Practical reinventing of project based learning

Tom tells a great story on his blog to expand and explain more about his involvement in Project-based learning. A local wild flower is endanger of extinction and most of the suggestions for how the children could help had been classroom focussed. Now these were nice, media rich, digital projects, build a web site, design posters – the usual. Interesting, maybe even fun, learning opportunities but just not very real. Here’s what he helped them come up with and perhaps more importantly how he did it:
Tryangulation: Reinventing project based learning

I conducted a simple problem analysis exercise with the students and one of our biology teachers, where we stated the problem (threat of extinction), and then ask why (loss of habitat). You ask why again (urban sprawl, intensive agriculture), and keep asking why until you get the big picture that shows how this problem relates to a larger system. As we looked at the bigger picture, we saw that a media campaign in the school community would not touch people who were close enough to the problem to do anything. But we did realize that we could take a different and more effective approach by collecting seeds in the wild and propagating them on our campus. The creative juices started flowing and we saw the potential for producing enough seeds to share with other schools in the area, and even for establishing a low-tech seed bank to help protect other endangered wildflowers in our province.

Although some of our students might have felt content with a nice website and a contest, bringing in a learning tool from “the real world” helped us find a solution that could have a genuine and sustainable impact.

I’d love to have seen this extended a stage further and here’s where the digital tools could have addded a dimension. Instead of the static web site a blog for the students to share and reflect on their learning during the process and to draw in those in a similar position who might be inspired by the work. A flickr photo stream to document it all, including the notes from that problem analysis excercise, would have been nice too 🙂

necc2007

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2 thoughts on “Practical reinventing of project based learning

  1. Arrgh! I searched high and low for the photos and paper copies of the web of relationships we identified during the problem analysis, to add to the blog post — to no avail. I agree with your comments on using digital tools, but…I taught some students how to create a project wiki, but the problem with the yanar doner is that there is a flurry of activity in October when we plant the seeds, and then nothing until the spring when the flowers come up. They bloom for a couple weeks, and then it’s over! There was too much time with nothing happening to keep people interested in some kind of chronicle. Also, phones with cameras are not allowed at school, and flickr is filtered.

  2. Hi Tom – I take your point about the time element. It would be hard to sustain interest in a blog during such a long gap, if that was all that they were blogging about. I suppose it might work if the blog was more general and this project only one category within it. However people can get to hung up on the chronological nature of blogging and posts. We use the tools to suit our own purposes and don’t have to be bound by conventions. The blog and or the wiki could be something that sits dormant (like the seeds) and springs into life only seasonally. That way a year on year record could be built up and if it had documented the initial analysis as well a total audit trail would exist for the project.
    Flickr being filtered – argh! It happens all over the world 😦 I suppose you might get something like TeacherTube unblocked?

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