Tuesday, March 26, 2013

PBL on a Schedule

Time management--possibly one of the biggest weaknesses our students have, and yet one of the most important characteristics for them to develop. Have you heard the saying, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person"? Definitely true. Typically, I don't even give it to someone else, because I am that busy person; but truly, a busy person generally has better time management skills--why? because they have to. However, that doesn't necessarily apply to our students.

Students at my school are involved in at least one independent project, their online math, 2 elective course projects and possibly a guided project... all at the same time. Thinking of this, when we went to PFUNC* last year, everyone said not to have students overloaded with too many projects, and yet I just listed off 5 responsibilities that my students have to juggle. Now, this may be less than a typical high-school student, who would have generally a 6-class schedule; but the way the students are engaging the material is COMPLETELY different than they've seen before. My students are used to getting notes/packets and homework and then taking a test; not actively doing their own research and trying to make their own connections. Which way helps students develop better higher order thinking and logical reasoning skills? Clearly PBL, but learning how to learn that way is a huge learning-curve for our students (and learning how to teach that way is a huge learning-curve for our teachers!).

In an effort to make this transition smoother, we've been playing around with our schedule and have changed it a half dozen times in the last year (though only 3 changes were actually fully implemented). Scheduling in a school that is not only Project Based, but is also catering to a flexible schooling routine (i.e some students come 2 days a week, others 4... some for 1/2 day, others for a full, or mostly full day) has proven to be very problematic.  It is incredibly difficult in trying to create a school day that is both open to student voice-and-choice, and structured enough to ease students into the PBL environment.

I've been analyzing some leading PBL schools' scheduling information and course descriptions to see their secret to success, in order to tweak it for our school. So far, I've found that schools either: a) schedule out blocks of time that have a designated traditional title, but are taught in a PBL manner i.e Freshmen Math or World Geography or b) have fully independent students working on autonomous projects.

For our school, we are thinking the first format would work better. Student will likely be attending advisory first and then rotating in blocks 2 and 3 to either Math, Humanities or STEMM project blocks, where they will be working through guided projects in those particular areas. The benefit to this is that students will get one-on-one time with content-area specialists who will better be able to support them in times of struggle. The drawback is that students won't have as much voice and choice. To combat this, we have LTI time scheduled into a students day in the afternoon in place of attending a second advisory session. LTI (Learning Through Interests) is a time where students explore their passions and interests in a way that is designed specifically to meet their needs. Students can use this time to explore career options, internships, specific readings or writing styles, or any other project of high-interest to the student. Students will be gaining the skills necessary to be successful in all stages of a project in their more structure classes throughout the day and will reinforce these skills in a more meaningful and applicable way in the afternoon.

With guidance and deadlines in the morning, and a strong advisor, students should be able to develop their own time-management skills through planning, scheduling, prioritizing and working-through these topics. Students' advisors will be there to help hold the students accountable for their work and meeting these goals/deadlines.

It may not be the perfect schedule--let's be honest, what is?--but it is one we feel will help our students be successful in the upcoming year. Who knows, check back next year, I may have to write a post explaining our NEW theories on scheduling and why we are changing them. That's the thing with PBL, it is constantly a work in progress--it is it's own project.