Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Final Thoughts on the Science and Technology PBL

In my previous post, I wrote that I was afraid the students lost the history part of the assignment.  Upon reading their documentary proposals, I was right.  There was a lot of discussion about NOW, but not so much about how the scientific or technological development impacted HISTORY.  I have compiled a list of what I will change for next year if I am lucky enough to teach the course again.

Ideas to Improve for Next Year:

1.  Use one or two documentary proposals from this year as exemplars.  This way, students will have an idea of what needs to be included and will also have an idea of how to improve upon last year's students.  For example, on the exemplars, I will note comments about how they could have been improved.  This way I can show the students where more of the history could have been incorporated.

2.  Students will have, as a follow up to the brainstorming about "best", an informal discussion with me about how their development fits into the criteria they determined for "best".

3.  I will "Gini-Newmanize" the assignment.  To truly decide what is best, I will have students brainstorm a short list of possible best developments so that they have developments to compare against.  I think this will foster more critical thinking.

4.  Students will have practice answering questions about their work in informal settings.  They have been completing debriefs after each assignment, so I may make the questions more specific or I might have more informal presentations where an expectation will be for students to ask each other questions.  I also plan on using blogging, so that will also be a way for students to read and respond to each others' work.

Ideas I'm Proud of and Will Keep Doing:

1.  I'm glad that the students worked with partners or small groups.  I got to see different aspects of the students, as some took on definite leadership roles.  Students also got to experience negotiating with their group members and reaching compromises.  I also had one student make a difficult decision and break off from his partner because he wasn't doing any work and was holding him back.

2.  I liked having a teacher panel come in.  The students took the one-minute pitches more seriously because they had an authentic audience.  I also think that it is important for students to share their work.  One student commented to me that he liked having the opportunity to see what his classmates were working on.

3.  I liked going beyond the essay or the research report.  I think having students write and present for different reasons and audiences strengthens their ability to communicate ideas.

I think with some tweaks and experience, I can improve this unit.  My goal is to bring PBL to my other units and other courses.

Reflecting on Science and Technology PBL

I started off designing this task with a lot of excitement.  I had great visions in my head...engaged students deeply learning about the historical impact of science and technology on our world.

We started off by discussing the impact of science and technology on our personal lives.  I figured this would be a way for students to see that, even if they "hate" science like one student told me, science and technology influenced their everyday lives in a positive manner.  Some students talked their cell phones or laptops and others discussed how medical advances impacted their lives.

This led into the discussion of "best".  We brainstormed what "best" meant and how we could decide if a scientific or technological development was the "best".  You can see their work in the photo above.

To prepare for our work, we did some textbook work to get some background information and we also looked at the curriculum expectations that our tasks were supposed to illuminate.  Since the task was to write a documentary proposal, we watched a documentary in class, so that we had a frame of reference for what a documentary looks like.  Obviously, the students have viewed many documentaries, but this gave all of us the same reference point.  While watching the documentary, which was "Christianity: God and the Scientists", we used TodaysMeet as a back channel.  I value the use of a back channel while watching a documentary because it allows real time discussion of key points and engages the quieter students.

To allow the students an authentic audience for their work, they had to create one-minute pitches to sell their documentary.  I invited teachers in to see the pitches and to ask the students questions.  This made me nervous, because I feel it puts my teaching on display to my colleagues and I didn't want to mess up or appear to be a crappy teacher.  In hindsight, asking my colleagues to come in was a good idea, as it seemed to force some of the students to take the work more seriously because teachers they had before would be seeing their work.  They don't want to impress me; they want to impress last year's teacher!  It was fun hearing students (in a panicked voice), "I know Mr. Richards is going to ask this.  We have to have an answer."  Or "Mr. Nelson's coming?  Now I'm nervous".  Or "Mrs. King's intense!"

What I really enjoyed about this task was listening to the students collaborate.  At the beginning of the task, I sat down with each group to help them create a task list, so each student knew what they were responsible for.  I backed off checking in with them towards the end, because I could heard each group working together, challenging each other and coming up with solutions.  One day towards the end of the project, the students were working so intently that when the bell rang, most of them were visibly startled.  (This gives me an idea for a new post: The Problem with Bells.)

My concern about this task is that I forgot the "history" part of the unit.  Yes, at the beginning we talked about Bacon, Descartes, Galileo, etc. and discussed how technology played a role in the Industrial Revolution.  I'm afraid that in their work the students focused too much on present day and not the historical progression of how the technology changed society.