8 March 2013

The Launch: Octopus Entry Event

One of the essential elements of Project-Based Learning is the Exciting Entry Event - the launch of the project that incites and inspires the learners. This is a reflection on the design and implementation of my first full PBL unit.

The launch of The Octopus's Garden Project took the guise of a class visit by the deputy principal to request the help of the classes in launching our school into the 21st century and helping establish our position in Singapore. The driving question became, ‘What is a 21st century classroom?’ and essentially, ‘Can Nexus learners re-think the classroom?’; learners were also shown this page with a basic project overview and a video to inspire them about what classrooms can look like with thought and imagination.

Upon being asked to run with the idea of classroom re-design (see my post, 'Birth of the Octopus' for more background on this); I was briefed about the parameters the design could take, e.g. no structural changes, budget, sourcing from our island etc.  This informed my planning and dsign of the project.

Before the launch was scheduled to take place, I shared the Project Overview and the Project website with Senior Management. This allowed all members of the project development team to be fully up to speed and knowledgeable about the project, relevant curriculum focuses and key words involved. In addition, I put up posters as ‘teasers’ around the school, featuring the learners involved but with no explanation, just QR codes linking to the site, to get some buzz generated. The thinking behind my designs and the project evolution can be read about in more detail here.

The DP came to the lessons for both grades involved in the project (I am running this across two grade levels in mixed teams as an extra challenge and introduction to flat classroom methodology). He explained the mission statement of the school and the long term plan for making it a top school but one that is different and forward-thinking. He went over how much had been invested into the building already; the library, gardens and canteen, as well as on resources and new staff. Then he led into how important learners are in our philosophy, and how their say matters to us - and so the next phase in the development of the school is to think about the actual learning environment. He said that they are the experts of the learning environment, so it is only right that they are involved in this. He explained the parameters of the project and ended by opening the floor for their questions. He left with the promise that if the learners are successful in creating a viable design, based on sound research, that they can persuade the Principal will enhance the teaching and learning experience of as well as meet the needs of the Nexus learner (and teacher) then it will become a reality!

Following his visit, the discussion continued as I showed them the project website and explained how the project would work. I also showed them the inspiration page I had created and the links I had found as a starter for ideas. I broke down the project into phases to show them what each part expected of them and the tools we would use to collaborate and create each phase leading up to the final design and pitch to the senior management team. I included details about how they would be assessed in each part so they were completely aware of the whole content required. My own planning out, in terms of the management log, allowed me to have anticipated the skills they might need, so I was able to lead discussions clearly from a teaching perspective, particularly if they were not aware of skills they did not have. I was also able to provide concrete examples, such as needing to create a video presentation, meaning they could identify that they would need particular technological skills as well as persuasive skills. From this, they split into groups to create their Need to Know lists, which informed the actual content part of the lessons e.g. persuasive language skills, report writing, how to use Twitter, how to work as a team etc. They mind-mapped in small groups as below, and this was collated into a project Need to Know list.
Learner Created Need To Know

I was pleased with the launch overall; the authenticity above all means they are really excited about this project. Having senior management in the room actually asking them really enforced this and their buy-in. 

On reflection, as well as the visit and request from SLT, a short video with a collection of examples of classrooms that have already been changed, or some ideas etc. from the collection of resources and links I had included on the site, might help in giving them a more visual idea of the possibilities. Having the project broken down into phases really helped them narrow down the activities and the skills they needed to work on to be successful in the project. The authenticity of the project meant there is such a vested interest in the research - with the knowledge that they have to be thorough as they are the ones who benefit from it essentially. The Need to Know List was great, as it allowed me to build on the skills I had anticipated would need to be covered to ensure all learners are up-skilled as well as satisfy English curriculum content. It was also a great way to share gaps in knowledge and skills with the EAL department, so they were able to provide adequate support throughout the project. 

The most important and largest element that came out if this, is their need to know how to work as a team. Theses kids have been rote-learning and have been spoon fed; until now they have never done anything like this, they have never been asked to think critically, collaborate or create, and were very concerned about what it means to be a good team member. Allowing space at the start of the project to allow these worries to surface meant I could factor in a lot of time working on creating profiles of teamwork, discussing tactics and groupings with the relevant support departments and from all this, a co-constructed rubric for teamwork and contract was developed and signed to ensure effective and successful collaboration throughout the project.

Rocket Image By Autopilot (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL  (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

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