Having the End in Mind

It’s been awhile.

Sometimes life just gets in the way of blogging, but have no fear–I have a whole new reflection to share with you today.

Since The Studio’s inception three years ago, my colleague and I struggled to develop the best practice for introducing our students to the world of project-based learning, our expectations, and the realities of good research. This year I think we hit a home run with our freshman group.

You see, we start every school year in our Studio classroom by utilizing summer reading as a basis for the first ‘mini-project’. The idea being that the summer reading actually matters, and the first project is relatively low stakes. (It has a relatively low weight to their overall grade throughout the year.) For the last two years, we’ve used this mini-project as a way of drawing our freshmen into what I had stated above–PBL, expectations, and research. Each year we’ve improved by just the tiniest of margins, but this year we seem to have really figured out how to manage all of our intentions and support our students.

So what was different this year? Much like one of our summer reading books for our ninth grade group suggests, we had the end fully in mind this time around. Sean Covey’s book The 7 Habits of a Highly Effective Teen mirrors his late father’s book of a similar title oriented towards adults and attempts to teach teenagers the value of really prioritizing their lives. The habit of ‘beginning with the end in mind’ is a mantra we’ve used in our PBL class since the beginning, which is partially why I have students read this book coming into high school. Taking a lesson from the book itself, we carefully rearranged how we wanted our first project to flow, and the kind of experience we wanted our new students to have. The end result was a combination project of both a well-designed infographic and an argumentative essay–both developed in small groups of four or less.

Students read two books over the summer for the Studio I (first year) class: The 7 Habits and Harm de Blij’s Power of Place. While ‘Habits’ is an easy read, de Blij’s is anything but for a fourteen year old. We use ‘Habits’ as a way to trigger the right kind of thinking going into a PBL environment–students have to be able to collaborate, think ahead, communicate effectively, follow through, and respect others. ‘Power’ is an in-depth overview of everything a student needs to essentially understand for AP Human Geography. (de Blij wrote many of the current textbooks used in AP classrooms today.) With two very different texts, the struggle has always been how to blend the purpose of both texts into a single, meaningful project. This year we finally found our way. Students were told to find a major issue, with our guidance, in de Blij’s book to center an argument around. Students were told they had to choose a side or qualify their argument about one de Blij’s topics or observations about human geography. Once selected, the issue also had to be given a solution incorporating one of the seven habits in Covey’s book. The project’s product was two-fold as mentioned above. The argumentative essay was a collaborative effort. All members of the group agreed upon an issue and a possible solution, but each member wrote an initial draft separately from the rest of their group. Students then came together to draft a final essay incorporating each member’s insights into a cohesive paper requiring both a clear thesis, arguments given and cited from de Blij’s book, and a solution integrated and cited from Covey’s book. The infographic could be designed using any digital platform, but was to visually represent the issue the group chose and its possible solution. The infographic was to highly visual, but have clear facts and statistics represented throughout.

At the end of the project phase, each student reflected one five specific areas:
What did I learn academically?
What did I learn from a social aspect (ie working in groups)?
What was my greatest weakness during the project?
How can I improve on that weakness in the next project?
What was the most memorable aspect of the project?

The results? Well see for yourself below:

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