It’s a new year, and new years mean fresh beginnings. I like the start of a new year because I feel as if I’m getting a reboot similar to the “restart” on my computer. It’s an opportunity to look at my professional practice, see what I’m doing well, and modify my weaknesses. The flip side of the New Year’s coin is that it can make me feel a strong sense of pressure and even anxiety to meet my goals. In my professional realm, I start to wonder how I will get everything done before the school year comes to a halt. When I feel this way, my natural inclination is to go into survival mode and close myself off to anything that will require even more energy from me. In reaching this point, I realize the need to simplify my life and get back to the basics. If I can do a few things well and with fidelity then I can experience success alongside my students. In the spirit of getting back to the basics, I think through my main objectives and goals for my students. Here are a few questions that help me with refocusing:
- What do I want to accomplish with my students this year?
- As a qualified and competent professional, what do I believe is best for them?
Since I operate my classroom with a PBL model and philosophy, I then think through my PBL practice:
- Why do I practice the PBL model?
- What are the elements of PBL that make it valuable for my students?
As I dive into the semester, I have the opportunity to shed some light on my projects and make sure I’m staying true to the model. I look at it as if I have a microscope on the project or as if I’m doing a project dissection. I think through the key elements of a project and evaluate whether or not my projects embody those. It helps me to do a review of those elements and ask a few questions about each one in relation to my projects:
- Driving Questions- If I’m doing PBL well, then each project needs to have an essential question, which helps guide students through the project and gives them a purpose for completing it. Here are some questions to ask:
- Do I have a clear driving question for each project?
- Is the driving question challenging?
- Is the driving question engaging?
- Is the driving question authentic and addressing a real problem?
- Standards- I have to hit my core standards and skills, and therefore my projects must be designed around my standards.
- Have I clearly defined the standards and skills that I am going to address in each project?
- Have I appropriately grouped standards and skills together so I can teach them in each project?
- Will my end products allow students to demonstrate their knowledge of the content standards and skills?
- Essential/Employability Skills-With each project, I want to reiterate and give students opportunities to develop the employability skills (21st century skills) they need for future careers.
- Am I giving students opportunities to develop collaboration skills through grouping?
- Are my projects offering students voice and choice and the ability to be creative?
- Are my students learning work ethic and agency by pacing themselves and meeting deadlines in my projects?
- Do my projects require critical thinking and problem solving?
- Do my students have the opportunity to develop communication skills?
- Community Partners: I want to make sure my students are engaging with the community and interacting with adults in professions related to their projects.
- Does each project enable students to have some form of an adult interaction?
- Are my students learning about real problems in the local, national, and international community?
- Are my students engaging with people who are in professions related to the content they are studying?
- Benchmarks/Scaffolding: I also want to make sure I’m giving my students plenty of support throughout the project.
- Have I created benchmarks for each of my end products?
- Am I scaffolding each of my benchmarks to help students meet them?
- Am I giving students ample time and in class support to meet benchmarks?
- Am I doing formative assessments that allow students to improve their products/work?
- Rubrics- Each end product should have a rubric that allows my students to see how they are being assessed and allows me to communicate expectations for the project.
- Have I created rubrics for my end products that include the specific standards and skills I need to assess?
- Are my rubrics student-friendly?
- Do I regularly reference and have students use the rubric throughout the project?
- Am I using my rubrics to clearly communicate my expectations to students?
As I map out the semester and work through my projects, I want to ensure that I’m doing PBL with fidelity. If I do it well, then not only will I be able to meet my standards, but also my objectives for my students. Honestly, at the end of the day if I do PBL well then other school-wide objectives and district initiatives are also met. It’s a win-win for everyone.