Teach.com

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Starting PBL at Decker Middle School

http://www.flickr.com/photos/peskylibrary/
This year all of our 6th grade (core) teachers will be teaching with PBL and will be under the New Technology Network (NTN) umbrella.  In addition to teaching with PBL, the teachers will be grading with Learning Outcomes based upon "21st Century Skills."  The learning outcomes they will be using are Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication, Work Ethic, and Digital Citizenship.

To meet these expectation we had to recruit a group of teachers who were willing to take chances and get messy (as Ms. Frizzle would say).  Each of our teachers came from our district and over half of them came from our school.  But whenever you are introducing something as different as this you have to have buy-in from the teachers and that means everyone had to be willing to commit to the change.

As of this point there are two teams of teachers for nearly 270 students.  These 8 teachers are not only about to start teaching all of their classes with PBL but these teachers are committed to planning what the culture of this school will become and what steps we will take to become a New Tech school.

Some might say that having teachers teaching with PBL is all it takes for you to be a New Tech school.  But there is much more than that simple step.  The real key is building a school with a culture of Trust, Respect, and Responsibility(TRR).  Decker Middle School (DMS) has established itself as a school that is improving and a school that has set in place a sense of structure and discipline.  To try and create the TRR piece without this in place would be much more difficult with our demographics.  Our teachers must learn to set boundaries and then trust that the students will operate "freely" within these boundaries.

Giving more freedom to students can be a HUGE issue for some teachers.  If you have ever taught in a school where there are discipline and consistency issues then you know that it is really nice to have a structured, scheduled, consistent plan for discipline.  And some teachers worry that giving the students more freedom could lead to anarchy.  And the first step towards this anarchy (in their eyes) is working in groups.  We had to come to an agreement of what we could all agree upon as a schedule for successfully shifting to PBL.

Our list of "non-negotiables" had to include the fact that we would want at least one project during the first nine-weeks grading period.  Again, if you haven't taught with PBL, this may seem like a small requirement.  But we have the words "at least" in there.  A couple of our teachers will have their students in groups from day one and will end up with more than one PBL unit during this period.  But those who need to establish their classroom rules and regulations have the opportunity to slowly shift from rules and regulations for students in rows, to the same basic rules and regulations with students in collaborative groups.

Two weeks to go and our teachers have been working as a team.  They have agreed upon norms that we will follow when meeting.  They have created our learning outcomes and the weighting that goes with them for grading.  They have agreed to have a grade-level "project" during the first five days that will cover classroom rules and expectations as well as how to function in a group.  They have agreed to create one full-blown project from Entry Event to Presentation during the first 9-weeks grading period.

I look forward to writing on this blog about their trials and their successes as they go through the year.  I have ideas for them to try and I offer a shoulder to cry on if they fail.   We will be successful because we are already a team.