At the end of the year, classes for students become a mish-mash of videos, find-a-words and visits to the skip bin. It’s inevitable because both teachers and students are tired and over-it. As an English teacher, I often keep film studies until this time of the year – it means I can justify movie-watching for three weeks 😉
But this year I’ve been teaching the Extension Year 9 class and felt the pressure to ‘keep teaching’ right until the very end. It wasn’t so hard for me though, because my students have been working on projects all year. These guys are my other ‘experiment’ class and they were well-versed in Project-Based Learning. At the beginning of the term they connected with a school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania via edmodo as part of our ‘We ❤ Blogging’ project. This was a passion-driven project that you can read about here. This was quite a successful project and I wanted to encourage my students to continue learning through their passions.
Inspired by friend Neil Fara and his ProjectREAL, I allowed my students greater choice and voice in their final project. The project was called ‘Cause We Care’ – a pun I thought particularly witty, since the Driving Question was ‘How can we raise awareness in our local community about a charity or cause we feel passionately about?’ Whilst I did develop the driving question the students were responsible for the following: deciding on team members and team name, selecting a charity/cause to focus on, their investigation sources and mode of sharing findings (focus questions can be on this document: Cause We Care), the products to demonstrate research, raise awareness and legitimate contribution to cause/charity, their presentation of learning, including sharing learning with experts, defending ideas and celebrating their chosen charity, the Habits of Mind to master for the duration of the project and the outcomes from the Stage 5 English Syllabus they will master during the project ( I gave them a list of the 11 outcomes and the related dot-points, was an eye-opening experience for them!).
It was a really fun last few weeks of term. Watching the students get excited about the charities/causes they felt passionate about and sharing these with the class was great. The causes/charities chosen were Beyond Blue, Youth Beyond Blue, Endangered Species, Breast Cancer Council, Autism and Human Trafficking. Even better was seeing the variety of methods they had chosen to share their passion with others. Groups decided to create awareness through a variety of media and activities such as creating YouTube clips, viral Facebook status updates, websites, picturebooks and posters as well as selling charity-associated merchandise, writing articles to the local newspaper and tweeting politicians.
Throughout the project students ensured they kept to their project calendar to get their investigations and products completed before the final presentation date. To reinforce the importance of planning and reflecting, each lesson I randomly selected students from the groups to give a 30 second impromptu speech on their lesson goals and their learning. This really helped the students stay focused in class. To be honest, project learning is messy at the best of times, so there were periods where there was lots of laughing and discussion, and other times where students were all eyes glued to screen and working away quietly. That’s PBL, and I like it that way.
The final presentations of learning happened on the very last day of school for 2011. It was a testament to the commitment of these students that they gave 100% to their presentations despite knowing that their peers in other classes were playing hangman or celebrity heads, lol. Each group spoke with confidence and passion about their charity/cause and demonstrated a depth of knowledge about the issue relating to their focus charity/cause and why we should care about it and how we can all make a difference. It was a wonderful lesson and (even though I pretty much never cry) I had a little tear in my eye, pleased that the future is in the hands of these passionate, concerned, wise, caring young people.
Below are some of the products created by my students. One wonderful group of girls even managed to get an article about their cause – human trafficking – in the local newspaper. The girls took it upon themselves to email the editor of the newspaper, asking for an article they had written to be published. The pleasing and surprising result was a journalist and photographer coming to the school to speak with the girls. They were so wonderfully vibrant and intelligent in their responses to questions – it was a very proud teacher moment. The morning the article was published lead to a chorus of joyous cries as they celebrated the impact their learning has had on the ‘real world’. The girls have since been contacted by an organisation that rescues trafficked children in Vietnam, Blue Dragon’s Children Foundation, which wishes to work with the girls in the future. My favourite statement from one of the girls was, ‘Wow, miss. We did it. We really have made a difference and we can do even more, right?’. Pretty sweet for the last day of school for 2011!
I am thrilled that taking risks in my classroom has yielded such beautiful results for these students … and I’ve gotta give thanks to Year 9 for trusting my craziness.
A picturebook about autism, created using StoryBird:
Article in newspaper about students’ project to generate awareness of human trafficking:
A depression awareness mash-up on YouTube.
Photos of student presentations of learning: Cause We Care, 20122.