The 4-way PBL Project

This week I kicked off a six days (three and a half hours a day) of technology projects for year 7 & 8. I have some 85 students and we do this two days a week over three weeks. All my students are in the same room. I should point out here that I’m teaching with the Maths, Science, English, HSIE, PDHPE teachers along side me.

In fact, we each do this in turn, so in actual fact I am ‘convening’ four projects that are happing at the same time with their help – Timber, Electronics, Communications and Innovation. Each teacher has roadmap of what I want and I make all the resources to support each of the four projects (a website) which the kids dip-into as a series of ‘learning episodes’. I have a system now where kids have to achieve the key outcomes in their first one or two projects which I set, after that, there are a series of projects they can do, and roughly 22 kids choose which of the four they want to do – based on what they have not yet done. When they have done four projects, they get a ‘master project’ brief (typically year 8) in which they create their own technology ‘start-up’ and make a prototype and the necessary items to promote it. For example, they could start a skate business in year 7 and use their tech-time to investigate and experiment with creating ‘things’ for it over the entire course.

What I’m giving them are a set of non-negotiable learning aspects. For example, if you want to make skateboards, then you’re also going to have to tell me what kind of timber is out there, what tools you can use etc.,

Let me give you an idea of how this works. Kids will work on a “maker space” project as a core-unit. The essential questions is “what would you make, and how are you going to make it happen”. Of course they probably have no idea what a Maker Space is .. but by Day 2, they all have to come up with a ‘pitch’ for what they want. A “pitch” has a few parts … the opportunity followed by the hurdles and hassles. As we all know, nothing get’s done easily and even the best ideas soon meet hassles and ‘yeah buts’. So the kids have to be clear that they know what the barriers are and then present their vision (which must get around those hurdles). Next the have to come up with 3 (or more) options in their idea, then pick the one they want to go with – and defend why. Finally, they have to list the potential risks and problems that might happen with their idea.

By the end of Day 2, all the kids have a pitch. Some will have got into their ‘birds of a feather” groups, which are people who have skills they need, or ideas and goals similar to theirs. If they like, they can pitch again as to why they want to form a group (company) rather than stay solo – but I want that over night.

So what’s the driving question? well, there really isn’t one in the traditional sense. What we’re doing here is learning how to tell stories (reports, explanations, pitches etc.,) and to visualise them using the head, heart and facts available. To be specific, a few kids decided to form a business to ‘up-cycle’ skateboard decks. On day one they didn’t know what a maker-space was, by the end of day 3, they have spoken to veneer suppliers, skaters, board-makers and started to work out how to pitch their plan to the community. They know what tools they need and what they need from a space to make it happen. So they are busy this week trying to work out how to raise the capital to for their ‘start-up’.

What I like about this is that we’re not stuck in a loop of Googling and sketching out designs for skateboard decks. We’re not trying to make one deck, but create a long-term start up which will recycle and build new boards, and allow other kids to come and learn how to do it.

All 4 projects work the same way. There are goals, rewards and visible learning systems to work with that allow them to believe they can be a start-up. Thats what I’ve been working on for a while. You might like.