What Do I Do Next? The Journey to Project Based Learning

--Originally published at Learning Opportunities

This year my senior science class has embarked on a learning journey. This class has been evolving from a traditional second year physics to a project-based learning (PBL) class that applies first year physics to real world situations. This year, we are researching and choosing a quad copter to build in class. While I am familiar with smaller projects, this is my first time to try a big project on a topic that I am learning along with the students. Since this opportunity was unplanned, I am working to stay one step ahead. (Not good practice for any class, especially PBL.)
Students have been made responsible for learning about flight along with real word skills like creating proposals and researching legal, safely and liability issues. I do not have the answers and often cannot affirm the students without some of my own research. They have become accustomed to the phrase “let’s look that up and see what we can learn”.
Notes from a class discussion

Recently students have struggled with what to do next. Our work takes multiple days and varies from research, labs, and communicating results. Students are asked to show what they have learned. This often makes assignments open ended.

Students are given expectations and rubrics for guidance and assessment, but are more comfortable with concrete questions, blanks to fill and multiple choices to make. With assignments, students submit work and I assess and give feedback. Students are encouraged to add or correct based on the feedback.  Since we need to have the knowledge to succeed, it is not about the grades. They have not adjusted to the idea that submitting and assignment might not mean you are done. They have been trained to complete and move on.
It is taking work to fight this idea. Some of the students understand this is a different class. They love the freedom to learn. They like the real life experiences as well as the choices they have while we progress through the project. They are excited that this is all their learning and work. The lost students will be found and they too will begin to appreciate the opportunity to make this their own class. 

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