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The 4 C's Collaborate to Enhance PBL

It's been awhile since I last posted.  I feel like I've got lots of lost time to make up.  Well, my co-teaching partner and I put together our first full blown PBL unit with the help of the Buck Institute's fantastic book PBL for 21st Century Success.  

What I found most useful was the ability to align the process in term of the 4 C's.  The table below is simply a reorganization of the work presented in the book.

If we were going to go full on PBL, we decided not to go with a project I had created from scratch.  Using the resource bank at, I found a project called Blocking Sound I had actually encountered before while taking a course via  The project involved students designing materials to soundproof walls. I slightly modified the driving question to focus on the needs of my classroom. Modifying the table above, we designed a plan specific to our unit.  

My first big mistake was not presenting the driving question earlier in the unit.  I presented it after content delivery had begun.  I quickly realized how a driving question focuses students on a topic and gives content an application.  Just as importantly, it gives students the time to think about the project goals, brainstorm before the construction time, and increase the amount of time to gather materials.  

After introducing the driving question, we collected need to know information and focused groups on the project by having them complete the following sheet.

Groups also needed to generate a task list before being allowed to begin research.

Once all groups had submitted their need to knows, I addressed each one with the class as a whole.  It was a truly interesting process. It led me to realize the things that I may have thought were implicit in the instructions weren't. It was interesting to see when the same question came up in multiple groups.  Sometimes these were basic logistical questions such as time frame.  But, some questions definitely led to the goal of the next step in the process which was the research.

In the research phase, we were able to bring in some of our common core literacy tools.  The specific tool below comes from Literacy TA, a group of educators who create tools to assist teachers looking to strengthen literacy skills across disciplines.  The following activity is designed to focus on determining main ideas in a reading.

Once students had done their research, they were then ready to move on to the design and testing phase.  This is the point at which many groups failed to bring in their own materials.  It seemed like there was a disconnect between the research done and the actual action phase.  Almost as if there needed to be a conference step with the teacher where students discussed their plan before they were given a go ahead.  Basically, I think we needed to create a deadline here for proposing a design based on research with consequences for not following through with bringing in materials.  Essentially building in checkpoints with consequences.  I did this with the research step, but should have had it for each step.  Almost like in a game, you can't "level up" until you complete these steps.  But what would the consequences be? What happens when deadline aren't meet? Please offer suggestions.

Once the groups began construction with their materials, the engagement level really kicked in.  Students knew the goal and worked towards that goal.  As a part of the redesign process, students were required to do peer critique of other group designs.  The purpose were for groups to see how other designs were effective and perhaps get some takeaways to help modify their own designs. Again, this should have been a more regimented process in terms of when the critiques should be completed.  Rather than allowing students to do it on their own time frame during the process, next time I would require students to do it and report their findings via discussion with the teacher or as their group before they are allowed to redesign their product.  Again, a bit more structure would force the students to see that these steps are beneficial not simply hoops to jump through.

The presentation of the project was done small scale.  I was the intended audience as I was the one who would design the material to be used.  Teams pitched their design to me at lab stations.  I recently got flat screen monitors with Apple TVs.  So, groups created a Keynote on their iPads and presented to me via the TVs.  

The presentation were graded very critically.  What we discovered was that all groups were able to present the content required.  But, there were a few aspects that were lacking for most groups.  The first was the ability to transition from one group member to another.  Many group members seemed to be presenting disparate pieces of information rather than building on each other's ideas.  The other common failure related to understanding of content.  Some students within groups understood the material they were presenting but others were simply reading information rather than showing a true understanding.  (I'll discuss how we're attempting to fix this expectation for our next project.)

All in all, it was a great learning experience for all going through a process of PBL aligned with the 4 C's.  Sometimes it's easy to think that things don't need to be done a certain way, but I've got so many takeaways.  The biggest one was the idea that the unit opens with the driving question.  The driving question drives the students need to understand the content.  Also, accountability throughout the project is a must.  I just need to find an efficient way to manage this process.

If anyone has any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

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