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Hey! Beth Mitchell here, a West Carrollton High School Pirate of 20-plus years. I teach ELA 9-12. I was first introduced to PBL in the cold winter of February 2014. I was in the group that when school was cancelled a few diehards such as myself came back for more training, at a Buck Institute PBL 101 workshop facilitated by Al Summers. Little did I know that I would buy into what I had thought of as the “bull crap” concept of student driven learning and teachers as facilitators.
Let’s face it, I am a self-proclaimed micro-manager who has a job to do: educate efficiently and effectively with rigor. When I heard about driving questions, sustained inquiry lessons, and public products, my first response was “I ain’t got time for that!” with my responsibility for six sections of end of year course exams for English II, forgeddaboutit. However, some of the ideas and concepts resonated with me: authenticity, the concept of driving questions, student voice and choice. So...
I gave it a try. I did two projects that year that had me reflecting on the essential project design elements that I really did NOT incorporate this first time around. My first project was a unit about horror stories, which had just a DQ and public products, with a few teachers stopping by to evaluate the presentations.
The next project was my famous Oscars project that almost flopped because of inclement weather. This was a bigger stake for me, with all 6 sections of English II participating, and it was going to be bigger and better. Our DQ: What does it take to win an Oscar? Our end product was an event, “A Day at The Oscars” with predictions on nice tri-folds, Chromebooks playing trailers, students all dressed up, an actual red carpet, and popcorn. Our guests could vote on the movie of their choice based on the information the students presented. As Oscar day quickly approached, so did two inclement weather days, and I again found myself micro-managing. I was researching, helping, cutting and pasting because after all, I was also on public display.
Days of eye twitching, sleepless nights, and my own reflections at 3 AM, I finally realized, “So what if this is not exactly how I envision it to be! DUH! This is what THEY envision.” Nope, I did not hold true to that, and on Friday morning I arrived to put the finishing touches on my unfinished tri-folds. I found myself doing all of the revision and critiquing. Our audience loved it. But again, I did not hold true to the essential project design elements.
They both had me reflecting on the essential project design elements that I really did NOT incorporate the first time around. I quickly located my PBL 101 workbook to hone in on my missing components: sustained inquiry, authenticity, reflection, revision & critique.
Second Time Around
Fast forward to June 2016: round two of PBL 101. I needed CEU's to renew my license and after coming off of two semi-notable projects, I saw another opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. One: CEU’s, two: improve my skills and go back to the PBL drawing table. Al Summers again with all of his enthusiasm, and our superintendent Rusty Clifford with all his assets, were able to sell the product again to me and the others in the workshop. With a new improved user-friendly workbook and my perspective as a semi-seasoned “PBL’er” maybe I was more accessible, but I was so excited to team up with teachers outside my discipline to plan a project.
Our idea was planted by Rusty. He mentioned a health fair, and BAM! My P.E. teacher colleague Gail Kerr and I decided to create a Health and Wellness Fair with our 9th-10th grade students, directed toward elementary students. We added Michael Hagen from Northmont High School, the only other P. E. teacher in the workshop. The idea went from cross-curricular to outside district. Our authentic DQ: How can we, as wellness instructors, create a health and wellness fair for elementary students? This time around I have people to keep me in check and keep me from micro-managing. I will create a PBL board with a list of students’ questions, the big DQ, and other essential project design elements.
When I reflect over my PBL training and past attempts I know that I had many tools in my PBL tool box, they were just unorganized. It took me going to the workshop twice to get organized to the point of really feeling like I know what I am doing. I have always been a hands-on, audio-visual learner x2. I have students that are the same way and I teach them as such.
I’ve been at West Carrollton High School in Ohio for 25 years – teaching Health, P.E., Human Sexuality, Personal Fitness, Quest, and Freshmen Foundations.
A couple of years ago, I was signed up to attend a BIE PBL training and was pulled out several times due to lack of substitutes. While the rest of the staff received training, I felt like I was left behind. Our building and district was moving on and I felt like every time information was distributed or discussed about PBL, I was lost! I kept trying to read over information, talk with other teachers and attempt to try and understand it all. I felt like someone threw me the materials to build a house with no blueprint or construction ability… so therefore my house kept falling apart!
I attempted to do a PBL project with one of my Personal Fitness classes. I had them design a two-week unit for Physical Fitness for middle schoolers. It was an absolute disaster! Again, my house was falling down because of the weak foundation that I had been given. I was beginning to have the attitude of “why is this important to P.E. and there is no way I’m going to be able to make this work.” Then I saw an opportunity to get the proper training for PBL, offered with CEU’s as an incentive, so I jumped on the chance to finally figure out what it’s all about! But I was still skeptical and didn’t really think I’d be enlightened as I was… I thought, “why not, I’ll still get my CEU’s.”
Getting My PBL Glasses
If it hadn’t been for the instructor, Al Summers, and his enthusiasm and teaching techniques, I truly feel I would have been “lost again.” He built a PBL project with us to demonstrate “How to teach, using PBL”…it was pretty tricky of him. I didn’t even realize until the last day of the workshop what was happening. I felt like I had been to the PBL eye doctor and the doctor gave me PBL glasses! I say this because I am dead serious, it was really blurry for me going into this workshop, and as hard as I tried to pull a PBL project together, it finally all became so clear!
So as a result of the wonderful PBL workshop, Beth Mitchell and I another teacher have designed a PBL project! I am very excited to get this going in our upcoming school year and watch where the students take it. Our high school students will be participating in a project titled “Stay Strong, Live Long” – a wellness fair for elementary students in our district. I never would have been this excited in a million years about doing PBL if I didn’t understand them better now and know how effective I truly believe they are and can be! I definitely am going to keep on wearing my “PBL Glasses” from here on out… and I happen to know a few good “PBL Eye Doctors” if you need a referral!
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