The Project Holy Grail
The holy grail of projects design is to have interdisciplinary projects where learners can see and uncover that content isn’t utilized in a silo. “In the real world” (as we often say) we don’t have set “math time” or “Social Studies” time, we use content knowledge interwoven throughout our day to solve the problem or task at hand. We as educators all strive for this however logistics and schedules get in the way.
At our high school 22 years ago we started with the idea of interdisciplinary projects. We have tried almost every combination under the sun in interdisciplinary projects settling on classes like American Studies (10th grade ELA and American History) and BioFitness (9th grade biology, health and PE) among others. However, even in these interdisciplinary classes, they still can become silos. This year we are taking on the challenge to push the envelope again, at our core, Projects are the driver of our work, so let’s walk the walk. “What does it look like when our students solve projects that matter that integrate all subject areas?” Our 9th grade team is integrating 7 subjects into 1 project. Our principal Riley Johnson gives more of an overview of the why in his blog.
A PBL Schedule
What does a schedule look like? To learn more I shadowed 9th grade students to get an in-depth experience of the project process.
The first project that students engaged in the first two weeks of school ended in a public display on Back to School night. Students designed lanterns for a local art festival that included public blog posts to highlight their design, the use of geometry to develop patterns, and explored the use of sustainable design to reduce the impact on the environment. The 9th grade class was separated into 4 different color groups (for ease of organization throughout the project). Each color group was determined by their core Computer Science & Design class. Within each color groups students were placed in groups of 4 to complete the product portion of the project.
Monday and Tuesdays are designed to be focused on collaboration group work, feedback and taking next steps in their learning. Both days start with 15 minutes of motivation (Motivation Mondays), mindfulness. Throughout the day, students were organized by color group to work on the product portion of the project. In different timed chunks students worked to get feedback on their work. Ex. one classroom had color groups Purple and White worked on getting feedback on their blog and their writing. During that same time, Black and Silver worked on logistics of their website, blog and finishing touches on their lanterns. Students were toward the end of their project process so they spent time getting feedback from peers and teachers on their product design, their writing (grammar, structure etc) as well as logistics of ensure their public product (blog, qr codes, website) were all set to go for Back to School night. Halfway through the process the “March of the Penguins” (our mascot are the Penguins) happened when the groups would switch rooms to get feedback on different aspects of their work.
Student Flow Throughout the Week in PBL
During the course of the project we want to ensure that students are still getting the rich deep core content that drives the learning of the project. On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays students go into their core classes for their core content (math, ELA, PE, art, spanish, digital media etc). Each class is aligning their learning outcomes to the context of the project. Example, in Spanish (Spanish I) class they were learning introductory phrases that they had to introduce themselves and their team in a video that was going to introduce the project to those in our community who don’t speak english.
Mondays and Tuesdays as blocks of time with focused project purposes. This graphic is a key that helps navigate the rooms and what happens when.
The room may change, and the facilitator may change based upon student(s) need. Our 9th grade team make the most of our flexible space and flexible tools on Monday and Tuesday to best support integrating the project process. While on Wednesdays through Fridays students are gaining the core content needed to be successful in their project. Reminder, these core classes are not done in isolation but connected to the project context.
Communication in Key
Communication is key in the model. Communication and clarity of location on where teachers are going to be and where students are going to be at a given time during the week. Each day students receive messaging on where their color group (silver, purple, black, white) are to meet and either learn content, collaborate, or receive feedback on their work. Also, throughout our school we have monitors that have always displayed what our schedule is for the day or upcoming events. Now on days we have it showing where students will report.
Over the course of the year we will be clearer on communication teachers as well as teachers and students. It has been a challenging shift but one that is worth it to help students progress in their learning and to tackle problems and projects that matter. We will continue to improve our practice and be on the forefront of defining and implementing HQ PBL!