This year has been my first year as a Project Based Learning teacher. Our district is beginning to implement this model of instruction throughout all grade levels and decided to first ask for volunteers. I volunteered last summer. I have to admit when I started, I did not completely understand what I was getting into. It was WAY, WAY, WAY more labor intense then I was thinking. We use the Engage model and there are a LOT of steps to the process.
One of my teammates and I have taken the journey together and there have been days along the way that we have been so damn discouraged we thought of giving up. It was messy and disorganized. We sometimes forgot steps along the way. We were frustrated. The kids were frustrated.
Each group has a little "help" sign they stand up on their tables when they need help. There were days when all of the signs where up at once, I was helping one group, Mariel was helping another and someone was tapping me on the back of the head with their help sign because we weren't fast enough. Sometimes I wanted to throw the little help signs in the trash. Sometimes I wanted to wear one around my neck.
It has taken an immense amount of planning, reorganizing, restarting, etc. to make it work. Some of our final projects never actually came to be. Some were crap. BUT.... then Friday, without warning, we noticed something amazing. There was not one "help" sign up. No one was complaining. Everyone was fully engaged and KNEW EXACTLY WHAT TO DO. It was freaking spectacular! I seriously almost cried. Our babies, understood their objective, researched and developed a project and used various types of technology to share their knowledge. They made PowerPoints, and e-books (one was bilingual!), they made Popplets and Puppet Shows and a video and THEY DID NOT NEED HELP. And they were AH-MAZING. Seriously. Every single project had every objective covered plus had the groups personality sprinkled throughout. It, of course, has been slowly happening all along, but Friday it was completely and beautifully evident that the process and skills had taken hold.They were so proud and confident and EVERY single second of hard work that we have put in this year became so worth it.
I have learned so much this year.
I have learned to talk less, listen more. I have learned that if I truly step back and let the learning come from exploration, it is so much deeper and more meaningful. I have learned that the real work is in the process, not the project. The project is the icing on the cake, but cake is good without icing too. I have learned to trust myself and trust my kids more than ever before. Kids want to learn. They are motivated by discovery. They need this. And in the end if we trust their process, they will get where they need to get without kill and drill and a gazillion worksheets and practice tests. I wish the "government" got this.
I am going to soak up my last weeks with this fabulous class. I am going to enjoy watching what else they can do. And I am sure I am going to cry like a baby when they leave. But, I am so looking forward starting this process all over again. Knowing what is really possible, starting with some experience behind me. If you have considered PBL but were nervous to start, just jump! It is so worth it!