Update on Mrs. C: An Interactive Museum Takes Shape

As promised, here is the latest on Mrs. C’s Oceanography project. You can see the initial start of the process here and here.  The first link talks about developing a PBL (project-based learning) toolbox and the second specifically talks about the beginning of Mrs. C’s project. Today’s post really reflects on the ebb and flow of PBL and how flexibility on the part of the teacher and student is a valuable attribute to successfully working through PBL. As I’ve stated before, PBL is messy as it reflects how projects in our life operate. This is especially true the first time we attempt a project that has foreign components to it. (I’m thinking about the process of me building an outdoor table for my deck at the moment–in the long run, it got done, but not without some headaches and learning along the way.) For Mrs. C, the combination of limited travel time, AP exams, and a few apathetic seniors definitely impacted her PBL–yet, the project is moving forward and there are some very cool installations coming together.

Let’s check out what’s happened to this point:

  1. What’s Going Right–The biggest win for Mrs. C is the majority of her seniors are indeed creating wonderfully crafted, interactive museum pieces for elementary students to learn about and explore various aquatic environments. The pictures below depict the process of developing working heat vents, kelp forests, and creatures of the sea. The materials vary, but to the students’ credit, much of the work being done is the creative use of those materials to replicate their knowledge for a much younger audience. The physical stations students are creating are taking shape and look to be ready in time for elementary students to take an ocean adventure right in their own classrooms.
  2. What Didn’t Go As Expected–In this day and age of testing, completing a PBL at the end of the year is very difficult. Mrs. C and I were so excited about getting this PBL off the ground we took for granted the beginning of AP testing and End-of-Course testing from the state. The AP exams dispersed her seniors on various days and displaced her from her own classroom a few times, causing Mrs. C to have to move all the project materials to other rooms. To Mrs. C’s credit, she has kept her head high and has rolled with the punches. She does not appear discouraged and is excited to see many of the interactive stations coming together. Still, the testing really threw a wrench in productivity and overall timing. Lesson learned? Avoid PBL going into May–unless you’re prepared for the pitfalls that come along with it.
  3. How is Mrs. C Getting This Done–Simply put, flexibility. Despite our best laid plans to visit all three of our elementary schools, the interactive museum will only be installed in one elementary school. This is the reality of AP exams and other factors pulling on seniors at this time of year. Still, this adjustment helped everyone involved. The logistics became less complex and the end goal will still be met. Much of this accomplished through great communication on Mrs. C’s part.
  4. Practical Advice on Process–Some of the success Mrs. C is seeing despite dealing with AP exams and seniors disengaging from the school year has everything to do with the process she put in place during her design phase of the PBL and the modifications she made along the way. For instance, her involving the school’s engineering students helped engage her students in working through physical space concerns and gave both sets of students a chance to genuinely problem solve. Mrs. C had her classes critique each other’s work as well as had other classrooms come in and critique the work. This feedback authenticates the revisions her students will make before getting to their real audience. Which brings us to the most important piece of advice, Mrs. C did not give up on keeping an authentic audience. The expectation that part of their grade will come from the experience elementary students will have has certainly driven an otherwise unmotivated group ready to graduate.

As Mrs. C would likely tell you, she changed her plans a little bit every day her classes met in order to bob and weave with each new obstacle that came up. What helped her work through those obstacles, was all the planning she did up front. The vision of the project and the basic calendar and expected deliverable (components turned in as the project moves along to assess and provide feedback) did not change. Students knew what to expect and they were part of making the decisions to modify the approach to the project when necessary. Without the design work upfront, staying on track to complete a meaningful PBL might have been too difficult to overcome.

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