This is a follow-up to “So what if it’s a project?”
I never did come up with a better project idea. I had the edges of something but I couldn’t make it resolve. So I picked two of the more school-y but somewhat authentic projects (newspaper, conversation photostory) and let them pick. Before starting, though, we spent half an hour on a review warm-up (bellringer) that I planned as a quick thing. I saw with my first block class how much time they were taking to do it, but not in a “those kids are slacking” way – they were thinking hard about it and trying to do it without looking at their notes, and I decided that my planned 10 minutes of review at the beginning of class could be half an hour of letting them struggle with this. They struggled and then we discussed it. I asked them who was the easiest and then it just went from there.
What’s the point? The point is flexibility. The point is the lesson plan is only the introduction to the story. I’m not always good at remembering that, but when I do, I am in that moment seeing what is happening for the students and willing to change around based on what I see on their faces and hear in their voices, those are some of my best moments as a teacher. This simple warm up was not something I expected to be a powerful learning experience – but something about it challenged them and they rose to that challenge and were willing to push through and work on it. I had kids who are not my ‘hand-always-up’ types coming up to me as I circulated and just let them work, and struggle, and say “Martin Luther was from Germany, right?” and the excitement in their voice at knowing this, at remembering without looking at their notes, got me excited.
After that it was time to introduce the projects. I went over the two options, they got in their groups and picked one, I handed out directions and spent the rest of class just circulating and helping out. I both love and hate those classes. I love it because I feel the most engaged with the students but I hate it because there’s 26 kids in the room who all want a conversation with me to resolve their concerns so I’m worn out by the end of the period.
What happened with the projects? Out of 3 classes, only 4 groups are doing a photostory because a newspaper is easier. One group, however, took the two ideas and ran, asking if they could basically do a newscast. Some groups got into their newspapers, making it sound authentic. Some are basically rewriting the notes into their own words and calling it an article while others asked for textbooks and resources to look up additional information. Two kids called me out on details I remembered wrong. Although very few students did not get engaged and work hard, there were those few I didn’t reach.
I don’t know how to judge this in terms of success. Success at helping them grapple with the content? Some already got it and are just flying, others did have to go back and review and ask questions and seem to have learned from it, others seem not to be learning much from it, just completing the requirements. Success as a (somewhat) authentic project? Assuming the role of a newscaster or newspaper writer seems to have had an appeal to some students, but I’m not going to make big assertions about authenticity.
Overall I’m glad I went forward with the projects even if I couldn’t make a grander idea resolve. Last week there was a lot of lecture in my regular World History classes, and to be honest, I got bored. If I’m bored, you KNOW the students are. Even if this wasn’t the perfect implementation of project-based learning, it was a step in the right direction with a unit that I have previously struggled very hard with teaching. There’s other topics where this is easy for me – the Industrial Revolution, for example, is incredibly easy to create simulations and stimulating activities for – but the Reformation has always been a struggle to teach well. For the first time in years I feel like I made progress on that.