Projects in the Round

I woke up this morning realizing that I haven’t posted on my blog in two weeks! My apologies for anyone who actually enjoys reading this thing for such a delay. With the beginning of school, it has been a whirlwind of activity.

Since starting my project-based learning (PBL) adventure a year ago, I would like to think that I’ve learned a good deal from my mistakes, missed marks, and misunderstandings. This year the adventure had the potential to get very rocky as we expanded our PBL classrooms to two different grade levels. While considering this, I devised a plan on how to juggle so many projects from so many different students at the same time. You see last year we would hold an exposition-style presentation for the community at large at the end of each semester. These expos were a way of rewarding the students’ hard work and to validate it as well. They were both successful for first year attempts, so my thought for this year’s first round of projects with our tenth grade group was to present the projects ‘in the round’ exposition-style while my colleague and I used a specific rubric to grade each project during the exposition. This really saved us! Our ninth grade group is still so green to how the class works so we knew we couldn’t do this with them, but our veterans really stepped up and handled the new style of presentation in class very well.

In order for our summer reading to really matter to our students, we require our first full project to focus on the readings, their connections, and their value to them as students. We allowed students to work in pairs for this first project, which really worked well considering we have almost exactly sixty students in this class. We presented the projects in two days. Half the class presented one day and the other half on the second day. While one half presented the other half rotated through each station, taking notes, and rating their peers performance. It was noisy and beautiful at the same time. It honestly went almost better than expected. We had a mixed reaction as to how much the students liked it, but from a teacher’s perspective it was a great way to see each student in action, see understanding, and evaluate quickly.

We’ll be going back to more classic presentations in our next round, but this made for a much more manageable and smooth transition into my second year of a PBL classroom.

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9 thoughts on “Projects in the Round

  1. Our summative assessments are done through a very large rubric that incorporates all the standards they are hitting in a project. We use Google Docs as our main tool for grading. Students develop a rubric based on a larger one set by us, and then construct that rubric using a Google spreadsheet that is then shared with us. At the end of a project, we go into the shared document and highlight their proficiency level in each attempted standard. We add the total points the project is worth and then divide it by the number of points they actually earned to get the percentage they get for the project. So a project worth 550 points and actual score of 500 points gets that student a summative grade of a 91%. It isn’t a perfect science and it has its flaws, but it has worked best for us so far.

  2. I’ve been reading about the “5 minds”. Dr. Gardner says if he was the Education Czar
    he’d change pre-college classes to discipline-focus instead of subject-focus. We will only teach Math, science, history, and at least one form of art all through high school. The kids will be given time to explore and find their true interests and look deeply at different systems instead of memorizing isolated facts which they don’t use once they get out of high schools. That will make PBL a norm!

    • I’ll have to look into Dr. Gardner’s work. I can see the possible benefit to his focus on certain subjects; however, I’d caution any time you limit a student’s exploration to just three primary subjects and one art form. I’ll have to put my mind to this one a bit more.

      • Hello,
        My small gp project is to present an alternative assessment method. I’d like to have middle school a student group project as an end of semester assessment for Science(main subject), plus the math and English teacher. Can u share how u do summative assessment and how that gets calculated into the students’ grade? So far I’ve read that using a project to assess “learning” is not objective enough. What’s your thoughts since your class is entirely PBL?
        I’m glad you are actually practicing what you believe to be the best method!
        Rosana

    • I have a very supportive administration. The concept was introduced to my principal by another colleague of mine, and one of my APs already had PBL on her radar. I was approached about the idea and together we all started researching the possibilities as well as what the data said about it’s success. We’re unique in that we are a large public school and PBL is usually seen in smaller settings. We have had success though and it’s trickled into our middle school. I’d say to get your powers that be on board you need to bring the research to them. Check out the book The Coolest School in America. It is a good starting place as well as edutopia.com.

  3. Hello, Thanks for sharing your PBL adventures. I’m currently in the Va Career Switcher program, working on getting a license for middle school math. So far we’ve been looking at theories and I’m sooo glad to actually read from your blog about a real classroom! PBL sounds like a smart format for our youths. I home schooled my 3 children until they started college. One reason was we didn’t want them to get bored in a static classroom and think learning was boring.
    Rosana

    • As you can certainly tell from my postings, I’m a big advocate of PBL. Take a look at The Buck Institute bie.org for some more insight into this style of learning in action. My mindset is primarily one of a need to change the status quo of the classroom and I’ve found PBL gives me that opportunity in a large, urban public school. Best of luck in your endeavors!

      • Thanks for the reply. I’d love to see a copy of your rubric. In your experience, do the grades from the rubric correlate to the scores of your students’ state mandate exams? I think most people are hesitant to switch to PBL because they feel pressured to teach to the test.

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