There is No Too Hard……My Journey Into Project Based Learning

Three week ago  (after a rabbit hole of a discussion in Reading class) my students decided they were curious and wanted to learn more about the Great Wall of China. That discussion lead to more discussion, that lead to an impromptu research project, that lead to my students making their first green screen video (the first of many…they were a great success). As we finished taping the last video my school’s Technology Specialist (and my personal technology muse and just all around amazing educator…seriously what would we do without them) shared with my students how to take their green screen videos and make them into their final video.As she finished explaining I joked that we should make a how to video for the school / other students for making a green screen. One of my students (the student who is hard to get excited for anything) shouted, “Yes! That would be great!! I’ll do it!”

Later that day I was sitting in the library working with another teacher and my Technology Specialist came and sat with us. We giggled and smiled and reflected on her time in my classroom. We talked about all the great things that had come from the project we had worked on with my students. I told her my ideas for using the green screen again in my classroom and shared with her how exciting it was to see that one student (you know the student who is hard to get excited for anything) so excited to create  and we talked about green screen how-to video he wanted to make.

“You have to make it happen” she said, “He was so excited about it.”

“We already do something like this once a week, but he is already working on another project. He really was so excited. I do not want to miss this window here either. I really think this is my chance to grab that passion he was feeling. I need to think about this.”

I walked away from our conversation bothered.

How could I possibly find more time for one of my students to have project time when there is all these academic skills I need to teach them? How could I possibly be more creative and flexible with my classes than I already am? Then I remembered something else my Technology Specialist had said and something I was observing more and more with my students this year. Academic growth and skill development were things that could happen away from the structured curriculum. These skills (academic and non-academic) were skills that could be developed, learned and more importantly were happening away from the regimented and structured academic instruction I was used to teaching (I could already see it in other lessons/activities I had taught this year and in the progress they were making on their goals). This group was a unique group of learners. I was already breaking all kinds of expectations of what a classroom should be and look like.

I knew what I needed to do.

. . .

Last Thursday, after spending a week researching and google searching Project Based Learning, 20% Time and Genius Hour,  I had a good understanding of what project based learning was and I had the tools I needed to start. I had tools to give my students structure throughout a long process, ideas for portfolio building, ideas for student reflection component and an accountability aspect. I was ready to start! So I shared with my students our new adventure. I shared with them what their words and the experiences we were having in class were telling me about what they needed. Next, I shared with each of them a Project Based Learning Ideas/Planning Sheet . I had modified it from several I had seen online and tweaked it to match my students learning styles and their learning strengths. I began by modeling a scenario for them, something I might want to “learn” how to do (it was How To Make The Best Most Delicious Chocolate Chip Cookies in Our City) and as I modeled how to think big, I also thought out loud as I came up with ideas for completing the planning sheet.  Once we had practiced completing the worksheet together we generated a Theme Ideas for Project Based Learning list. I knew this would be essential to getting them to think big…REALLY big and to to help them see what was possible. As my students began to look online at pictures / videos about the topics they were interested in. I saw my students smile, whisper to each other and show each other what they had found. I sat down next to one of my students to check in and see where he was at. As he tried to decide what topic he was going to do he paused and said, “This is too hard.”

There is no too hard” I answered, “There is only will you love doing it and will it make you happy?”

The next morning, as I drove to work I thought about that moment in my classroom. Suddenly I remembered a video I had seen. I remembered learning of Christopher’s story at one of Luis Perez’s ICE (Illinois Computing Educators) sessions.  So that morning I stood in front of my class and shared with them what one of their peers had said the day before. I shared with them this video.

As they watched the video I paused every so often to tell them and explain to them what he was accomplishing, what they were seeing, what Christopher is capable of…and as they sat in silence, their eyes on the screen  I reminded them all that there is no too hard!

Too Hard Quote by Carrie Baughcum

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