Monday, September 16, 2013

Who Am I Projects? Getting Students Started with Project-Based Learning

Giving students starter projects at the beginning of the school year is vital to make sure they learn the mechanics of project-based learning, collaboration, and engagement. It is the project scaffold that makes future project-based learning instruction more fruitful. This morning, during class visits, one of our world history classes was engaged in creating "Who Am I?" projects, which are designed to frontload these PBL skills.

The "Who Am I?" project involves students engaging in finding answers to four essential questions:
  • Who am I?
  • Where am I going?
  • How will I get there? 
  • What do I believe?
These questions are ideal in many respects. For example, they tap into ninth graders interest in themselves, and to place these questions in the context of a project makes this first venture into PBL especially relevant. In addition to exploring these questions, students were also asked to create a presentation as their product for the "Who Am I?" project. To further scaffold the assignment, they were provided an outline to follow regarding how they should structure their presentations. Students were also asked to use PowerPoint to create these presentations to allow a deliberate focus, not on learning software, but on working through the PBL process. Some students who asked to use other presentation tools were not prohibited from doing so.

Students were also provided with a rubric as well. They were to be evaluated in these five areas:

  • Product Content
  • Product Organization and Clarity
  • Presentation/Speaking
  • Presentation/Eye Contact and Physical Presence
  • Product and Presentation Preparedness
The "Who Am I?" project is an excellent starter project for freshmen high school students for several reasons.

1. In my experience, freshmen love engaging in assignments that allow them to talk about themselves. It is developmentally appropriate to tap into this natural fascination with themselves and their own lives.

2. This project gives students a scaffold on which to learn the skills of putting together a project and giving effective presentations. Students aren't confronted with all the complexities of PBL all at one time.

3. Students use familiar technological tools, instead of attempting to engage in project creation and learning new technologies with their first project.

4. Students are provided with a non-threatening, less content-connected project for their first one so that they can learn the mechanics of PBL first, before engaging content as well.

Structuring students' first PBL experiences to minimize threats and insecurity is important. Deliberately teaching PBL processes up front is a must if future projects are going to be successful. It is equally important for each teacher to teach students what project-based learning means in their individual classrooms as well.

1 comment:

  1. I would love to you something like this in my 5th grade classroom. I've been very interesting using project based learning but I haven't had the experience to do so. I think this would be a great opportunity for me to start slow and small and work my way into larger projects. Do you have any resources you can email me so that I can get started my own classroom? Possible handouts? Slides?


    Adrian Neibauer