In July of 2017, I wrote a post reflecting on how we might personalise learning for our kids more effectively. I concluded that although we are personalising quite well, more disruption was needed. It seemed like a dream back then to have a class which was not based on a subject but focussed on projects imagined by each learner. That vision has now become a reality for our new year 11 Project-based Pod.
The Project-based Pod is a class that uses Project-based learning and Design Thinking. Our teaching is also informed by Hase and Kenyon’s writing on Heutagogy/self-determined learning. This class will provide flexibility for learners to personalise their learning by choosing what they would like to learn about. They will choose Achievement Standards to complete, that are linked to their projects.
The goals that we hope to achieve are to see learners who will:
- be engaged and motivated to learn about a topic/issue of their choice
- select Achievement Standards and gain credits that are related to their project
- be coached and mentored by teachers and possibly peers
- learn collaboratively
- develop the key competencies and future-focused skills to become connected, life long learners.
We began planning for this class about halfway through 2018 when our principal announced that we would be piloting the class in 2019. He asked for interested people to attend a meeting to hear more about it and ask questions. An information evening was also held for interested learners and their whanau. Learners then applied to be in the class and were all interviewed by one of our deputy principals to discuss whether or not this style of learning would be beneficial for them. We had over 40 applicants for the class but could only cater for 27 so it was a bit of a challenge to choose the learners. Some learners changed their minds after hearing more about it but most were still keen.
After the learners were selected, it was time for the teachers to be selected. This was another difficult process as there were around 16 teachers interested and only 4 were needed. I was fortunate enough to be chosen and am teaching the Pod for 1 option line (4 hours) per week.
At the end of 2018, we met with all the learners selected and spent a day getting to know them. We introduced ourselves and heard their nascent project pitches. This was helpful to us as teachers as we needed to be able to plan what Achievement Standards might be attached to each of the learner’s projects. Although this is a project-based class, learners still need to achieve literacy and numeracy to meet level 1 requirements. Some learners will also choose level 2 standards to complete and this reflects the beauty of the NCEA system where learners don’t need to be confined to one year level. We even have a year 9 learner as part of the class and she will be able to choose to complete Achievement Standards if she wants to.
We also took the class to the Create One World conference at Massey University to inspire them to do projects which have a social focus and benefit more than just themselves. Going on this trip also enabled us to spend time with and get to know the learners a bit better.
So what’s happening now?
As there are 4 of us we need to meet regularly to plan and discuss where we are going. We have a shared Team Drive where we share resources and collaborate. We have set up a Google Classroom for the class as their learning management system. We have just created a Planboard digital planner where we are able to add our plans for each lesson so we can all see what each other is doing.
We have created mentor groups where each of looks after a group of learners and conferences regularly with these learners to ensure that they are on track and to give them feedback/forward for their projects.
In the first 2 weeks of the term, the learners have been working on completing a PBL Framework plan. This plan requires learners to think in depth about their project, what they will need to research, how the project will help others and how it will be presented.
They have also been focused on developing the key skills needed as they work towards their projects, specifically understanding NCEA and setting goals. To support their setting of goals and time management the learners have begun to use Trello to plan what they will need to do over the course of a week.
So, this has led the learners to the place where they can now begin researching their projects. The learners will share a short pitch of their project idea with the class and begin the research phase as the next steps of their project. At the end of this term, we will be hosting a Whanau Evening where each learner will present the project that they have been working on.
Learners are not excited about presenting their projects so we are addressing this by telling them that it is non-negotiable but we will help them to feel comfortable by giving practise time and feedback and providing a supportive environment.
Some learners are concerned about getting literacy and numeracy so we have had a couple of lessons showing them the NZQA website and helping them to select Achievement Standards that will match their projects. We will keep a close eye on their achievement to ensure that each learner has opportunities to achieve literacy and numeracy.
Some of our staff are critical about what we are doing and see the class as getting preferential treatment. As teachers of this class, we have agreed that we will give regular updates in our faculties about what we are doing. Erin, our Kahui Ako teacher, will also give staff updates to our teacher meetings.
The PBL framework has enabled effective planning and reflection and learners have not found this too challenging. I think that when you are writing about and planning something that you are interested in, it is usually always more of an enjoyable process.
Teaching around NCEA and how to select achievement standards has helped our learners feel more confident about choosing their own standards. it has also shown them the huge range of standards available which has reassured those whose projects are a bit more unusual.
Meeting regularly as a team and discussing planning and who will do what is going well. Sometimes we do get a bit sidetracked though which can be a challenge when it means that the meeting goes on a bit long! Meeting with the learners in our mentor groups is helpful for getting feedback on how the class is going and also finding out what the needs of the class are.
Overall, the year has begun well and we are all excited about the class and keen to add more next year.