Diving into Project-based Learning: Our Innovation

project-based learningAs the boys began learning more about the injustice issues they had selected and researched for our project-based learning, they began thinking more specifically about what they might do to make a difference. As the started problem solving, they truly began innovating. They started coming up with unique ideas for how they would address the problem and raise awareness.

I knew from talking with Mike Kaechele at Educon that the students needed to develop some type of team contract to get their ideas on paper and develop a working plan. Fortunately, Mike was willing to share his contract template with me (thank you), and I only needed to make a couple of minor tweaks before sharing it with my 6th graders. The contracts consisted of 5 parts: member information (name, email, roles/responsibilities, self-identified strengths and weaknesses), project goals/tasks, team agreements, an accountability plan, and member signatures. Once again, some boys wanted to skip the contract writing phase, but no one could do without submitting a completed contract.

Some groups decided they needed seed money get started and make an impact. I discussed this with my supervisor and we found a great solution. If a group needed “start-up money” for their project, they had to provide a written grant proposal to our Assistant Headmaster for Teaching and Learning and ask for a formal meeting with her to secure funding. (I had some instructional money set aside for this.) I required that each grant proposal include the following components:

  • A summary or abstract (names, need, goals, methods, and costs)
  • An introduction to their team and their project (what they bring to the team and basic objective)
  • A problem or need statement (clearly describes the need to be addressed)
  • Objectives (“measurable” accomplishments or outcomes)
  • The methods and activities (the project details, timetable, plans to gather and/or use data)
  • Plan for evaluation (answers “How will you know you’ve succeeded?”)
  • A budget (a cost breakdown and what the donor will be paying for)

The grant proposal served two purposes: 1) helping the boys plan their work and 2) having them create a writing sample related to their project. Several groups saw the grant proposal as a huge obstacle so they sought new, creative ways to attack the problem without securing funds. These groups chose other options for their required writing component (scripts, data summaries, brochures, abstracts, etc.).

Once the groups mapped out their plans, they began developing their products and started innovating further. Many of the products involved the use of technology, and I used my knowledge and experience with certain tools to help them.  However, some products required tools beyond my expertise, and I was able to use resources gleaned from my PLN (Personal Learning Network) to help the students find tools that might help them. Once again, I gave the students the choice of what tools they wanted to use and explained that they would have to become the expert at whatever tool they chose. I might or might not have been able to troubleshoot problems for them.

Working together, the boys developed some unique products in their attempt to address the issues they’d selected. All their ideas weren’t innovative and original. In fact, some groups defaulted to the same types of products they had created for past products. At the same time, some of their ideas were truly inventive. One of my favorite parts of our project-based learning process was when the students began sharing their work and providing one another feedback. I’ll write more about this in my next post, but I loved how more creative students began pushing their peers to take greater risks in their projects.

This is the eighth post in a series on my “Dive Into Project-based Learning.” If you find this post interesting, consider reading about my professional goalmy research and resourcesthe genesis of the ideaour project brainstormsthe rubric designour need to know, and our inquiry.  As always, I’d appreciate any comments, questions, or suggestions you have. I find feedback really helps.