This is space to discuss, trouble-shoot, and share what's working in the projects going on in our classrooms.

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We just completed a first small project in a unit on Natural Resources. Students designed 'sustainable cities' based on scientific technology that's being invented as we speak. There were effective aspects, and ineffective aspects of the project. Students said they enjoy working on this project, and a lot of their cities are beautiful... filled with thoughtful details. I don't feel that I set up effective SEL (social-emotional learning) structures so students could communicate about problems that came up in their groups. I also don't feel that I set up smaller structures that focused each group member to be working on an aspect of the project at all times, or ending structures where they presented their work authentically.

One structure that was really effective was writing the steps of the project up on the board. Ex:

1. Sign group contract
2. Divide up articles
3. Read and highlight articles with a question in mind (comprehension tool we're using)
4. Communicate what the articles are about to all group members
5. Complete caption sheet
6/7. Design rough draft/Complete caption sheet 2nd draft (they were in groups of 4, and they split into teams of 2 for these steps)
8. Final copy
9. Celebrate!

I gave each group a sticky note and they wrote down everyones' names. Then they went to the board and placed it on the step they were on. When they completed a step they moved down their sticky note. So it acted as a check-off list for each group, and for the class as a whole. My students were referencing the board to figure out what they needed to do next, instead of asking me.

Anyone have success with setting up SEL structures in PBL groups? How do you do it? PBL seems to lend itself to teaching communication and collaboration skills.

Also, how do you design clear objectives into the work students are doing? How do you design well-structured groups?

Thanks,
Rachel
Hi Rachel,

A couple of links that I find helpful as starters for planning and assessment are these:

http://pbl-online.org/
http://www.lullah.com/49ers/assessment.html

I confess that I tend to lean toward as much flexibility as possible when carrying out a project, providing pathways for those teachable moments that are not on the schedule, providing opportunities for social learning.

Learning to find some kind of order from chaos is another aspect of projects. A too-tightly scaled and planned project can come off as another step by step lesson, and as Sir Ken Robinson says, can kill creativity.

My way of getting a project off the ground, to respond to Sue's comment, is to create anticipation in advance of the project, especially if it is one that has never been done before in your classroom. For the Monster Project, for example, I begin weeks before by asking funny questions about monsters, playing short spooky MP3s without explanation, and asking questions like: "Can you like someone who looks very very different than you?" All leading toward the start of the project.

On designing clear objectives - I see that operation going in both directions. Sometimes I start with he objective, other times I look at an engaging activity and let my creativity ferret out the standards and objectives - most importantly, I want the students involved and caring about the nature of the interactions as well as about the outcome of the project.

Terry
Thanks! This is very helpful. Sorry I didn't get back to you until now. For some reason I missed your response until now.
Rachel, thanks for starting this. I was once again inspired by PBL Better with Practice, to reflect more deeply on exactly HOW to get a project off the ground. Basically, for me it comes down to do it myself first. The blog is at http://takeactionscience.wordpress.com/2010/09/12/do-it-yourself-fi...
Thanks! Sorry I didn't get back to you until now, but I didn't see your answer for some reason. Cool blog!
Here's a video of my students' final product on their sustainable cities designs. I've never gotten this much work out of my students as a whole before!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZxYSe26O9I&feature=channel

I'm happy to share curriculum, though it's definitely a work in progress. Any critique is welcome.
I havent hashed out all the specifics yet, but I am planning a PBL based in the game Angry Birds to teach about parabolas.
THAT IS A GREAT IDEA!  Can I talk with you about this?

I have worked out the details. Well for now. Take a look at my PBL lesson plans

A few things I see as potential problems are engaging all students in each group, engaging all students in brainstorming sessions, and making connections to turn one groups' failure or success into your own groups' success. 

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