PBL · reflection

Week 8 Upd8 – Achieving Intentions

And just like that we’re two months into the term. There’s been several moments this term I’ve tried to pause and feel the passage of time, but it always gets away. At least this year I’m in a much better routine for pausing to reflect, and I wanted to spend some time critically thinking about how the PBL course is going.

What is PBL? Project-based learning; Problem based learning, Project blob learning…I’ve done a whole post on PBL before, but that was our intended meaning. So what has it turned into?

Intention #1 – Interdisciplinary

Somewhat.

I can only speak for one of three streams, but I do still feel it is an inter-disciplinary way of approaching the curriculum. Myself and my partner have seamlessly combined English and HASS curricular in a meaning way – the highlight being our Viking Democracy + persuasive speaking lessons.

Yet at this stage, I don’t feel we’ve successfully integrated all four learning areas together. Sadly, we’re still constricted by timetables, and I feel that’s a barrier to genuinely teaching english/science or HASS/maths in an interdisciplinary way. Maybe swapping teaching partners in the future, or maybe have some complicated super-fancy rotating timetable would be awesome. The most practical method would be to have shared planning time for ALL lessons… but how do we find the time? Maybe next term, creating more intentional tasks to be used across three different disciplines will be a step in the right direction.

Intention #2 – Soft Skills Development

So far.

For those new to the buzz word, soft skills are

Often used to describe the skills which characterise relationships with other people, or which are about how you approach life and work.

Others phrases that are often used for these types of skills include: ‘people skills’, ‘interpersonal skills’, ‘social skills’ or ‘transferable skills’.

Read more at: https://www.skillsyouneed.com/general/soft-skills.html

While I don’t have any “hard” data, I have a whole lot of anecdotal. Students have improved in their quality of classroom discussions and opinions. We’ve explicitly scaffolded how to have ‘team meetings’ according to an agenda, and some have taken that to the next stage of doing it independently – Our Gryffindors successfully had their own ‘Thing’ and made democratic decisions on several agenda items without any intervention from a teacher~!

We’ve had a big focus on growth mindset and “thinking about their thinking”. Weekly reflection writing has focused on how to apply learning to the future, or other scenarios. The majority of students are now able to identify their decision-making process and skills/ideas they used.

Yet, kids are kids, and they haven’t quite got the hang of diplomatically resolving team tensions, or solely having independent initiative to get a job done without being hounded by a teacher. Maybe one day.

Intention #3 – Higher Student Engagement.

YES.

I’ve tried my hardest for this not to be riddled with my own enthusiastic-bias, but I really do think my PBL class are more engaged, more involved and more dedicated to their year 8 predecessors.

I’m not sure what kind of witchcraft combination of educational philosophies achieved it, but it has resulted in

  • Six students volunteering their own time at our recent Open Night to talk about their projects and PBL experience.
  • Three parents telling me that their child “is a different kid since coming to high school…for the better”
  • Two project teams spending extra time for their major project, including making appointments with our principal independently (!!!) and arranging people to be interviewed at a cosplay convention (!!!!!)
  • A 90% average attendance rate for my HG (If my flimsy calculations are correct).

Our classes, while sometimes crazy, have been a downright joy for me to teach. Maybe I’m lucky with an amazing cohort of students, or an amazing team of PBL teachers, but if it is already having a positive effect on students (and teachers alike), we must be doing something right.

Where to from here?

The madness continues right up to the end of term, where we’ll have our big showcase day, and some actual graded assessment (shudder).

I’d like to say that I’m concerned about the lack of curriculum we are covering but… I’m really not. I’d much rather have a deep discussion about the greater good and its ties to future decision making, then covering the concept briefly so we still have time to cover the grammatical content for the week. I plan on teaching authentically and rising to students curiosity, regardless on how related to the curriculum it is.

I still have some doubts, that this could just be “the latest trend in education and will inevitably crash and burn and lead the way for some other fashionable educational trend that will also inevitable crash and burn”... Yet I’m young and feel entitled to hold on to my inexperienced optimism.

Ultimately, my plan is to strive forward with PBL for as long as I can. As a teacher, I’m happier than I’ve ever been to come to school each morning, and have a genuinely strong connection with the students in my class. If that’s the only outcome from this experiment, then it’s still worth it.

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2 thoughts on “Week 8 Upd8 – Achieving Intentions

  1. Another great record of how PBL is travelling from your experience Alison. I would like to challenge you on a few points:
    1. “we’re still constricted by timetables” – no you’re not. In fact, the deliberate way that the lines have been constructed means that there is an easy swap within teams at any time – that the case for every team!
    2. “to have shared planning time for ALL lessons” – you do! There is only 1 person in the whole PBL team that has a conflict. Your shared PBL planning line is Line 7. Again this was strategically managed. I would also add that our new TT means that EVERY member of our staff is free every day after school. Having just spent time with principals and leaders from a range of Secondary Schools across SA, this is completely unique to us at WSS. In fact, most schools remain with 2 compulsory 1 and a half hour meetings after school.
    3. Interdisciplinary should not be forced. There is no doubt that there are aspects that you could be exploring further to ensure and there is SO MUCH MATHS and SCIENCE in HASS, but Interdisciplinary approaches also rely on specific disciplinary skills teaching. It is the lens you plan through, seeking the connections and blurring the lines for the learner.

    I encourage you to actively seek time together, as this will allow you to explore this more deeply. Rather than assuming barriers, try and seek out solutions, some of which are easily available….just ask!

    Like

    1. Oh, Rhoni, I appreciate your challenges! You have clearly shown me that myself and others may have fallen victim to… ROUTINE. Early in the term, with the freshness of the new schedule we had many a meeting, yet it’s subtly disappeared in recent weeks. I had been patting myself on the back for successfully having planning sessions with my direct classroom partner, yet failed to see how easily I could extend the time to my other PBL buddies! It is comforting that there is a simple solution, and I’ll endeavour to schedule better use of shared-planning time.

      It is much better to have organic links across disciplines, but even these must be sought carefully sometimes. We had found some natural ideas to integrate in our subjects, but again that was when we actually spent more time together. Maybe my next reflection will be about the conscious effort for shared planning and the effects it has…

      Liked by 1 person

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