Getting My Sea Legs Back

Working on a ProjectComing back to the classroom after almost 7 years has been a rough adjustment. The textbook  we have is, in my opinion, garbage, so I spend a lot of time creating curriculum. Thanks goodness for the Internet and sites like betterlesson.com. Then there is the new evaluation procedures which require a lot more work on the teacher’s part. Finally, we are a SIG school so there is paperwork and data collection everywhere.

This week I finally went full in on the problem based learning (PBL) bandwagon. I’ve talked about it for years, but I’ve always fallen back on the teacher directed lessons. I’ve tried to do the Madeline Hunter formula, Hook, Model, Practice, Evaluate or I DO, WE DO, YOU DO TOGETHER, YOU DO. I see the logic in the formula, but at the end of the day what happens is the students who are good at school get it, the students who are bad at school don’t, and the behavior problems are behavior problems because they get it and are bored or the don’t get it and don’t want to ask.

I didn’t think my kids were ready. I spent a week preparing them and they still think a good student is defined by how well they listen. I emphasized trust.

I thought I had to trust that everyone can and will work without me watching over every movement. They have to trust each other to do the work. Everyone has to trust me that they will be ready for the quiz.

I wasn’t sure if I could trust them. I took the plunge anyway. On Tuesday, I shared the problems and stepped back. I didn’t even assign problems, I gave a choice of four. I didn’t choose groups. I set parameters:

  • Choose someone smarter than you
  • Someone who works harder than you
  • Someone who will keep you out of trouble.

The task Tuesday was to read the problem, decide what it means, and then split up the work. It went pretty well, but a lot of groups didn’t really fill out the work assignment sheet.

For Wednesday I displayed my one slide.

Working on a Project

Before the bell even rang I stepped into the room and said, “You do not need me to tell you what to do, you do not need to wait for the bell, you can start right now”. Then I went back into the hall for duty. When I came back in most students in most classes were working.

On Thursday I said the same thing. I stopped them for 5 minutes so I could show a sample presentation on a project nobody had, then they went back to work. They were supposed to finish the bulk of the work on Wednesday and finish the bulk of the presentation on Thursday for presentations on Friday and Monday, but the word bulk gave them permission to not actually be finished and still feel the pressure to actually put in work. One group finished. One came in for lunch to do bit of extra work.

In my lowest class students worked and asked questions. I taught the one lesson I would have taught at the board 4 times, but this time everyone listened because they wanted to know how to solve the problem.

In my class where I have a lot of strong personalities it was silent. I went from group to group and they were all working and didn’t need or want any help.

It isn’t all roses though. I have two students in one class who have failed to join a group, despite being assigned to two. They now try to wander the room and join random groups. When I ask them to stop they blame me. I have one student who is in a group, but still doesn’t do any work. And of course I have a lot of groups that are busy trying to create a presentation, but  have no idea about the math they are using.

I’m ok with most of this. I wish the two students would join one group and do some work, but there are more issues than just math there. I hope that during the presentation we will have some decent feedback and they can learn from that. If not from students then hopefully from me.

Finally, today was the dreaded question. Will this be graded? Well yes, but it will only be worth up to 2% in the gradebook because we have to use a Common Formative Assessment which will be the quiz. I would much rather grade this project and put that into the gradebook. On the other hand for those students who fail the quiz, and there will be a few, this will be a good lesson on doing the math first and worrying about presentations second. They can always retake the quiz and if last quarter is any indication almost half would have to anyway.

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