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You Got Your Personalization in my PBL!

When I first began my my journey towards redesigning my classroom model, I choose  project/problem based learning as a guiding light.  I would say that I still have lots to learn and look forward to attending PBL World this summer to dig deep into PBL 101.

As a district, we are moving towards a model which incorporates the opportunity for personalized learning opportunities.  I fully embrace the idea of choice and voice in one's own learning.  I have been struggling with wrapping my head around how I can offer both to my students. This is the first image that came to mind.

Can I design problem/projects which also allow for student voice and choice at a deep level?  Are they two great tastes that go great together or two distinct instructional models that can't coexist.

Let me talk about this in the framework of the project I just completed with my physics students. Groups were given a toy known as a Kick Dis which is a small disc that hovers on a cushion of air.  The students were told to come up with a video advertisement selling this product to a potential audience.  In their commercial, one of the selling points was to be that the product displays all of Newton's laws of motion.  There was an individual piece as well in which students had to defend the claims made in their video by specifically backing up the ad's claims with definitions of the laws of motion and fully explaining how the product demonstrated the laws in the advertisement.

When designing the project, I was required to frame it using the content standards we as a district have for this unit.  In addition, being a project, I wanted to incorporate some 21st Century Skills as deigned by The Partnership for 21st Century Skills.  The skills that I focused on were information, media and technology skills such as media literacy and ICT (information, communication, and technology) literacy.  The individual portion of the project focused solely on the ability to communicate the content standards as an individual.  For this portion, the students had the opportunity to choose their own format.  Students choose a variety from a simple word processed document to a one-on-one verbal presentation to me.

The projects were all very successful and I saw lots of creativity in the advertisements.  A personal favorite involved splicing in Tony Stark to help sell the product.  I can't help thinking to myself, was there a way to personalize this project even further.  Was I just paying lip service to voice and choice and simply giving the illusion of personalization?

Let me explain what faults I see in the assignment as it relates to personalization (I'll save the PBL criticisms for another day because they are there as well for sure).  First, what voice did students really have in the project?  I took the feedback I had gotten from our first unit to help guide the structure of the unit by giving work time, allowing for collaborative products, incorporate clicker quizzes and Kahoot! to help students deepen their understanding of content throughout the project. Maybe incorporating student voice is something that will grow over time.  We are in our 4th week of the term together.  As we continue,  it is my intention to continue to allow for opportunities for students to express their voice and see value in doing so.  

As for choice, I can't help but look back on this project and see so many missed opportunities for students to explore what interests them.  Here are some of the restriction I placed on them that may have been unnecessary.  I forced them to make a video as a product.  Advertising takes many shapes and forms.  I could simply have told them to create and advertisement of their choice or better yet a marketing campaign with a couple of pieces of their choosing.  Also, why did it have to be an advertising piece.  It could have been any form of media addressing the product.  I could imagine students designing instructions manuals, activity guides, or even Consumer Report style reviews.  All of these could still involve the media and technology skills framework.  On an even larger level, why did I get to choose the product.  I can imagine students bringing in their own favorite toys and trying to show how these toys demonstrate Newton's 3 laws of motion.

OK, that's enough negative criticism of my methods.  One thing I am proud of is giving the students the ability to choose for themselves how they could present their individual piece to me.  Students did a great job of approaching me to ask if they could present one-on-one.  There were very few students that needed to be hunted own to make that choice and complete their submission

So, it is my belief that PBL and personalized learning have the potential to produce a great opportunity for student learning.  It will be these opportunities for my personal reflection and sharing that will lead to truly great products.  Some days, there just doesn't seem to be the time.  That's why I'm glad I started this blog.

I hope those of you who have had any great successes with PBL or personalization will get in touch.  I have so much to learn and can't wait.

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