Earlier this semester, my colleague Ann Harris and I embarked on an attempt at project-based learning
with our Social Studies 9 classes. Nicole had presented a wonderful explanation during a recent Professional Day that inspired me to think about adapting a current project I already used. Nicole's presentation was full of templates and ideas that could be directly applied to a variety of courses and topics.
Ann and I acted as advisors, having students fill out work reports along the way to maintain accountability. The reports included a group contract, a project management log, individual and group work reports, and self-reflection. Thankfully, all of these had been provided by Nicole during the Pro-D. Even though this created extra paperwork and organization on our part, I found it to be very worthwhile in assessing the students. It was straightforward and kept students on track as they moved through the project. It kept them accountable to each other as well and didn't allow anyone to get away with doing little work and then receiving the same amount of credit as the other group members.
Here's what actually happened:
- The research went well. Our teacher-librarian, Roger Hayward, prepped the students in the library with a presentation on how Prezi works and how the students were able to share and work on the Prezi from different locations. The students took the job seriously and filled out their work reports along the way.
- The presentations were a disappointment. Both Ann and I observed that there appeared to be a real disconnect; many students simply read off their notes during the presentation even though we had specified that was not acceptable. Upon reflection, Ann and I hypothesized that there could be many factors at play: the students were uncomfortable because they didn't know the material well, they were uncomfortable speaking in front of the class or perhaps students were simply doing what they were used to doing during presentations. Reading off of cue cards was obviously something that was acceptable throughout their school career. Our solution: specify to the students that they may not use any notes during the presentations. Instead, they would be required to speak about their content by using their images chosen and/or a few points to help them along. And most importantly, we would have the students actually rehearse the presentations ahead of time. Students would be required to rehearse using the pictures they had selected with no notes. Ann did this when she did a similar project with her Socials 8 class after we did the project with our grade 9s. She found that it helped greatly.
- The feedback from the self-reflections was generally positive. Many students wanted more time to prepare for the presentations. Some still complained about a lack of effort from some group members and felt as though they did the majority of the work. This was an issue us when deciding on how to assess the students. I varied the assessment and in some instances, gave individual marks for work done, while Ann gave a group mark only.
- My students often failed to address the essential question about how geography, climate and natural resources affect the way people live. They seemed to stick with their given topic and not go back to the big picture. In the future, I would provide more support and guidance around this. The students are used to a certain pattern and structure around presentations and it seems they weren't able to break from the mold.