PBL? Is there an app for that?

Posted: April 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

Saturday! I made it. As my body alarm went off at 6:11, I groaned just a bit because I wasn’t ready for my brain to be awake, but alas it was. This past five days were my first full week of teaching in almost eleven months. On Monday I was afraid I’d never make the end of the week, but last night as I sat dozing in a comfy chair, surrounded by close friends, I celebrated my return to the world.

My most recent bout of health issues gave me pause and a reason for some real soul searching (walking close to death does that I guess). In my reveries of times past and things to come, I forced myself to truly look at who I was and what I was doing. Two years ago when I first got sick, I almost left teaching because I just didn’t feel like I was being the best teacher I could be. Sure, I inspired kids to do good things and I helped kids find their way, but something just didn’t feel right and I was unhappy. I only ever voiced those words to my husband because it was scary to say them out loud. I’m not afraid of change; I’ve reinvented myself three times so far and I thought teaching had finally allowed me to find my niche — my passion.

It wasn’t until I found Twitter and started connecting with an incredible PLN that I realized that I’d lost my passion and that was why I was unhappy. Now, with my passion firmly in place, I’m reinventing myself as an educator. I’ve never been so tired, so excited, so scared.

Five days ago, I introduced myself to my kids and gave them a tiny bit of insight into who I am. I shared my beliefs about technology and what I think learning should be. Four days ago, I started rolling out how I thought our classes should look and asked them their thoughts and for their feedback. I was met with many a snicker of disbelief, blank stares, and a few interested looks. I desperately want them to direct the learning and not wait for me to tell them how. I want them to make choices for themselves because they want to learn and discover and explore. I want the things they learn to be things they’ll use in their lives or that are relevant to their lives. I want to teach them how to learn — not what.

Three days ago, I asked them to show me how we could meet the curriculum expectations. I told them what was considered to have successfully completed the requirements of the course. That day, I asked them questions and then asked them to show me what they wanted to learn and how we could publish the products they create. I sat watching and waiting, knowing that wait time was more important now than ever before. And I waited and waited, but nothing was offered.

Now, I realize that what I am trying to do was quite possibly something they’d never encountered in an academic class before and quite possibly way out of their comfort zone, so I threw out a couple of ideas. I really wanted them to take ownership for what we do, but I really can’t expect them to dive in head first, can I? You can’t undo thirteen years of training in two days (I have to keep reminding myself of that.). (I should mention that this is only what’s happening in one of my classes — the one I think is the most resistant to the change).

That night when I got home, I was exhausted and worried. I’d given my kids the freedom to choose, to make it relevant and as I moved among them, talking and listening, I was discouraged as many of them were off-topic and just enjoying the freedom from ‘worksheet hell’ (not that I’ve ever been a worksheet distributor). As I sat working on where I thought we should be going I was so tempted to step back into my safe and secure, tried and true lesson plans, but my heart won out over my head and I put together a handout to give my kids some guidance while still allowing them the freedom to choose.

I used that handout on the last day of the week and although I still had some kids off-task, most of them were exploring and seemed to really understand what I’d hoped they’d get out of the lesson. So, tomorrow, I’ll be exploring how to provide my kids with guidance without hemming them in. I’ll also be wandering through the resources shared by my PLN to reassure myself that this really is a great idea and to stick with it even though it’s exhausting. I know all the work is really worth it — for them — for me, but oh, how I wish there were an app for that.

So, hang on kids, we’re in for quite a ride as we figure this out, but I promise it’ll be different and worthwhile.

Oh, I almost forgot — the kids have decided to publish a magazine (for which my generous principal has offered to pay the publishing costs) for the school. I couldn’t ask for a more authentic audience and it hits all of the required reading / writing tasks and it’ll let the kids who want to use tech to use it, and those who don’t, don’t have to. We hope to publish four issues before the school year ends. So, here’s hoping that we can actually pull it off and put it together.

So, yeah, I’m exhausted and I’ve only been back a week, but it’s a happy exhausted. Now, if I could just get my brain to shut off for longer than five hours, I could really enjoy a leisurely Saturday or Sunday morning.

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