Thursday, 22 November 2012

Actually PBLing...if that's a verb

At the beginning of the month, I blogged about my desire to try Project Based Learning with my Grade 12 history class. I introduced the task last Thursday and so far, so good.  The first couple of days were devoted to discussing the curriculum expectations, establishing common understandings and defining the word "best".
The students easily created their groups, and most selected their topic quickly.  One group had some difficulty because they didn't want a topic that was "too easy".  I LOVE that they wanted a challenge.  
The first day we went to the library was quite uncomfortable for me and for some of the students.  They wanted me to TELL them what a documentary proposal was...and my heart started beating quickly because I felt like I was letting them down because I wouldn't tell them.  (I had given them some leads as to where to look to find out.)
Today was excellent.  I sat down with each group and discussed their progress so far and gave them some suggestions about dividing up tasks and making use of Google Docs to collaborate.  One student asked if he could create evidence during the conference.  I was taken aback, because while the task is creative, it is IMPERATIVE that the evidence be factual.  I soon figured out that he didn't actually want to imagine the evidence, but rather compile various statistics to support his argument.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  I have also noticed students who don't appear to be leaders, take a leadership role in their group.  Additionally, one group is created from students who I don't even think spoke to each other previous to this task.  They seem to mesh really well and I am excited to see their progress.
In my previous blog post, I asked about converting a Word Document (that has a "sophisticated" table in it) to a Google Doc.  I couldn't find a way to make it work.  Using the Word Document provided by the Buck Institute for Education, I created a PBL template in Google Docs.  Feel free to use it.  It is at this link:

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Trying Out PBL

So I am going to be trying project-based learning for the next unit in my Grade 12 history class.  So far, I have had my students work on defining and designing their own assignments, so that they have choice about what they are going to focus on.  Up to the actual assignment, I have been directing their learning via focused questions, textbooks, readings, group work and videos/documentaries.

The next unit focuses on science and technology in world history from 1500 to present.  With such a huge time frame and the fact that the course looks at the West and the world, it would be impossible to teach deeply anything of real significance.  Instead, I am going to have students, in partners or small groups, research a scientific or technological development that is of interest to them.

I am really quite nervous about doing this.  I gained some confidence from reading Ted McCain's book, Teaching for Tomorrow and the Buck Institute for Education's resources regarding PBL.  I found the Buck Institute for Education's online resources to be invaluable.

See the link below for my unit.  Any feedback is appreciated. (Note: I prefer to use Google Docs, but I couldn't upload the BIE's planner nicely into Google Docs because of the tables.  Does anyone know of a simple way to transfer Word tables to Google Docs?)

What have been your experiences with PBL?  Do you have any suggestions or tips for me?


What do numeric grades really tell us?

This past week, I attended ECOO 2012, which is a conference in Ontario regarding technology in the classroom.  Not all of the sessions focus on technology, though.  I attended one session that didn't focus on technology, but rather on student assessment.  The speaker was Scott Kemp, an English teacher in the Wateroo Region District School Board.
I found Scott's session to be informative and challenging.  It informed me of a way to more authentically evaluate my students' work and it challenged me to think about how I can change my grading practices.  Before the session I had been doing some thinking about how superficial specific grades are.  What is the difference between 81% and 82%?  What does an 82% paper have that an 81% paper doesn't?
I think that numeric marking is here to stay, but in Ontario, we only need to give numeric marks twice a semester (midterm and final).  My goal for second semester (I don't feel comfortable starting a new way of grading in the middle of the semester) is to focus on providing students with useful feedback, but no number grade.  Like Scott, I will provide a numeric grade only at the required times, and the numbers will only be in increments of 5% (ie. 75%, 80%, 85%).  I plan on documenting my students' work more thoroughly, especially through the use of teacher-student conferences.
I am not putting these new (to me) ideas on complete hold until second semester.  This week end, I was marking Grade Nine English ISU assignments.  I focused on providing useful feedback and I looked at the rubric and assigned a grade based on where most of the check marks fell and I only used increments of 5%.  Additionally, my Grade Twelve History class is starting on a presentation task tomorrow.  I created a "checklist" to guide my student-teacher conferences, as a way to keep track of the formative feedback I will give the students while working on the presentations.
How are you evaluating your students' tasks?  What are your thoughts about numeric grades?  Do you think it is possible to get rid of numeric grades completely?