Monday, January 5, 2009

FIRST things FIRST PBL and stuff

We have been talking about project based learning (PBL) in schools for several years. Last time I was in the classroom, about 9 years ago, it was getting to be an old topic. We have heard the words; we want the teacher to be the “guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.”
How far are we in this concept? I see some PBL, but generally the teacher knows the answers and is able to use guiding questions to help the students along. Is this really PBL?

Here is a Google doc with PBL lessons listed. These are all good, and remind me of some of the lessons I did (pre-computer stuff) where the students did actual real-world research, I had a science class specifically for this, and it was fun. Wore me out, but it was worth it. Having “real researchers” work with the students helped motivate and focus the research.

But do we see actual research and development by students in our classrooms?
Project Lead the Way is a good example of some of this, but again I see the teacher knowing the “answer” There is some innovation by the students, and how much depends on the teacher and their abilities.

Maybe I need a good definition of PBL? If any of you can help, that would be great.

I think there is a great program out there that is really and truly PBL. The program is FIRST Robotics. Brought to you from the same people that do the Lego league. This program is in its 18th year, which I found surprising.

My son has become involved in the “Robot Team” in a neighboring school district. His district does not offer this program; my district is pushing to start one. The purpose is not really to make robots, but introduce the students to areas of engineering with mentors who do this stuff for a living. Each year the teams are given a task for the robot to do. Here is the task for this year:

If you do search you could find previous years tasks. The teams have about 6 weeks to build a robot to do the task.
The students and mentors work side-by-side to solve the problems involved in making the robot, yes, the students are to the actual work, but the mentors are there to help with issues and ideas. It is more of a partnership between the adults and students. There is a whole lot of learning that takes place in the six weeks the students have to build.

By the way, if you were involved in this program in the past, they are looking for you in order to get an alumni database started.


Brian C. Smith said...

I agree, the FIRST Robotics program is a great example of PBL and should continue in our schools. My question to you is, is it too late by then? What other programs/learning experiences are out there that elementary/middle school students can partake in that would also foster the type of learning (inquiry, collaboration, et.) that FIRST Robotics provides?

tsakshaug said...

FIRST has programs that start for 6 year olds
with their lego leagues. There is also the less expensive tech challenge also from FIRST. There are many other programs such as science olympiad and odyssey of the mind
Setting up and using PBL at any age is good. Isn't this how we learn the first things in life?