Final Mrs. C Update/Reflection: When All Else Fails, Adapt!

Ocean project 3

Yes, those are live hermit crabs!

To be clear, I was absolutely going for a bit of a science pun with having “adapt” in my title today. Did it land? Eh, in any case, I’m excited to share with you the conclusion of the five week Oceanography project with Mrs. C’s class. Being Mrs. C’s first foray into project-based learning (PBL), there was plenty of concern about where to start and how to finish, but as her reflection today will show the mess in concern to PBL I am always talking about was worth it. For anyone reading not familiar with the start of this process, you can check out part 1, part 2, and part 3. Inside today’s post, I’ll share some reflections, but most of what you’ll read is from Mrs. C herself. Check it and out see for yourself how our adventure concluded!

Here’s what Mrs. C had to say about her start:

“I came to Lanier this school year as a second year teacher with no idea what the letters PBL even stood for. I was completely ignorant to the entire process and ideal. Although it was intimidating, I decided to take the less risky approach of trying PBL with my elective Oceanography class, which consists of mostly seniors with few underclassmen mixed in.”

My Two Cents: This is common. PBL is intimidating upon first glance. It’s not how most current teachers were taught outside of a few projects during their college years. To get started, Mrs. C felt most comfortable going through an elective class rather than starting with her ‘high-stakes’ biology classes. I always try to respect that approach. While I know PBL can work in any classroom, I realize our age of accountability strikes fear in the hearts of some of our best teachers. Whether we admit it or not, educators put a great deal of their worth into student performance on tests. While I hope to see this change one day, we are not getting there any time soon.

“For their end of the year project, the students were to collaborate in groups to develop displays and engaging activities to educate elementary age students on the various marine habitats, such as the aphotic zone, sandy shore, kelp forest, etc. Since this was to be a “true” PBL, the students were to come up with how they were going to make their display all on their own. They also had to create their own age-appropriate activity that teaches student about their habitat and the living organisms that inhabit it.

From the start, I was very intimidated to try PBL. The idea of it seemed very risky. I was unsure if my students would learn what they should, if the standards would be thoroughly covered, and if they would actually come through with their products. Overall, I am really pleased with the experience. We (and I say we because this was a big effort and learning experience for both my students and myself) had a lot of bumps in the road, running into problem here and there. Many of my students came down with senioritis and their effort levels dropped dramatically, but, in the end, I call it an overall success!”

My Two Cents: I love Mrs. C’s use of “‘true’ PBL” here. There is a difference between what we typically might call a classroom project and PBL. Mrs. C bought into this idea, which I really appreciated as we went down this crazy road together. The biggest difference, I maintain, is the level of authenticity built into a PBL experience. This project was made with a real audience in mind–elementary students. There is a great deal more motivation for some students when they know their work is being experienced by those outside the classroom and may impact others. Mrs. C makes it clear she worried about students acquiring the standards and really learning, but she also clarifies she would call the process a success. Still, this was not a success that came easily, which honestly is the way of PBL many times.

“We had originally aimed to go to all of the 3 elementary schools in our Lanier cluster, and that is where we hit our first bump. With testing and senior exams, our window to visit these schools was quite small. Eventually we only arranged to visit one elementary school, but that was still very encouraging! Unfortunately, an unforeseen circumstance blocked us from being able to visit that school so my students we unable to present their projects to elementary-aged students. Fortunately, a coworker of mine had a wonderful idea of setting up the projects to be viewed by the 8th graders when they were scheduled to visit the high school. Although the projects were not viewed and the activities were not done by the desired age group, the experience was very rewarding for both my students and me.”

My Two Cents: This was a doosey! To Mrs. C’s credit and our colleague, their problem solving skills were sharp. What I admire about Mrs. C and what I think already qualifies her as a solid PBL teacher was her resilience in the face of a big obstacle. We ask our students to be resilient all the time; this project was an amazing way to model this skill to those students. As I’ve alluded to in the last post, one of the biggest lessons we learned was a project of this scale has to wrap up before May. May in our district is testing everyday all day for three weeks, so this to a large degree dictated all the changes that had to be made. The students were dismayed when they found out they could not go to the elementary school. They came to Mrs. C very frustrated, BUT we found a way. Mrs. C and her students adapted. The result was an adapted audience that was just as engaged as an elementary audience would be.

“If there is something I could say to other teachers that are thinking about or hesitant to do PBL it would be to just jump in! Being able to sit down with Dr. Kyle Jones and have him explain and walk through the process while using the tools and graphic organizers to develop PBL made the process very easy. The best part about the whole experience was being able to physically see my students working and creating these amazing things. They did such a wonderful job of stretching their minds of how to present this high school level course to students much younger as well as make the experience fun and engaging. In the end, I was very proud of them in all they accomplished and learned throughout the entire process!”

My Two Cents: The statement, “They did such a wonderful job of stretching their minds of how to present this high school level course to students much younger as well as make the experience fun and engaging,” says it all. These students stretched their minds; they were creative and innovative; they overcame adversity–all as seniors suffering from a serious bout of senioritis. This is the beauty in the mess–both students and teachers grew and learned from the experience. The word experience is important here. This was not read in a book or watched on a screen; this was felt inside and out. Are those not the learning experiences we carry with us throughout life? The ones that made us feel something?

Thank you to Mrs. C for trusting me enough to go through the process with me. I genuinely admired her resilience and growth mind-set. Here’s to next year when we take this to a whole new level!

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