I began experimenting with PBL in late 2010. In 2011, I started teaching a class of students who would become my little PBL guinea pigs for the next four years. They are what is sometimes referred to as an ‘extension class’, a motley group of students who were talented at English, loved English or were very well behaved and completed all their work, haha. I am happy to say that the majority of them fell into the first and second description. Being well-behaved is never a sign of a great learner, in my opinion anyway. Over the years the line up of students changed – some no longer loved English (oops) and some ended up in a different class when year 11 came around (sad). Despite this, the class had some consistent members, about 15, who stayed with me for the full four years. Sometimes I think they lamented that fact – usually in the final week of a project when it’s all getting a bit stressful. However, overall, I know that we had an amazing time together. We learnt together, we laughed together, we failed together, we shared amazingly crazy highs together and we played together. Seeing them leave my classroom for the final time two weeks ago was terribly emotional (I did hold it together mostly) because I have seen them grow into wonderfully confident, independent learners who love asking challenging questions, enjoy working in a team and who are happy to take risks and try new ways of doing things. I’m going to miss them terribly to the point that these 26 letters on my keyboard and all the emoticons in the world fail to express.
I’m writing this blog post to try (somehow) to bring together all of the amazing learning experiences we have shared. If you can’t understand why I’m getting so wussy about one class and you’ve been reading my blog for a while, this might help: #HG2212. These guys played the Hunger Games. They are them. Wow.
OK, so here’s a list of the insanely cool project based learning we experienced together as a team:
Protest Poetry: I didn’t blog about this – waaah – which is random cos it was such an epic project. My students adopted the role of ‘guerrilla poets’ and composed team and individual protest poems. We then help a performance poetry evening where we handed out their poetry anthology called ‘Poems for the Silenced’ and students performed their poems for their parents. Students also had their poems published in the Australian Teacher Magazine’s student publication, I think it’s called Spectrum. It was cool.
Passion-Driven Blogging: This project saw my students writing blogs to try to answer the question, How can I shape the way the world sees me? We connected with a couple of schools from the US, who were also blogging. You can read about it here.
Passion Project: This was so cool. End of year project that saw my students having real-world impact by raising awareness of issues that mattered to them. You can read about it here.
Cyborg project: This was technically my first collaborative PBL project. Dean Groom helped me design this project and it’s been successful every time I’ve run it. My lovely class, now in that tricky year of high school where things other than school matter, were amazing. They created lovely little poems and turned them into YouTube clips. You can read about the project here.
The Emo project: Why do emos write poetry? This was a massive PBl achievement for me. I finally bagged a rock star – Craig Shuftan from Triple J came to my school! The wit of my students can be seen in their brilliant memes created part way through the project – check them out here. Oh, and read here about how CRAIG SHUFTAN came to my school, and I wasn’t there… waaaah! Finally, here are their adorable podcasts… we watched one in class during our very last lesson two weeks ago. OMG, so funny!
Resilience Writers Project: This saw my class connecting with a class in the San Francisco Bay area. Boy did my students learn A LOT about America from this project! They made some super funny videos to introduce themselves to the American students, and we received some pretty hilarious videos in return. So many memories. Such fun! This is an overview of the project.
Hunger Games: We played the Hunger Games. Legit. We totes did. It was insane. Students metaphorically killed other students. Students cried. Students worshipped me as I walked past (no, literally). We went to the movies. It was fucking brilliant. Sorry. Expletive was required. You can read all about it here. I think this is one of my most favourite memories with this class. There are so many, but this is WAY up there.
Wild at Heart: We studied Where The Wild Things Are (book and film), we learnt about Freud (that opened some eyes!) and we published a book of personal essays! These kids were writing at a university level when they were in year 10. No pressure of the HSC, just 100% engagement in challenging ideas. Sigh. The HSC is such a fail.
ECP: To end an insanely big year of learning, my students were given the freedom to choose their own project. It was called the English Composition Project and my mind was BLOWN by some of the work finally completed. Stories, essays, blogs… rad. We had writing mentors from around the world to support student learning. Here‘s a list of who helped.
Vampire Trivia: To be entirely honest, we didn’t do anything exciting in my year 11 Advanced class. That was my fault entirely, because I got so intimidated by the ‘HSC’. Urgh! However, my Extension English students did awesome PBL stuff, including running a super fun vampire trivia evening. Loved it!
I was DETERMINED to make year 12 so much more awesome than year 11. As such, I planned to return to PBL with my little guinea pigs, and it worked!
Belonging: We went for a bush walk. Doesn’t sound like much, but just getting HSC kids out of the school is a major drama. We went down to the local state park, The Cascades, and wandered through nature like Emily Dickinson – whose poetry we were studying at the time. Lots of laughter was shared, especially when Angus found a dead yabby. Walking back chatting about life and stuff was just awesome.
Module A: Ah, Shakespeare. He can be tough. Especially a history play, Richard III with all of its characters named the same. Anyway, to make it more exciting we did a bit of a ‘project’ where students worked in teams to make YouTube videos as study aids. It was cool because they worked so well together and it reminded me of their wonderful collaborative talents. You can see their work here.
Module B: Oh, this is probably the best project we did during year 12. Studying Orwell is always great, he totally challenges students in the very best ways. We totally bagged another rock star for this project, with Dr Peter Marks from Sydney University coming out to our school to adjudicate my students’ debates about Orwell. Peter was stoked with my students, and so was I. I’m pretty sure I cried. Great memory. You can read more about it here.
Module C: Holy crap how can we top this one? A trip to Melbourne for two nights and two days to immerse ourselves in the life and world of the ‘infamous’ Australian outlaw Ned Kelly. Not really PBL, but kinda it was. The trip was part of the inquiry stage of Mod C, and the end bit was students presenting their learning about texts about history and memory to the other Advanced English class. Of course they rocked and the other class was dead jelly of how bloody rad my class are, haha. No blog post to link to yet, but watch this blog… I’ll be posting one up soon.
So, it is with a heart as heavy as a heavy heart, that I say goodbye to my super amazing class of 2014. They have unwaveringly supported my edu experimentation on them and their learning, which is totally likely to be unethical, but what happens in great classrooms anyway. If you don’t trust me that they loved it, maybe watch the video below and see what they have to say. Gosh, I’m going to miss them.