So, the biggest news in the world of my classroom is my move toward project based learning. I’ve always leaned this way, especially since my first professional development as a “real” teacher came via my school’s involvement with Expeditionary Learning, or EL, as the insiders call it. EL is a very specific form of project based learning, one that I have strived towards in my 5 years of teaching, with moderate success. My biggest struggles with EL have always been the challenge of doing it in science and doing it by myself.
My method for solving both problems was to corral the 9th grade English and social studies teachers at my school to create an integrated studies block for 9th graders. In my mind, this would allow me to focus more on the science, while still allowing students the holistic experience that EL calls for. Since our small, rural school has only 60-75 9th graders per year, we are able to split them 3 ways into our 3 classes and rotate them among us for the first 3 periods of the day.
Thus far, our success has been hit or miss. The biggest problem we’ve run into, in my opinion, has been a lack of quality time to plan together and a lack of a strong common focus.
We are now using grant funding and project based learning (PBL) to fix those 2 problems. The grants are paying us to collaborate. Although we’ve been doing it volutarily for 3 years, the additional pay helps to keep us a little more accountable to meeting times and commitments.
The switch to PBL has been more of a semantic change than anything. That being said, I think it has really helped us to hone our focus. We are now focusing on trying to create integrated projects, rather than integrated units of study that culminate with some sort of project. I know it sound like the same thing but it is not. We are much more clearly “beginning with the end in mind” now and that is a good thing.