Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Effective Management of Project-Based Learning

I have seen more projects fail than I care to recall. We often make the assumption that equates teaching with management. They are not synonymous. A teacher may know how to teach, but not facilitate. Also, a facilitator may not be able to teach effectively either, but can encourage a group to do wonders.

But saying this doesn`t let anyone of the hook just yet. A teacher can still learn to be a good facilitator that manages projects effectively. He or she may not be a great facilitator like those we see in some classrooms, who are naturally gifted, but we can all become good effective facilitators of project-based learning in the classrooms with a little effort and a good attitude (something, I might add, we expects from the students).

Here are seven areas that need to be considered when developing a project for the classroom. To make it practical, let`s use the Water Quality Project designed for grade ten science. I`ve included the wikispace address for referencing.

1) Orient - I`ve seen teachers sometimes randomly throw out an assignment to students and let them flounder around trying to figure things out without any preparation or guidance about a topic. That is incredibly frustrating for students. I`ve taken courses during my graduate and post-graduate studies that were designed the same way. Students were overwhelmned and frustrated, and some eventually gave up. It is so important to orient students about the topic. So with regard to the Water Quality study, students need to have discussions about water. What is so important about water? What do they know about water? Mindmap this with Bubbl.us with a data projector so students can watch it grow. Make sure that students have a good grasp about the water issues. On the wikispace site, there a few videos that explain the concern about water to orient students about the subject.

2) Group - The second step is grouping students that you know can work together, but more importantly understand what is involved in the group work. Sit down with each group individually as they brainstorming their ideas around the driving question, which in this project case is, "What is the value of water?" As a group take them through the wikispace site and decide who is going to do what. Observe them as they organize their group and encourage them to take control of the project. As a group, they may want to create their own Ning or wiki site to collaborate their project, and even use Edmodo to communicate with each other about expectations.

3) Organize - I've already mentioned the importance of organizing, but I cannot overemphasize this point. It is so critical that there is orgranization behind what the teacher does and what the students do. At the wikispace site, everything is layed out for the students and the teachers. Each has their own section. Have the students organize their research and information. Use Diigo to keep track of website resources and for referencing later.

A big part of organizing for the teacher is ensuring that the students have a good grasp of the driving question. Has this been spelled out clearly for students to be able to know where their strating point is for their project. So make sure students really understand the project ideas that are outlined in the wikispace. When they do their interviews, make sure they keep the information organized and recorded. If they digitally record the interviews, everything needs to be filed properly. Make sure students understand the importance of the process.

4) Clarify - This is important for students to come back to the driving question and refocus. Sometimes we need to allow students an opportunity to ask those important questions that will clarify the issues they are looking at. Use the extra videos and get students to share their findings and ideas. Make sure that students are checking out the various sites that have been bookmarked for them. These are only starting points; they may find other sites.

5) Monitor and regulate - There's the expression, "A teacher's work is never done." Well, this is so important when having students working on projects. The teacher really needs to monitor students to ensure they are on task and ask questions. In addition, the teacher needs to work with the students about the timelines for when work will be completed. The Google calendar has been inserted in the wikispace for the teacher to use and put in their deadlines. Edmodo works really well to set out assignment timelines.

6) Manage - The teacher needs to stay on top of what the students are doing. With this project, some students are going to be collecting interviews, others are going to be out on the lake or river using the GPS and collecting water samples, others are going to be doing video projects. All of these require an incredible amount of assitance from other teachers and administration and coordination. You can't just wing this. So this will require a great deal of management, but it can be done, by meeting with all the players involved and assigning everyone their reponsibilities.

7) Evaluate - In end, we expect teachers to use the rubric we have included on the wikispace, but they may want to create their own on rubistar. I would also encourage group evaluations. The important piece here is what did the students learn doing this project. Do they undertstand better the value of water? Did this spur them into action and want to do something within their community about water quality?

Overall, I think this project can be a lot of fun for everyone involved, especailly when it is managed effectively. Have fun with it!
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