“There is a substantial body of research confirming that having a concrete problem as the focus for knowledge acquisition helps students retain their learning and comprehend it better.” University of Adelaide
These middle school students are doing what could be very important work for the community while learning about the standards required for their course. The teacher does an awesome job of giving pieces to investigate to different groups and then bringing the students together to synthesize the findings to help them draw their conclusions.
Notice that the teachers says “it may last one class period or a series of class periods.” He’s not talking units here. He’s demonstrating every day work driven by inquiry. Our nature center is perfect for these types of inquiry lessons.
This is a great video sharing the PBL work being done between two culturally diverse classes in different countries as they follow the migration of the Monarch butterfly from the United States into Mexico. And, as luck would have it, that migration path cuts right through east Texas.
Sometimes, you just have to break down the “game” or problem of whatever you’re attempting to do into smaller chunks to improve. Take basketball, for instance. It’s a game of science; physics, to be exact. One school decided to overcome poor free throw shooting by creating a PBL unit that has their physics classes studying the players and using their inquiry skills to identify problem areas and improve best practices. The great video below from Dripping Springs High School in Texas shows the highlights of the process.
While we are so focused on covering the coursework for our assigned subject, it is imperative that we remember that students learn best in context. What better way to put things in context than to make them interdisciplinary and show them the cross-curricular connections? Here’s one example:
Looking to get your feet wet in PBL with some projects that have already been packaged for you? Suzie Boss shares several that might interest you in her article on Edutopia, “Good to Go Projects for 2014.”
PBL units can be the most engaging to students when designed around current topics that learners can relate to. That can be difficult for newer PBL teachers who aren’t as comfortable going through the planning process.
Mike Gwaltney has a blog post sharing a unit he put together based on the current conflict in Syria and how it pertains to what the United States can do. He links to the actual documents that are used in the decision making process. These are documents that students probably never knew existed and are never discussed on the news channels.
What I think will benefit you the most from looking at Mike’s blog post is his process. He lays it out starting with the Driving Question and works his way through documents to share and then some facilitating the group work. It is really well done. Look at its framework and try to put a workflow in place for you to do the same in your classroom on a moment’s notice.
I got an email from the Bard recently that supports a very strong point we’ve heard in our PBL training with BIE. We should be pulling our lessons and driving questions from real world events. Suzanne shared an email she receives as part of the NY Times Learning Network. Take some time and check the site out. You will find lesson ideas for all subject areas. It is well worth it, and the best part is that it can come to your email with top headlines selected with a focus on classroom, real world learning. Just look for the box in the right sidebar that says “The Learning Network Email Newsletter” and sign up there.