Define the Problem:
Last year, I found myself in a bind when creating my schedule. Thomson was moving to a 90 minute weekly PLC for all grade levels, and I was tasked with covering students for half of that time. I stared at the daunting content colors in front of me, realizing I had much more scheduled time with students on a weekly basis than I had in the past. At first, I tried to fill the time with a variety of tasks, but they didn’t seem to engage the students. These tasks involved all students working on the same thing, at the same time, with the same technology.
Passion Projects seemed to be the answer, so I decided to try this type of learning out with my 4th-6th graders. As I started to put all the pieces into place, I began to think I was crazy. How was I going to be able to manage a whole grade level that was working on different topics, at different stages in their project, with different technology tools? There was only one way to find out, so I took a risk and went for it.
As with anything new there come successes and challenges. I would have to say that my biggest success was the student engagement. At first, when I told them what we were going to do I didn’t get quite the response I wanted. They were moaning and groaning about having to do another research project. As the year went on I saw a huge change in my students. I rarely had to redirect students because they got to choose what tool to use and the topic they were most passionate about. I also found it to be a great way for students to collaborate with each other. I allowed students to use the following tools to show their learning, but didn’t limit them to these:
My biggest challenge was supporting and giving feedback on all the different projects. When I implement passion projects again this year, I will be very intentional about when and how I give feedback. Check out these resources on giving feedback while facilitating Passion Projects or Genius Hour in the classroom:
One thing I would advise is to have a way to track where students are in their projects because once you get this started they work at different speeds and it is hard to keep up with all of them. Some ideas and tools for how to manage many different projects at once include:
My biggest takeaway from this whole process was that our students needed to be risk takers. So many students were afraid to push the button and try something new because they were afraid they were going to break something. It took many conversations with them about being risk takers for them to finally see that they could do it. As a result of this learning, instead of library orientation this year, I tasked the students with creating a book (Book Creator) or a short video (PowToons) that explains different technology and library expectations. Doing this task pushed them to be risk takers from the moment they walked into the library this year. I know that there will be some growing pains when we begin our passion projects again this year, but that is the BEAUTY of education; you never know if you can do it unless you try!!!
Want More Passion Project Info?
Would you like more resources on starting Passion Projects in the classroom? Check out these articles and books!
House and shark tank
Project-Based Learning (PBL) has been around for a while. I’ve read in a couple of different sources that it began in the medical field as a way to authentically prepare doctors to practice medicine. Professors would give students a scenario of a patient and they had to use existing knowledge, as well as research, to help that patient. It got me thinking about the show, House. Every episode is basically a PBL in the way the team works together to gather information and move forward in diagnosing the patient. Shark Tank is another example of TV shows gone PBL--or PBL gone TV shows--because the entrepreneurs have learned skills and knowledge through launching their business and presenting to the sharks. Maybe the allure of copying what's on TV is why PBL is gaining so much traction in education. No, I don’t really think that. I think the promise of authentic learning experiences, engagement, and development of future-ready skills entices teachers to explore using PBL in their classrooms.
The gist of PBL is that students learn through the project that is led by a driving question. Usually, teachers include community members, either in person or digitally, to make connections to the real world.
Although PBL is gaining traction, there are some arguments of critics to ponder when deciding if PBL is right for your classroom or school. One of the arguments is PBL lacks rigor and focuses too much on “soft skills.” Similar to technology integration, instruction doesn’t magically become better because you put a device in a student’s hand; PBL doesn’t automatically equal rigor and strong instruction. However, it can equal that when pedagogy and curriculum are the drivers. Jeffco has a planning template that combines what we know about the Gold Standard PBL and Jeffco Curriculum.
Jeffco's pbl planning template
This post is not about explaining what PBL is, but I would encourage you to check out Buck Institute for Education (BIE) for resources for implementing PBL. Jeffco also has a planning template that has BIE resources embedded to make it easier to explore as you plan. The document helps teachers think through the Jeffco curriculum and use project based learning as the vehicle to create student learning experiences that are authentic and rigorous.
Technology integration and Pbl
Two major premises of project based learning is inquiry for a student-led learning experience and authenticity in how they are applying their learning. Technology plays into both of those goals. Using technology meaningfully in the lesson/project design allows for students to be the drivers and teachers to give real time feedback along the way. Technology gives students the opportunity to be engaged citizens by connecting their learning to authentic problems or projects in their communities and beyond. Last, technology integrated into project based learning gives students many opportunities to learn the skills of computer and internet use in contextualized experiences. The combination of technology integration and project based learning can be very powerful in preparing your learners to be future ready. Check out Jeffco’s PBL Planning Document to learn and get started on planning a PBL!
How do you integrate technology into an author visit? Take the author on a trip to his own setting. Fifth graders at West Woods Elementary not only met author Roland Smith but invited him to climb Mt. Everest with them. Students in Ms. Bachman's class were reading "Peak", one of Smith's many novels when the author himself came for an assembly to talk about the writing process. Armed with Google Cardboards and the Expeditions app, fifth graders were able to take a tour of Mt. Everest through virtual reality as the author narrated. Students were amazed at the details and facts Mr. Smith shared with them about Mt. Everest as he was looking through the Google Cardboard. They asked him several follow-up questions about how he acquires so much information and the research that goes into his writing process.
Later in class, students participated in a full expedition to Everest with Digital Teacher Librarian, Kristen McCann. "Watching students engage in their learning and the connections that students were able to make to the text because of the experience was phenomenal," stated Kristen.
EDPuzzle is one of our favorite tools to ensure students are learning from video content and not simply skipping through the material without doing any thinking. To get students to interact with the content, you can add voice or text comments; create multiple choice questions to make them predict possible outcomes, or short answer questions for students to summarize their learning on the topic. Questions are inserted along the video timeline and, with a check box, you can ensure students answer the questions before they proceed.
Searching for educational content within EDPuzzle is simple and intuitive; or you can upload your own videos. Students join your online class using an access code, and then you can track their progress through your video lessons.