Friday, June 19, 2015

PBL - Avoiding the pitfalls of "Doing Research"

OK, so you created an engaging entry event for your students. The students are excited about immersing themselves in the PBL experience. As a class you developed a list of "need to knows" for the project, everyone understands what they need to do. You walk around the classroom. All students appear to be working. Students attend the workshops you carefully develop at their request. The conversations you overhear tell you the students are engaged in some deep learning. All is well in the PBL world. Except...

Scenario 1: Time travel to day 5 (or whatever) of the project run. You ask a team, "How are you doing?" A student gleefully states, "We are doing research on cells." You continue, "What specifically are you trying to understand?" Their reply, "Umm." You follow up with a series of questions until finally you obtain a better answer, only to repeat the same process with a second and third teams.

Scenario 2: Time travel to the day before the project is due. You ask that teams submit their work so that presentations will run smoothly. Several teams are frantically compiling final products, You know that these teams will offer up piecemeal presentations. Organization and mechanics have gone out the window.

After being faced with these two scenarios several times in my PBL runs, I developed a couple of strategies that seem to help.

Project Timetable

At the start of the PBL run, and along with the "need to knows", the students and I analyze the different components that are required for a project. With rubric in hand, we backwards map the project and develop a project timetable. Both the requirements and timetable are put into a shared document, which the students use to "move themselves" through the project continuum.
Sample of my Genetics Project Timetable

Daily Project Work Report

While the project is running, I have students submit a Daily Project Work Report. This simple sheet, inspired by BIE's Project Work Report asks students to set specific goals for the day's work, and then report what was actually accomplished during the time in class. The key to using this sheet is the specificity of the goals. At the start we go over what a specific goal for a day's work means - "Doing research" is never specific enough. I collect these sheets daily and provide pointed feedback on them as the project run progresses. 

Project Management Sheet

Project Management Sheet
Both of the previous documents still have the teacher very much as the project manager. However, my goal is to shift the responsibility for managing a project to the students, so as students become more adept at managing a project run, I introduce the Project Management Sheet. This document has students take full control of the project run, from identifying need to knows, project requirements and backwards mapping the project, all the way to requesting feedback and assigning work outside of class.

Although I still get some "Doing research" answers, these tools have cut down on students going down the rabbit hole that this statement means. They create tangible evidence of student accountability for a PBL run.

Do you have other ideas for solving the "doing research" conundrum? I would love to hear them.