Monday, 23 September 2013

Piloting Student-Led Project Based Learning

I had been a flipped classroom teacher for two years when I had the privilege of being accepted as Apple Distinguished Educator, class of 2013. As I talked about in my previous post, this is where I came across iBooks Author and how it became part of my life.  It is also where I felt like what I was doing with my students was not enough. I wanted to make learning a different experience altogether for my students by making them take more control over their learning process to empower them. It was soon after the ADE Institute that I started thinking about how I could implement a Project Based Learning in my classes. By this stage, all my classes have been flipped, so I was done making all the screencasts, meaning, I could shift my focus from having materials ready for my students, to new way of learning, using the resources which I've already created. After brainstorming with a colleague, I decided to approach my principal to ask permission to pilot it in my Calculus class in the new school year. The reason why I chose the Calculus class was because of the following.
1) It is the only class that I am completely autonomous. I am the only teacher who teaches this class and only one section of it exists.
2) Calculus class, unlike the AP Calculus class, isn’t bound by any external exams and students who take Calculus would need to take Calculus in college again anyway.
3) Calculus class is mainly composed of students who don’t really like math and they take Calculus because they don’t want to take Statistics. So, I thought trying new things would actually be more fun for this group of students.
Thankfully, my principal gave me the green lights to go ahead.
The basic idea was to have an iBook as a year long overarching project where their learning will be logged. Each unit of the course will be a chapter of their book. It will contain the concepts of that unit, their learning activity for the unit and a personal reflection of their learning process. The three basic questions they need to address are : What is it that I need to learn? How am I going to learn it? and How will I show that I have learned it? The book will serve as a digital portfolio of their learning in Calculus.
So, I had to come up with a concrete structure. It all seemed great as an idea, but how would the day to day running of it look like? I was feeling overwhelmed at the thought. It wasn’t until days before school started for the new year, that I sat down to plan out the structure.  I realised the first step was to think about what my gradebook would look like. What did I want to assess? What are the things I valued as a learning process for my students?
Following is an excerpt from my Calculus Syllabus that outlines the structure.
Class Structure and Policy
In this Calculus class, we are implementing Student-Led Project Based Learning. A year long, ongoing project is an iBook of your learning process. Each unit will occupy one chapter of the iBook and that chapter will be assessed at the end of each unit. A clear rubric will be given for the assessment of the iBook. Within each unit, learning teams will form and decide what learning activities they will take on to master the content of each unit. Screencasts of all the lectures will be available for you to view to help with the learning process. You will no longer be given a unit test to demonstrate your understanding of the content, however, quizzes will be given to test your mathematical skills. Following is the breakdown of each assessment component.

Daily work/Activities
  • Daily work and activities grade is based on successful completion of the deadlines set by students, individually or in learning teams.
  • There will be a pool of points from which one point will be deducted for each missed deadline. A larger deadline for the unit completion will be set by the teacher.
  • At the beginning of each unit, learning teams will present a proposal of what learning activities they will take on with mini deadlines they have set to the teacher.
  • Same type of learning activities can be used maximum of two times throughout the year.
  • For each unit, you must form different learning teams. You may work with the same person maximum two times throughout the year. You may have maximum of three people in each learning team.
  • All your daily work and learning activities will be included in your iBook.

  • Quizzes will be testing your actual mathematical problem solving skills.
  • Quizzes will be given three different times within the unit. You may choose to take it anytime you like and as many of the three times that you like.
  • The best scoring quiz will be your final score of the quiz which will be uploaded to Powerschool.

iBook Unit Assessment
  • iBook chapter of the unit needs to be completed according to the rubric given.
  • Each student will submit their own iBook chapter.
  • Each chapter needs to include: introduction of the concepts covered, learning activities you have taken on to learn the concepts, demonstration of understanding that came from the learning activity, and finally a reflection piece of your learning process.
  • Due date of the chapter will be given by the teacher and you will be penalized 10% for one calendar day, 20% for two days late, and no credit beyond that.

Class Participation/preparation
  • Students are expected to participate in class discussions, oral presentations, group work, and projects.
  • The class participation/preparation grade consists of a pool of points from which one point will be deducted from when participation or preparation is not fulfilled.

Final Exam
An exam will be given at the end of the semester which will include the content of all the units covered throughout the semester. It will in a traditional exam format.

Grading: The following components will be used in the evaluation process. Each of these areas is
is compiled to reach a cumulative grade for the semester.

  • Class Participation/preparation   : 5%   
  • Daily Work/Activities : 15%   
  • Quizzes : 25%   
  • iBook Assessments : 40%   
  • Final Exam : 15%

I stand by the philosophy of each educator needing to find the method and structure that works for them. There is no single recipe that works for everyone. Teacher’s personality, demographic of the student body, dynamics of the classroom all play a part in it. I encourage you to try implementing few different things until you find what works for you.

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