twitter that I first heard of PBL (Project Based Learning). A number of people had written about projects they had carried out, and one name in particular kept on being mentioned; Berger. After asking a few questions I discovered that the ‘Berger’ in question was Ron Berger, author of ‘An Ethic of Excellence – Building a culture of craftsmanship with students‘.
I wanted to find out a bit more about PBL and discover if it was something that would help to improve my own practice. I read ‘An Ethic of Excellence’ and was truly inspired. The stories in the book were brilliant, and with every page turned I began to draw up a wish list of what I would want my lessons and classroom to look and feel like.
I decided that I would attempt to trial PBL with one of my classes this year. I picked my most difficult class, a mixed ability KS3 Science class. They have been described as ‘unteachable’ by some of my colleagues, and so far this year they have definitely proven to be a handful. There are a number of individual issues within the class. Many of the pupils have low levels of literacy. There are a number of pupils with behavioural issues; some of the pupils in the class have missed several lessons this term already through suspensions. There are also two school refusers in the class, with one pupil having only appeared in one of my lessons so far this year. Most of the pupils cover their exercise books with doodles and scribbles and have little pride in the work that they do.
That said, nearly every pupil in the class WANTS to do well. Pupils get anxious before tests because they want to be successful. They ask incredibly insightful questions during lessons and they surprise me every week with a nugget of general knowledge relevant to what we are studying. I have chosen this class to trial PBL with because I want them to start to believe in themselves. I want them to be proud of themselves and everything that they do in our lessons. I want them to demonstrate their knowledge and skills to the rest of the school community. I would like them to work together as a group to achieve something that they will remember for the rest of their lives. Idealistic? Quite possibly – but we will give it a go anyway!
Having taken the decision to trial PBL, I searched for further reading to help me get started. I found a fantastic document called, ‘Work that matters – The teacher’s guide to project based learning’, written by Alec Patton (document can be found here). This booklet is a fantastic guide to starting with project based learning and I would recommend this wholeheartedly.
The pictures below outline my planning process so far. The list of content outcomes is pinched from the scheme of work that I have to deliver. The skills outcomes have been written by myself with the particular class I am working with in mind. The scheme of work already has a ‘Cook’ theme. This made it a lot easier to decide on a general theme and essential question for the project. The overall outcome of the project is to be a Christmas Lecture in the style of the annual lectures delivered by the Royal Institute (see http://www.rigb.org/christmas-lectures). Our lecture will be based around the essential question,
‘How can Science help us to cook the perfect Christmas dinner?’
There will be an exhibition of pupils’ work before and after the lecture for parents and staff to look at and discuss.
As you can see from the pictures I have a long way to go. My main issue at the moment is what happens in individual lessons. As I understand PBL, one element of each project is to develop pupils’ ability to learn independently. I am struggling to decide how to approach the planning of individual lessons. How to strike a balance between teacher-led instruction and independent pupil learning?
I would welcome any comments and advice from people more knowledgeable than myself! I will update the blog as the project develops.