Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Textbook Project a PBL Gone Right

Every now and then you get something right. When my state adopted new learning standards for Texas History, the class I had taught for over 13 years. As we all know, the money in districts goes to subjects that have end of the year test.  I knew that we would not get the resources we needed for a long time. There aren't even that many resources online for it.  The only major website that has information is produced by college professors, a little above the lexicon of a 7th grader.  

Knowing that our textbooks would not meet their needs in two years I decided to act.  I had my students create their own textbook. I used our districts chunked TEKS, or standards similar to the common core.  Each six weeks students would adopt a TEKS and create an interesting interactive piece that students could learn from as they use it. 

It was my first project based assignment.  I told my students that it was an experiment.  They seemed to like the idea that they were doing something for future students...and that I had no idea where it would lead.  I know some teachers feel like they always have to be the expert about all things, but I find students love it when you are learning with them and are honest about it. The first year I ran into a couple of surprises. 
  1. Initially when given a choice students will always pick the easiest thing. I thought for some reason they would use the time to create beautiful imaginative masterpieces.  They went straight for the PowerPoint and essay writing...strange right? 
  2. Given enough time and support students will try new things.  It isn't a natural instinct to do something where you do not know how it will end up but with enough support and encouragement they will try new things...eventually.
  3. There is power in the cloud.  My computer died three times the year I assigned this project.  Make sure the students turn in to a Google folder, or on Edmodo so if there is a meltdown you still have access to it. 
The textbook is still out there and kicking.  After year one, I was moved up to 8th grade.  Now a dear friend is carrying out the project having students fill in the blanks, and add "stuff" to it that make it super fun, and interactive.  He has noticed the same surprises.  Creativity takes practice, time and a community where risk are celebrated.

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