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Play, Challenge, Work – A Simple Formula for Creating a Culture that Supports PBL - Part III: WORK

This is the final post in a three-post series discussing my approach from creating a classroom culture that supports PBL. Please refer to the two previous posts before reading this one.

Step 3: Putting Up The Walls and the Roof - WORK

After the first two phases, most groups are well-formed and understand how the different members work. I also have a good idea of the strengths and challenges that each of the groups have so that I can provide more effective support and coaching during their first graded assessment.

With the groups more fully formed and having had the opportunity to think critically about how they can most effectively work together as a team, it is time for the real deal. This first attempt at group work that “counts for a grade” should mirror what they did during the challenge phase, but be more complex in design and longer in length. That being said, this should be a shorter project and far as PBL's go, just long enough to give an accurate idea of what a true “project” entails.

The first project my students complete is called State Smackdown. In short, students are randomly assigned one of the 50 states and are tasked with both telling and showing why their state is “the best” in a two-minute persuasive speech accompanied by a map they create. This project combines social studies and ELA standards while also focusing on developing the success skill of communication. Although the major product is individual, students work together to research, critique, and revise their persuasive speeches and maps, giving them ample opportunities to

The project is short, but during its duration students are introduced to all the core aspects and elements of a true PBL process. They begin with an engaging entry event, in this case we watch a film clip from an old episode of Penn and Teller's Showtime series Bulls@%t (edited for language by yours truly) that discusses the phallicy inherent in labeling something "the best" This video engages them, captures their interest, and also gets them to start asking questions about the subjects covered in the project.

From there, I introduce them to the driving question for our project and start them off in their first inquiry protocol, a simple brainstorm where we look at visitor bureau websites from states to see how the question of states being "the best" is handled by professionals. This also gives authenticity to the project as it shows them that this isn't just a classroom project, but actually mirrors real-world processes. The results of this "inquiry adventure" are discussed in pairs, then posted in a classroom list for reference.

Following this, students are randomly assigned a state by me (except for students with special needs who are given states like California, Texas, and New York as a scaffold) then they begin researching with the help of an organizer built from the brainstorm we did together. Periodically, they group up or pair up and share what they've discovered and where they've found the information to help those having trouble finding things.

After the research is well under way, we begin to develop the 21st century skill of communication by looking at clips of bad speeches and as a class trying to identify areas of improvement that they can then use in their own persuasive speech. This is important because just focusing on content rarely prepares students for success later, so these skills must also be fit into the context of the project.

Students are given multiple opportunities to revise their work. They turn in a draft of their speech to me so I can give them feedback on content and also practice their speech with a partner in order to get feedback. Eventually, they give the final version in front of the class while being recorded to use as the basis for their reflection, and also to share with the visitors bureau of their state for possible feedback.

Again, the purpose of this is not just to cover content standards or teach skills, although that does take place. The goal is to clearly illustrate the project process for students and to give them an opportunity to work together in a higher-stakes manner where the outcome is being graded.

Following this process is time-consuming, but laying a firm foundation prior to engaging in more rigorous academic pursuits or projects will make those endeavors take less time in the future.

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