I have already written a few blog posts on planning a PBL unit, such as a macroscopic view of backwards planning a PBL unit, and ideas of how to get your students to work together and not just next to each other. Why would I post another one again? Haven’t I already kind of milked my thoughts about PBL on ChemEdX enough already?
Over the last few weeks, I have been working with a middle school physical science teacher, Morgan, to develop a PBL experience for her students as they learn the basics of the atom, periodic trends, and bonding types. She is a first year teacher and has been so fun to work with. It has been really eye opening to work with her - in a good way. As I work with another teacher, I have realized that I have forgotten how big of a task it is to create ALL OF THE PIECES of these experiences for students (and let’s be real, we are a bit crazy to create this during the school year). My goal is always to be real with my writing and experiences, and here is something a bit more real for you all. In this post, I am sharing what it is like to develop a project from both my perspective and, most importantly, from Morgan’s. Think of it as a view from the trenches.
Photo credit: asenkat (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Canadian_trenches_-_Vimy_Sector.jpg)
Our logistics so far:
She came to me with a list of unit standards.
We worked out a general concept of what she wanted her students to do (design a superhero suit - students must choose compounds or elements to make up certain parts of the suit to meet requirements/properties needed).
Then, we made a sample product we would want to use as an exemplar for students. This forced us to revisit the concept and make sure the beginning and end aligned.
At this point in time, to kill the circles we were going in, I shared THIS PLANNING DOCUMENT FOUND BELOW. Originally, I made this document as a supplement for an NSTA presentation (where I actually got connected to ChemEdX - thanks for coming to this presentation, Deanna!). In addition to a sample entry event (which I have shared in another post), I also have sample memos given throughout the project, student scaffolds (“hint cards”), rubrics, how to find panelists, unit plan with summary of the “what do we do in between project work time”, and more. (Please do not post ANY of these resources on the open internet - I have spent MONTHS developing/synthesizing these pieces over multiple years.)
Since the initial brainstorming sessions, we have met periodically during the school week to check in.
Morgan1 has been so kind to share her thoughts in planning her first PBL experience:
My reflections about starting from square one (so far):
I am really grateful for this experience. I am excited for even more intentional vertical alignment from middle school to high school. On a serious note, it has gotten me out of my comfort zone of planning pretty much solo. Agonizing about minute details with another human being is awesome. For her entry event, we literally talked for 45 minutes about wording so that students would create products very focused on the content. Additionally, because she works with 8th grade students, we eventually got to thinking that reducing the number of moving parts that students accessed would be beneficial, so she created a google site instead of using individual letters like I do.
Basically, these conversations and questions that come up have given me a fresh perspective on creating projects that simply manipulate students to ask questions about content they need to learn anyways (aka ask questions that drive curriculum forward). I am grateful to work with someone who has similar goals for her students, because her thoughts and questions push me. On the flip side, I’m grateful to work with a teacher who is ok with me questioning just about every choice she is making.
To conclude, I’d like to share resources with you if you’re working on planning from square one.
On the internet, there are many fabulous resources for entry events (Buck Institute of Education, Emory’s CASES, High Tech High resources). But an overall unit plan for a SCIENCE-based high school level experience (let alone chemistry)? An example of how a project might intersect with curriculum you might already use? Specific rubrics that get students to focus on the content? Ideas on how to get panelists to grade for 8 hours? These are things I am interested in, that Morgan is interested in, and maybe you are interested in too.
Ultimately, I hope that these resources provide the necessary activation energy to help nudge your creative juices over the edge. Because it’s hard. And Dr. Ken Robinson says that “Individual creativity is almost always stimulated by the work, ideas, and achievement of other people.”1 That’s maybe why you’re teaching, right? To give your students opportunities to intersect with rigorous content?
Are there any readers that are doing similar things in their classrooms? Have you had positive experiences co-planning? Do you have any lessons learned for Morgan and I? Please share!
1 J. Morgan Schwab is an awesome first year physical science teacher at STEM School and Academy in Colorado.
2 “Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative”, Dr. Ken Robinson, 2011.