I apologise that I didn't write last weekend. Finding a balance between work and life is a very fine line. Especially when your job requires you to prepare everything outside of the hours 9-3.30pm (yes, I do get 3 hours of preparation time, they just seem to fizzle away most of the time, chasing up enquiries, answering emails and updating displays etc).
We conferenced with each project group over the course of last week. Like any learning environment, there are some groups who have luck on their side and projects that are naturally falling into place as well as others who are in need of a gentle nudge in the right direction, still enthusiastic none the less though!
The purpose of the conferences was to discuss the end product that each group is working towards. Having the opportunity to sit together without time restraints was a luxury that allowed everyone involved to have a clear picture of the goal that is approaching with speed. When do we get the opportunity to do that in a traditional classroom?
The clarity that came out of these chats was the result of careful planning; something that came up in conversation between the PBL staff members this week. Throughout our journey as educators, I am very proud that it has been through careful planning and considered questioning that our students have created each opportunity to learn about and develop their project.
For many students, this week was the 'ah-ha' moment. Having to articulate what they would be presenting on exhibition night and how they planned on sharing this with their audience suddenly made this whole process very real, but in such a positive way.
It is hard to describe; perhaps it is pride in their own efforts, a sense of fulfilment in the hard work completed so far or the drive to be the first students at Moreland Primary School aiming to raise the PBL bar as high as possible, our expectations or a combination of all of these things that are making project based learning a valuable and rewarding experience.
Another milestone this week was the arrival of some of our first 'experts' in the form of parents with specific skills required to support our projects beyond the seemingly everlasting knowledge of teachers ;)
To have adults discussing the evolution and direction of the projects was exciting to observe. The genuine interest from boths sides was clearly apparent and we are very grateful to VJ, Michael, Rebecca, Augusta and Brigid for giving up their time to come and learn together.
Being a naturally inquisitive person when it comes to the new and slightly unfamiliar, I am continuing to read about project based learning as an experience for students. I think the link below is a wonderful example of the many ways that we have carefully gone about planning for this pilot project. Please take the time to read it and leave your feedback as a comment!
I think I will conclude with a quote from one of our students when asked what she like best about PBL. The answer (whispered in case a magical hand might swipe down from above and rebuke her); "We get to learn like adults." My job here is done.
It's week four in term three already. Time is becoming an enemy.
We have decided that rather than risking having our students burn out by working all day on their 'big' project, they can also work on a second 'smaller' project - referred to affectionately as project 2 - on the topic of their choice. This means exhibiting two end products, one that answers our overarching question and another that represents personal learning and interest.
Our task during the last week has been to bump along while we waited for fifteen of our students and one of our teachers to return from Somer's camp. It is clear that regardless of academic ability, everyone requires a lot of work in order to research effectively and gain information that is relevant, substantial and easy for 9 year olds to understand. It is also becoming clear that a small number of our many students blessed with academic prowess are treating our PBL pilot as a cruisy ride downhill towards the conclusion of one's time at primary school and it is for them that I worry the most.
To be honest, I feel like they aren't getting it. I have spoken to parents who reflect on their children becoming overwhelmed, but I know that this is most likely going to turn out like any other opening night production; lots of work is going on behind the scenes. There are tiny glimpses of progress and it is difficult to envisage anything reaching fully finished by exhibition night in week nine, a week that I predict will have teachers turning prematurely grey and students having aha moments reminiscent of a lightning storm.
And so, as student's begin their Scrum's and allocate jobs and roles, I hope against hope that they push each other to be better than they have been for the previous three weeks. I wish for nothing but success for each and every student in our care and need them to show us that all of the lessons, tasks, discussions, workshops and time this term have imparted in them the desire to show us what they have learnt by producing a piece of work that fills them with pride like no other test score has before. The next four weeks will be a hard slog; time to put our preseason training to the test.
Our aim for week one was to get our websites up and going in order for students to begin documenting evidence of their learning. It was also important to us that we emphasise the importance of collaboration during this journey by doing lots of team building projects, most of which integrated critical thinking skills.
Behind the scenes, we have welcomed Hayden back to Moreland Primary. Hayden is one of those teachers who seems like he could work effortlessly with anyone, regardless of their role in the school and I feel blessed to have someone so easy going, flexible and knowledgeable on the team.
We also met Chris for the first time. Chris comes from a high school background, but has found a connection with the PBL staff and students with his knowledge of technology and has some activities planned that really will redefine how our students use the tech available to them.
Natalie has also joined the PBL team from Monday to Wednesday each week. She brings a strong understanding of the senior students learning backgrounds and seems to have juggled her many jobs around the school without dropping any balls (bad PE teacher pun?) so far.
Also along for the ride is Simon. I've had the pleasure of working with Simon for many years and appreciate all that he has taught me, the many hours we've spent laughing during planning sessions and his friendship outside of school hours.
So, at the end of our first week, I would again like to acknowledge this hard working team. It can't be easy for any of them popping in as part time staff in the PBL area, but they have all gone above and beyond to make week one a roaring success.
Probably my personal highlight of the week was the excursion to the Western Treatment Plant in Werribee on Friday 15th. The activities planned by education staff were a terrific base to enlighten our students towards sewage waste in our community.
We listened to a story about the start of the Yarra river up in the mountains. As we progressed closer and closer towards the city, students emptied the contents of a container that held objects that all eventually contribute to the pollution of our famous river.
I have butterflies in my stomach. I do every Sunday night before a new term starts, but this term is different because along with Simon, Hayden, Natalie and Chris, I am taking 52 students from years 3-6 on a roller coaster ride that will be like no learning any of them will have seen or experienced before.
I think the nerves are the result of the many 'what if?' questions bumping around in my head. It's one of the few school holidays in my career that I haven't spent a significant amount of time planning each hour for the next term. Those 52 students now have the power in their hands and I am scared and excited about that possibility.
Is ten weeks long enough for them to grasp learning to work using the 4Cs rather than being directed what to do? Are our expectations of these student too high? How will all of the stakeholders involved in this pilot react to how our term progresses?
Needless to say, each teacher brings their own qualities to this new learning area of Moreland Primary. I have such strong faith in our ability as a team, that's one of the beautiful characteristics of our school. The hours of planning behind the scenes are there merely to set these students up for success; the collaborative conversations, the overarching question being discussed and redefined to the point where we all looked at each other and grinned, knowing that we had nailed it.
What if we run out of time? Well, then we've probably learnt a heck of a lot along the way.
What if the question is too difficult for some students to create a solution to? I certainly hope a seed has been planted that they can connect to at some stage later in their lives.
What if some students don't make progress, either academically or with 21st century learning skills? We all learn at different speeds and in different ways. That is why this program needs to be offered, to demonstrate how ill placed standardised testing of our students is; they might not know how to use rhetorical devices to persuade an audience. YET.
As I turn off my devices for the night, I want to leave you with the question that has continued to drive me during our planning process so far.
What if we hadn't tried this?