It's our last week at this work as students finish up their projects, put the last touches on their presentations and start studying for their scientific method unit test. What I observed is a real focused investment of time and energy....I was almost un-needed because the classes knew what they needed to get done. And they were doing it. I'll have to admit that I totally cracked up with this group. They had invested how large mastodon tusks actually were....and then built to scale models of them. Two of the students worked together because their life-size tusk was too big for just one person to manage. They matched the length and diameter of the tusks for mastodons, mammoths and moritheas.....they went so far as to show the "rings" of the tusks in a cross section which reveals what conditions were present in that mastodon's life. Much like you would see in tree rings, these same kinds of growth patterns can be seen in tusks. they had a blast doing the whole project and now are dragging these tusks home on the bus to finish painting them....they are so excited.
I'm thrilled with their excitment don't worry. But I'm even prouder of their commitment to excellence...the time they invested in finding out about those tusks and then figuring out how to build these layers into their model. It wasn't easy....many layers of newspapers, masking tape and coat hangers (because I won't let them buy new stuff since recycling is green and it pretty much puts everyone on an even playing field).
It was a very self-directed room.
Students went back to our driving questions board where we collected all the post-its that related to the class question just to make sure that their team question fit and would be finished on time.
In order to set that up, I walked through the next two weeks of calendar with them. I thought if they could get a sense of all the upcoming due dates (yes again), it would help them priortize without me having to direct each day. As a whole class, we wrote in communal due dates and then each team looked at what was left to do and they added in their team due dates. When they finished that effort, I then had them transfer the big dates onto the monthly overview calendars. They are using their planner's weekly calendars to keep track of the details of their work and the monthly calendar to get a bird's eye view. Hopefully this will let them zoom in and zoom out in their thinking.
There's still lots to do. I haven't yet gotten permission to have our museum in the grade level pod. If we can't do that, we'll have our museum in the room. The art teacher is going to help students assemble the mural....they are staging all the pieces on tables inside my room and will work with her to learn how to attach everything so it won't fall off the wall. (A key thing since there's lots of traffic in this hallway everyday.)
Here's the second important thing to have near the end....a passion about being excellent. They now get that their product has to show exactly what they're thinking. It's why they've drafting their placards, revised and then done it all again. Once they saw high quality models, they have been working towards re-creating that standard in their own work.
We have to work on the study guide for the unit test....students have helped me write the questions that cover What is a testable question? and Is this a testable question?---writing lots of examples and then leading the class review.....Explaining and showing the difference in quantitative and qualitative data.....Is this a question for science? where students must decide if the question applies to science or to some other kind of investigation.
This is where the curriculum that is tested fits in with everything I'm doing along with all the time managment/organizational/teamwork objectives I'm fulfilling. It's the piece that I thought was missing in my paradigm of PBL before I did this unit. Now I see....we had 3 weeks of hard-core scientific investigation with the soil and data collection....another week of building driving questions and morphing those into testable questions for science.....and a final week of "fun" where they transformed their questions into presentations which they decided was to be a museum. Now we'll have another week of mixed stuff (a little presentation and a little test review games).
Layering. Layering the 3 big things...passion for their projects, curriculum and a real commitment to excellence. It's all about the layering.