For the last six weeks the students have been emerged in a project like no other that I have ever done...class documentaries. Each class is in charge of a different unique industry. The classes are divided into production teams each with different responsibilities. (The layout is linked here.) It was a rocky start neither of us, student nor teacher could figure out how we fit in this relationship. Things started to get better after some practice.
The classes started the week all in very different places. Some were close to being finished with filming, while some had not started filming. Some had worked out very clear lines of command, while others all tried to be the boss, or all tried to say someone else was in charge. No matter where they started this week they did make huge gains. Film footage was shot, voice overs recorded, and interviews were given making it a very productive week for all of us and the videos are all coming together.
We did run into several bumps along the road this week. We had one day of power outages where the surges in the power knocked out the breaker and the person that knows which breaker goes where has been out all week. Work was interrupted for a full day because the students had to do their mandatory 8th grade registration. And then in one class they have it set up so one person has been taking all of the footage and putting it on his computer and he was out for two days. Nice. Despite all of it we progressed.
Friday was a looking like it was going to be a dead day for over half the students. The film and edit teams are working like crazy monkeys but the rest of them are starting to get to the point where they don't have anything to do.
I decided that during our class meetings we would be a little metacognative before we started the day. I asked them to be completely honest about the project. I told them this was the first time I did a project like this and wanted to know feedback so I could make it more successful for the coming years. I asked them to tell me the positives and negatives for this project.
Positives: (According to the students. In as close a I can remember their actual words...I might have cleaned up their grammar...a little.)
- "We get to work together. Like everyone of us in the class has a job and we had to talk to each other to get answers and get our own work done."
- "It was like we were in the real world working on a project. You know we had a job and we had to divide it up in order to get it done."
- "We had to use technology to complete our project and it wasn't just some stupid PowerPoint."
- "I never have been able to do something like this before it was cool to be able to set my own daily goals because I could see what I had to do and what I got done each day."
- "It was cool see that some of my classmates could do stuff, like with technology or acting and they were really good."
- They were genuinely learning. The third week into the project they had to take a test (I had to have major grades) and the portion of the test that covered their industry they scored in the 90th percentile where as the portion that they learned the traditional way (notes and such) was pretty hit or miss.
- They went deeper into the subject than I would have ever gone. Because of interest, and their need to make the video's more interesting they were researching non-stop for three weeks and were loving it. You could see a clear level of confidence as they became masters of their topics through the level of their own conversations and decisions in the video making process.
- I worried about the rigor of their research initially but once those that tried to be a bit lazier got their information to their peers they were told to keep looking. Peer pressure used for good, not evil. Now I can securely say that many of the students know way more than me in their topics and that I am completely comfortable with that. It is a little strange...that doesn't bother me. I know many teachers love being the ones to know the most in their classroom. It is a burden I was comfortable in giving them.
- I love how they learned more than stuff in this lesson. They had to master scheduling, organizing groups of people, communication of ideas to peers, different types of technology and making them communicate, the workings of storytelling, the power of camera angles in relating a story, communicating with professionals outside the world of education and working with people they would have never chosen to work with if given the opportunity. The list goes on. Now did they master all of these...some students did. But each student did step outside of their comfort zone and learned some part of these.
Negatives: (according to the students.)
- Directors- They were the ones chosen to be the main leader for the class project. They were charged with passing out assignments, they were the ones that made sure we had a clear story arc and the ultimate ones in charge of how the story looks.
- "Some people thought that they were going to do all the work and we didn't have a clear idea of what to do."
- "Some people wanted to be the ones to be in control of everything so they wouldn't give anyone else some stuff to do."
- "Some directors didn't say much and we did whatever we wanted to."
It will be good also for them to have contact with other directors to discuss problems and concerns. I will try to nourish this relationship with a forum for them, and by encouraging them to text each other. I may try to give them different texting activities to help them become more comfortable with contacting one another.
- "Some people walked around and pretended to work but didn't do anything."
- Their grade is a 360 degree review. (I grade them, they grade themselves, and the groups they assigned themselves grade them.) I am pretty sure this will be the most fair assessment of what they did in class and will catch those that were not proactive in getting work done.
- I think next time I will also have assignments set aside for them to do if not working. Alternate assignments that will take a day that I can hand out after so many redirections that will show learning and will keep them working.
- "Technology doesn't always work. We didn't have any of it for a while and then we struggled to get files converted so it would work."
At the end of the class meetings I asked them if they liked learning this way...not necessarily with documentaries but with projects where they all worked together to achieve a bigger goal. The response was an overwhelming "YES!!!" I have to say I said "yes" too.
So while the editing teams worked on putting the story together the rest of the classes sat and brainstormed what we knew about the Civil Rights movement and Government. We made a master list on the board of ideas for our future project.
Next week we will be putting all that information together as we plan what we have coming. We will need discussions about the criteria for our next project. And will create the rubric together.
With this project under my belt I am excited about the future. Parts of this project created a ridiculous amount of work for me. Like when I had to create test for them. That meant 6 different test, not to mention three types of modified test and answer keys. Whooo weee...exhausting...but so worth it. Next time I think I will keep a binder for the classes to help keep up with all of the different keys, and extra copies of test and such because my desk is a forest of different piles of paper.And daily grades had to be carefully planned out because sometimes their daily work wouldn't result in a paper..it would be a scene or film footage.
Even though the new experience felt at times like we were trying to jog in a swamp I will do this again, and I can't wait to see how our newest book, Fair Isn't Always Equal, will add to our experience.
Have you ever done a partner project or used project based learning? I would love to hear about your experience.