"...[Project based learning] is really the act of using a project as a tool for students to gain understanding and demonstrate mastery..."
- Dan Jones
After attending FlipConAus 2017 in October (review articles here), I had enrolled to undertake the Flipped Learning Certification Level II course and had been writing some reflections and thoughts on a few key points from each of the topics (articles can be viewed here). I resumed this course having taken some time off over the Christmas and New Year period, with Unit Six - Project Based Learning (PBL), which, along with Jon Bergmann, was facilitated by Social Studies teacher, Dan Jones.
This was going to be exposure to project based learning from a different person and from a different perspective. Regular readers may recall my initial writings on PBL after attending a workshop with the Hewes' (Bianca and Lee) went from being rather disinterested in PBL to open to it. I was curious to hear what Dan would have to say about PBL coming from a flipped learning perspective.
Without giving the game away, the way that Dan utilises PBL sounds quite different to how the Hewes' utilise it. I do not know enough to comment much beyond that, and I certainly would not try to say one is better than the other, but different is key here. My understanding from the Hewes' and other conversation is that PBL is a mammoth to get going if you are going to do it well, that it takes a significant amount of time to complete a PBL, and requires outside experts on the given topic. The way that Dan explained his utilisation of it was much simpler sounding. Not necessarily easier, but not as difficult.
Dan explained his definition of PBL and how it is different from simply being a project by using a meal analogy. A project on its own is a main course where all the students get the same ingredients and are told to make a certain dish. PBL, however, is like the dessert where students get different ingredients based upon where they did their research during the main course. It was an analogy that I felt worked quite well.
There were some similarities with the Hewes' explanation. The driving question provides the ten thousand foot view while the rubric provides the closeup detail of what is going to be covered and what needs to be mastered and demonstrated. This, I think, is where things get quite different from the Hewes' explanation of PBL.
Dan talks about a design lab (you can find his run through as well as the handout on his website, here). This process, Dan says, is done in a week. The structure of it quite thorough, but also quite simple and I think would be easily adapted for a wide range of class and assessment tasks across a vast array of year groups and subject areas.
As part of the project flow, there is a think-pair-share process (steps one to eight in the Design Lab), which, after a few steps, moves into a visualisation process. At this point, and I found this very interesting, students need to visualise, to come up with at least five broad project ideas. They only choose one to implement, but that one needs to be justified in writing - why is this the best way of demonstrating my understanding? It also provides students with some back up ideas if they realise later on that their chosen idea isn't going to work or is not going to be feasible for some reason.
This idea, and the subsequent design process, is shared within their group to get feedback from their peers and the students are then required to reflect on the feedback they have receivedand what it means for their chosen project - helps to capture those projects which are too big or not feasible for various reasons.
There is of course a lot more to using PBL in a flipped classroom than the above, but that process, for me, was something that stood out, providing clarity around those initial stages of PBL in the classroom for a particular unit. If you have not used PBL before, I would encourage you to look at Dan's website, get in touch with Dan or the Hewes' (Bianca and Lee) via twitter. Remember to check out the Level II certification course to get a more in depth look at implementing PBL in a flipped context.
Thank you for reading and remember to read the rest of the articles in this review series, which can be found on my Starting with Flipped Learning Page.