PBL: an appeal to the ego

I’ve only had a few hours sleep, so this post might seem rambling, jumbled and incoherent … oh, wait – that’s my usual writing style. And why have I only had a few hours sleep? After all, it’s the school holidays – I should really be enjoyed too much sleep, right? Well tomorrow I have to run a workshop on PBL and you know me, a little bit lax on the time-management skills and thus frequently leaving things to the last minute. But I don’t want this post to be about my poor organisational skills – that would be really egotistical and self-indulgent. Hang on again – what’s the title of this post? Ah, yes – ego! OK. Let’s get started then.

The other day one of my colleagues shared a video on my facebook wall. It cracked me up for two reasons. One, because it told me how well my colleague knows me and two, because the video is so accurate (and really funny!). I’ll let you watch the video before I continue with trying to make some kind of point about ‘ego’.

Watching that video a few days before you have to run a 75 minute workshop is both good and bad. Good for the attendees, bad for the speaker. Everyone has been to a session like this – most likely multiple times. You might have even given a session like this. Actually, many teachers probably give presentations like this multiple times in one day. You know what I mean – this is your class, or has been your class, right? It’s probably ironic (and not even intended hipster ironic) that I am going to show this video at the very beginning of my PBL workshop. There are two reasons for it. One, it is a humorous representation of why teacher-centred learning is an unhealthy addiction. And two, I want to use it to say that this is NOT how I will be running my workshop.

But here is the really irony … I stayed up until 4am this morning so I could finish a video that I was making for my presentation. You see, I have all of this great information on PBL that I wrote-up as part of my literature review for my draft research proposal and I really want to share it with the teachers attending my workshop. I know as a teacher that I feel more secure about giving a new teaching method a go if there is some kind of research to back it up. It’s old skool to think that way, but so be it – lots of people think that way too. My problem was how to share this information (mostly quotes from researchers) without reading it from a PowerPoint slide. I asked my husband, Lee, what he likes in a presentation and he said ‘less talking, more visuals’. That’s probably a typical response to that question. So I thought making a video in iMovie would work and I stayed up until 4am making that video.

I know I’m tired cos I haven’t got to my point yet, have I? Basically what I want to say is this: preparing for this 75 minute workshop gave me a deeper understanding of what’s so good about PBL. It’s immersion. It’s ego. There is a reason why that guy in the video is so proud of the video he made – because he made it. Project-learning is ego-driven. The beginning stage of the project is the investigation – this requires the individual to become immersed in the questions and content related to the project. For me, I was thinking ‘How am I going to get all of my knowledge and experience of PBL across to these teachers in an engaging and effective manner?’ and ‘How can I generate the same level of passion for project-learning that I have?’ I looked through all of my previous presentation materials, I read my blog posts about my class projects, I read my draft research proposal. I wrote lots of lists and notes about what to include and when.

Then I moved on to the product stage – making a video. This video isn’t meant to last the whole workshop, it’s just another mode of communicating important ideas with the teachers. During the making of the video I had to ask technical questions on twitter and search them on google. Communicating. I had to think about copyright, so I used FlickrCC to get images and Jamendo for the music. Problem-solving. I had to think carefully about the types of images and music to include, as well as the coloured backgrounds and style of font. Creative thinking. During this process I was so driven to complete the project. It was 10.30pm when I decided to make the film and 4am when I finished. What forced me to keep working long into the night? I want to say passion. I know that’s part of the answer. But the real driver was ego. Even though my eyelids were scratching my eyeballs and my back was bent like a crowbar, I kept working. I would not sleep until the video was uploaded to YouTube. Why? Because I was desperate to share it with my twitter colleagues. Sheer ego. This, for Orwell, was the key driver for most writers: Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. (Why I Write, 1946)

Ego is at the guts of PBL. And that’s a great thing. Just like sheer egoism is a key motive for teachers to share their ideas and experiences with teaching via a blog or twitter or a conference presentation, so too is the product/presentation element of PBL a key motive for students to keep working tirelessly on their projects. Ego, I believe, isn’t a dirty word. I do hope my fellow PBL educators aren’t offended by this brazen reflection on PBL. I think we should embrace this appeal to ego as an important element of PBL’s success with students.

I finally finished my video, and I really am proud of it. Of course I am well aware of the intense irony of the situation – I will most likely end up looking just like the guy in the video about failing to communicate. I will stand there with a goofy, proud look on my face as my audience watches the video I created. They will be bored … after all, it’s just words on a screen coupled with some pictures and music. It’s not effective learning. Oh well, it made me feel good completing it and it now feels awesome sharing it with you on my blog.


Year 12 Advanced Module B: Pecha Kucha Assessment Task – helpers

(Below is a scaffold for my students for our HSC Module B: Critical Study of Text speaking assessment task. It could help teachers/students doing close or critical study of any text, really. More about this task – including the handout – can be found here and here.)


INTRODUCTION: directly address the key words/ideas in the essay question. Identify which essays you will be speaking about in the speech (all or a couple). Outline your thesis – this will just be what you think Orwell attempts to do with his essays (so to make it easy, just select on or two key ideas). Remember that what we want to see is that you have developed a personal, critical response to the essays … this is your ‘thesis’.

WHAT WAS YOUR INITIAL RESPONSE TO THE ESSAYS? be specific and honest – did you like the essays? did you like Orwell’s style? His content? WHY DID YOU HAVE THIS RESPONSE? give a couple of examples from the essays to support this. THEN TELL US THAT THIS HAS EVOLVED … WHAT DO YOU THINK NOW? (this is your thesis)

(there are two ways to go about this, one where you focus
on a couple of essays, one where you focus on all the essays – for those doing TWO essays, you might want to treat each essay separately like I have with Yeats and threading the following points together as you discuss each essay.)

WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT HIS CONTEXT? only talk about that which is relevant to your thesis!! Consider where he published these essays – who was his audience? WHY DID THIS HELP YOU TO UNDERSTAND HIS IDEAS/PURPOSE BETTER? make sure you link this to the essays … give evidence from the essay.

WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE ESSAY FORM? You might want to show off a little and say something about Michel de Monaigne and the French definition of the word ‘essai’ … tell us something briefly about the essay form – is it what you are familiar with? Why do people write essays? HOW DOES ORWELL USE THE STRUCTURE AND FEATURES OF THE ESSAY FORM TO EXPRESS HIS IDEAS? Think about why he chose to write essays and not ‘articles’ per se … why didn’t he just write poems, or plays, or novels? This must link directly to the essays you are discussing.

WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM READING CRITICAL RESPONSES TO THE ESSAYS OF ORWELL (OR JUST ABOUT ORWELL AS A WRITER)? You should refer to one or two critics – you really need to get to HOW this response altered your original thoughts on Orwell as a writer and thinker (as an ‘artist’) … did it make you change your way of thinking, did it challenge you to defend your original position, did it reinforce what you were already thinking about Orwell? Give examples from the critics (just a half a sentence or a sentence quote – we want YOUR ideas about Orwell, not the critic’s) and also examples from the essays to support your evolving appreciation of them.

NOW WHAT DO YOU THINK OF ORWELL AS A WRITER/THINKER/ARTIST? This is a return to the subjective frame and acknowledging the evolution of your response to his essays – might be a good idea to refer to his essays as being ‘significant’ and ‘valuable’.

NOTE: Please don’t forget that this is a SPEECH! Use your rhetorical devices – repetition, rhetorical questions, dramatic pause, strong statement, anecdotes, humour, accumulation.
Good luck! Send me your speeches for proof-reading/editing no later than 48 hours BEFORE you have chosen to present.

Orwell’s influence … prose like a windowpane

So Orwell did it. And I wanna give it a go. At the outset I know I’ll fail, for clear reasons known to me and those who know me.

I want to write a little something everyday, reflecting on what my mind was doing and where it went.

A talk by philosopher David Chalmers on consciousness, artificial intelligence and technology really got me thinking about how damn crazy amazing our brains are. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t thought about it before – but his very brief discussion of the brain’s structure and how ours are so uniquely designed (and I use that verb VERY loosely)  as to enable consciousness (not just intelligence) REALLY got me thinking about the need for us to take full advantage of its possibilities. I was fascinated by Chalmers’ suggestion that some day we might be reconstructing the minds of people based on the words, images and recording left behind. Orwell left an extensive legacy or words, a handful of images and absolutely no sound recordings at all. Imagine a reconstructed Orwell? Orwell wrote a diary everyday – something which has become the basis of a pretty neat project to share his mind musings with the world online – check out Orwell’s blog here.

Well as I’m currently not doing Orwell or Chalmers any justice, I will just start with my first attempt at recording my mind for today. Like I said at the outset, I will most likely fail at my goal to be like Orwell and in the (very) vain hopes of transposing my mind to print. Life intervenes.  I don’t envision sharing personal thoughts about personal experiences although these will inevitably creep through like ants into the picnic food.


Waking early today I found myself checking my phone before I had even checked the weather. Is this normal? Most likely not. I checked a range of small coloured icons, discovered a trickle of new information related solely to me and then attempted to return to sleep. A futile task, I found myself boiling the kettle and contemplating blogging about my school’s Maths faculty. So I will.

Our Maths faculty has been (I think) the last faculty to embrace technology for student-centred learning (I specify here because they do have IWBs and projectors in classrooms). It’s probably the same in many schools, and might have been the same in some universities too. I wonder why though, at my school, when the faculty is lead by a devoted, passionate and engaging teacher. The practicality of the day-to-day as well as issues relating to teacher-control essentially formed a ‘fog of impossible’ that lay over the faculty. Yet on Friday the Maths-teacher’s smile in my direction told me that the fog had lifted a little. She came and told me about an execl spreadhseet task that had been set for all of Year 10. It was to be turned in via edmodo! Haha! A win for the kids … Will this task instantly engage each student and help them to succeed in Maths for the rest of their life? No! But what it has done, it has shifted the way of thinking slightly from traditional to the alternative. I sit in awe that this change has occurred and am reminded that I was told two and a half years ago to be patient.

Change will happen.

It just takes time.