On Tuesday evening, all of the teachers involved in the Museum Project met up with their Castle Representative for their first monthly meeting. I tagged along with my partner from Ridpath as an active participant. The members of the Castle's Museum Project elected to meet once a month to help each other out with ideas and obstacles that may cop up throughout the process. I learned that for many of the teachers this would be their first time using Project-based Learning (PBL) in the classroom. I could feel the excitement and nervous anticipation eminating from everyone. The high energy, high positivity environment quickly turned into an extremely useful meeting.
Launching the Project
One of the main questions/difficulties that arose during the meeting was how to launch the project in the classroom. Many of the teachers have 2nd grade classrooms, and they worried about the chaotic brainstorm that may ensue after presenting the problem to the class. An amazing thing about working with younger students is their boundless creativity. For them, absolutely anything is possbile; however, the teacher knows that there are many practical barriers that come with starting a project. The solution to this is to launch the unit with some constraints from the get go. Although this takes away from some of the autonomy of the project, it keeps it managable while working with younger students.
Because of the nature of this project, the final product created must be an interactive exhibit for the new children's section of the Putnam County museum. Besides that, the exhibit can be anything the class can come up with and complete by opening day. Ideas were flowing almost immediately! A theater, a water table, recycled instruments... the list went on and on. I could tell how excited everyone was to begin the project. Beth Benedix, the Castle represenative and my sponsor, stepped in at this point. The ideas were all wonderful, exactly what a children's museum needs, but the teachers had started designing the projects. Although not necessarily a bad thing, the students would have less say in the creation of the product which takes away from a vital PBL aspect. In order for the student's learning to be authentic, they must play a big role in the invention of the exhibit.
"Let Them Stumble"
I could instantly see some hesitation around the table. They're in 2nd grade! Who knows what they might come with? We don't have unlimited funds and time to create the exhibit, and they have very small hands for building large exhibits. To explore this more, we engaged in a discussion about how to get the students involved in the physical creation of the exhibit. One thing my partner mentioned was to "let them stumble" and problem-solve along the way. This option resonates with the spirit of PBL in the best way! In PBL, a teacher acts more like a facilitator than a instructor. When the students run into problems, they turn to the facilitator for help with ideas. As we all discussed, it occured to be that this approach may solve the problem from the beginning of the meeting.
A giant brainstorming session with a room full of second graders sounds scary espcially to myself who has never been in that situtation. But, if the brainstorming session was very actively guided by the facilitator, the class could reach a unanimous decision that won't break the bank or leave too much work for the facilitator to complete on their own. The students have their autonomy in the decision.
Student autonomy forms a cornerstone for PBL
At the end of the meeting, many of the teachers had a better understanding of what PBL looks like in this circumstance and how they could most efficively implement the project in the coming weeks. Having the space to brainstorm with other teachers helped to boost morale for the project. Collaboration between educators on about PBL brings the spirit of PBL to the forefront. When a space is created for creativity or problem-solving and everyone has the ability to be apart of it, investment in the product increases ten-fold. The same applies for younger students. Although they may not have the same body of knowledge as a teacher, they still have the urge to be apart of their learning to make it more meaningful to them. A PBL unit provides the framework for engaged learning and students who feel valued and seen.
Picture via: uihere.com