Entering the Deep End of the PBL Pool Without Waterwings!

So here it is the night before the start of 2nd semester.  Normally I would be watching my traditional night-before-semester starts movie of Oceans 11 or Oceans 13, but I want to change it up a bit this year – because I really hope this year is different (and if it is not, I can always blame George Clooney!). See for far too long I have let my Honors Political Science class kind of slip to the wayside when it comes to cutting-edge learning.  The class is made up of honors level seniors, and while it would be easy to blame the slippage of the class into what it is today on the fact that seniorits had already set in for them, the real reason was staring me in the face as I looked in the mirror every morning.  The class was too teacher centered, too lecture based, too test based (seriously Illinois requires us to test on the Flag Code!) and way to easy for students to disengage, sit-and-get, and still do rather well in the class.  While I set out with a goal to make students active consumers in a political market place, I never really gave them the opportunity to do that.

Until tomorrow.

I hope.

Tomorrow, 2nd semester starts, and with that a brand new set of students will enter into my classroom.  Some may come with the anticipation of an easy good grade, some may come because they are generally interested in politics, and some may come because they do not feel like being challenged with the AP curriculum.  Whatever the reason, they will be in my classroom tomorrow.  And when they sit down they will be in for something completely new!

With the help of Andrew Marcinek’s blog on Edutopia I reworked my curriculum to make it more Project Based Learning orientated.  Following Andrew’s model, I am going to have project managers, team leaders and teams when working on the project.  Students will also be writing on thier own blogs that will be called “TILT” Blogs for (Things I Learned This week).  Students will evaluate themselves and each other throughout the process of learning and creating.  The entire process is being driven by the students use of Google Apps for Education (an informal sort of pilot to test feasibility for future classes) including GoogleDocs, Blogger and GoogleGroups.   I am jumping into the PBL pool – without waterwings – I am very excited!

Our first unit will be timely, as it will be on elections.  The essential question for the unit is: how does one become an informed citizen in the political marketplace? The project centers around students needing to create an online voter guide for a first time voter in the upcoming primaries here in Illinois.  The driving question for the unit is: what do you think a young voter needs to know in order to make an informed decision in an election? After posing that question, I will let the students go and collaborate, similar to Andrew’s situation.  Brainstorm, make a plan, research, execute.  The website and the plans for the class can be found here.

Will it work? Probably  Will it be different? Absolutely! Are some kids going to be frustrated that they signed up for an easy class and instead are now responsible for their learning? If they are then I know the anwer to that first question is not probably, but yes! I plan on blogging about it here throughout the year of how the class is going, what I have learned, what I have loved, and what I will never do again.

Well, it looks like safety break is almost over, and its time to get back into the pool…if you are looking for me, I’ll be the big kid over in the deep end…without his waterwings.



About jjanczak

A secondary social science teacher jumping into the world of education technology and trying to make classrooms centered around technology the rule, not the exception in the school systems.
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6 Responses to Entering the Deep End of the PBL Pool Without Waterwings!

  1. M. A. Hauck says:

    In my experience, PBL is an invitation for students to be pitted against one another in unnecessary competition for receiving credit. It is often very difficult to discern who did what and expecting students to in essence “police” each other can turn into an ugly exercise of finger-pointing, jealousy, and resentment. Learning to properly interact often takes a back seat to mastering content, so hence, life skills should be ideally reserved for other classroom opportunities. And yes, I am fully aware that this generation of the on-line social media obsessed is far more inept socially in contexts requiring direct vis-a-vis contact. They need to learn to work together vis-a-vis more effectively instead of constantly hiding behind keyboards and screens. I’m not sure that PBL is the best vehicle for teaching this skill. I am also not convinced that PBL isn’t a way for inherently lazy teachers to take less time on the grading process unless a detailed rubric is given to students at the time the assignment is given.

    The bottom line is that boring teachers make content boring to learn. If you are interesting to listen to and can look good doing it, while maintaining your sincerity and honesty, then you can sell anything.

  2. jjanczak says:

    My students think I am interesting, and while that is flattering, it is not engaging. This is not about me, it is about them and their learning process. I am not narcissistic enough to make it all about the teachers like so many poor and underperforming teachers do. PBL, if done properly, can lead to great things in the classroom. I appreciate the support and will keep you posted on my progress.

    • M. A. Hauck says:

      Interesting and engaging must co-exist. Of course it’s “not about you,” but any good pre-service teaching instructor will tell you that teaching is a performance. You are an equal part of the process. The learning process doesn’t go without your drive behind it.

      I hear this quite often from Gen X/Y teachers who believe in downplaying their stature in the classroom process, as if they are afraid to serve as an authority figure and lead. Studies in human behavior indicate that kids seek and need strong influential leaders. I personally am not afraid to be an aggressive, take-charge individual. That’s what I call leadership. I don’t define leadership by how many trendy gadgets one introduces into the classroom under the guise of “21st century innovation.” That to me is an external attribute that anyone can duplicate. It’s much more difficult to delve within yourself and find that internal “straw that stirs the drink” in your classroom.

      I’ve known of too many dull and boring people hiding behind technology to compensate for their inadequacies

      I am a performer in a traditional sense. I instinctively know the method of how to capture a room’s attention. I entertain as well as teach. You also have to design killer lesson plans that feature an outstanding anticipatory set. Without the latter, the lesson falls flat. A lesson also falls flat without lesson objectives that aren’t aligned with standards, plus a good follow up assessment and closure.

      Too many teachers just don’t know how to write good lesson plans. In my state, you write at least a hundred of them before you graduate with your cert or your degree if you went to a state college. Private colleges, not so much in Pennsylvania, which are generally weaker compared to state colleges in teacher ed.

  3. jjanczak says:

    Having not spent 1 minute in my classroom, you have no standing in judging how I teach even though you feel somehow empowered to do so.

    You must have some chip on your shoulder, or are clinging to some preconcieved notions, or have been wronged by education in the past, or have a degree in something that is no longer relevant. Whatever it is I have come to the conclusion that you are not interested in a rational exchange of ideas, you instead just seem to want to argue or demoralize people.

    If you were interested in a rational exchange of ideas you would unlock the comments on your blog – and please do not try to respond by saying people personally attacked you on your blog so you shut down your comments – because even if that is true then why do you seem justified to do the same on blogs whose authors are brave enough to encourage the feedback and or criticism.

    Criticizing and hiding does not advance education principles, in fact it hinders what I think your ultimate goals are. In all honesty I feel bad for you. But until you are willing to engage in a rational discussion about educational practices, then I really have no time for you or your comments.

  4. M. A. Hauck says:

    How you can conclude that my last post was a indictment upon your personal classroom manner just mystifies me. Also, your comment about your students think you are interesting and not engaging?

    How do you justify yourself in a classroom if you aren’t engaging? That’s a legitimate question.

    I shut down my blog comments because schmucks with thin skins could not justify or defend their views rationally, so they attempted the type of subterfuge I described on the blog.

    Instead of using the blogosphere to schmooze I choose to use it as a means to attack mediocrity, false values, and contributors to the deconstruction of proven educational practices and society in general, which would be any educator who twiddles their thumbs endlessly in pointless conversations on their phones, who prefers faceless, abstract communications with blips on a computer screen to actual vis-a-vis contact, and most sadly, who wants to turn another generation of kids into pathetic carbon copies of themselves who live for consumerism and feeding pop culture and Madison Avenue.

    It’s march of lemmings queuing up for the next gadget, the next toy, to fill their lives with empty crap until the next fix is satiated by the latest purchase.

    Criticism is essential. Why waste the internet with bland and inconsequential butt kissing and schmoozing? Why not use it as a tool for outrage and radical change, as many of our political operatives are doing?

    Why can’t the education profession adopt the same tenor of disgust?

  5. M. A. Hauck says:

    By the way, Jason, I’ve earned a BS and MS in Communications which permitted me to also teach at the university level for ten years (five at Villanova University). I am Pennsylvania state certified and licensed to teach elementary education and special education. This May, I will have earned my second Master’s, in Special Education. I’ve been teaching for a total of 16 years.

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