Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Collaboration is Key!

I've been working closely with some of my STEMM colleagues at school to develop or implement cool projects for both underclassmen and upperclassmen. What's great is that the teachers I collaborate with are at different comfort levels with project development, so my role can change from one class to the next.

Collaborating with my fellow teachers is an essential element to successful PBL implementation. It's important to be flexible and help others to learn and push themselves to grow by allowing space for one another to come up with ideas, lessons, tasks and products and being a Critical Friend and providing appropriate feedback. When you get to collaborate, everyone brings their own strengths and weaknesses to the table and its exciting to see how your colleagues grow throughout the project process, and how their ideas can help you grow too.

For instance, in Do your Lobes Hang Low? my co-teacher is very driven to come up with all of his own materials. This can be super stressful for anyone, but I'm fortunate that he is very creative and open-minded and knows how to use resources well. That is one of the most important things I've learned since coming to this school--you don't always have to re-invent the wheel, you can and should use other resources to help inspire you in your work. Creativity doesn't just happen, everyone needs some inspiration sometimes!

{Anywho, Do your Lobes Hang Low is an exciting project studying genetic variation at the molecular level. Students are studying how DNA codes and how mutations happen. Once they have a good understanding of that, the students will be conducting their own survey to study the genetic variation frequencies as they relate to the students in our school, and compare this to the general population.  Students will be analyzing the data and creating various representations of their findings, from histograms to pie charts. Students will be compiling their work into a digital poster to show off to the school--likely at our next Project Showcase at the end of the month.}

My role in this project is more of that of the math expert, helping students to understand the various methods for collecting data and how to represent that data most effectively based on the data they collect. I am much more of a content-area expert who is used more as a resource than as a primary source creator. Since my colleague is so creative, it comes as little surprised to me that his brain is a little bit of an organized-mess, and since mine is SUPER organized, I tend to also help us keep things in an organized fashion. He tends to start big picture and then break it down week by week (sometimes the day of our project meeting!), and I think more along the lines of the big picture and what exactly we need to do to get there.

I was also involved with two project classes in the afternoon, one with a focus on physics and one with a focus on cross-curricular needs. In the physics class, my colleague wanted to take on a rather large project, as one of the first full on projects with the students. I have a bit more experience with facilitating group projects, so I anticipated my role to be more supportive in that manner. However, after assessing our students needs, it became clear that the physics concepts were a bit beyond their grasp to comprehend fully through PBL, so may colleague would implement more quick direct instruction sessions with the students, and the project became more of a culminating event than the entire learning process. While this was no our original intent, I feel that it was important to learn how to adapt to the students' needs, without compromising your overall goal.

I am also involved with a course of 40 or so underclass men with different academic needs, strengths, and pursuits, so my co-teacher and I need to be creative and allow for openness in our projects to ensure that all of our students are maximizing their time and capacity for learning. I am very fortunate that with this rowdy crowd, I have a colleague I can fully depend on to shoulder the weight of project creation, implementation and facilitation. We trade off who comes up with projects and rely on one another's strengths and areas of expertise to help us create meaningful experiences for our students and ourselves. We have implemented 4 projects and are currently working on our fifth with the students, and have found more and more success with each passing project. We are able to truly collaborate and push ourselves to create engaging experiences for our students--even on the fly!-- though, as 14 and 15 years olds they do not necessarily take advantage of the opportunities that lie before them.

All three of these experiences have helped me to grow and develop in so many ways; becoming a better teammate to my colleagues; pushing me to further develop in project creation; helping me to rely on others and trust their expertise. I truly feel so fortunate to work in such an amazing place where I am privy to so many of these experiences. I know with time and the growth-mindset that I will become the best PBL teacher I can be.