Monday, March 26, 2012


The way I run (don't like this verb or "manage" very much but can't think of a better one tonight) my classroom is based on the New Tech mantra of "Trust, Respect, and Responsibility." It is also based on relationships. I feel like there are often too many rules trying to "control" students.

Some teachers use pseudo-responsibility where they set up a rule knowing students will break it justifying the teacher to take away privileges. "I will let you chew gum as long as you are responsible." One week later there is gum on the floor and no one can chew gum for the rest of the year. Later the teacher brags about how students were given responsibility and abused it and lost privileges. I think the teacher planned this from the get go and students were set up. This does not build trust.
Photo by me

The other day some students in my class were eating marshmallows by throwing them into the air and trying to catch them: challenging, entertaining, and a major distraction. I went over and asked them what our agreement for food in the classroom was. "We can eat it as long as it is not a distraction" they replied. Then one student argued it was not a distraction. I told them it was for me and another student quickly put them away and it was done.

There was no argument, punishment, or consequence. I treated them as adults and pointed out the problem and they quickly solved it and got back to work. I also maintained a good relationship because I was not out to "get them in trouble." By focusing on the behavior and not banning food I put real responsibility on them and did not turn the situation into a power struggle.

Too many times in schools we want to ban things (hats, hoodies, gum, food, rubberbands, Facebook, Youtube, etc) but students will always come up with a new distraction. If instead we focused on re-directing their behavior students would see us as allies instead of adversaries over often trivial things that in themselves have nothing to do with learning.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Making a PBL Cake.

This post is part of a series where I look at the "recipe" of PBL (problem based learning) and give an overview of each step and then explain how I have adapted it to the "flavor" of my teaching philosophy and style. I also use SBG (standards based grading) for my assessment method and that influences some of my methods. My hope is that it will be both a good introduction to someone new to PBL and a source of ideas for those who are already teaching with PBL.

photo by bunchofpants
I loved to eat, but I do not really enjoy cooking. Once in a while I will make something that requires actual prep work, but usually anything I make is pretty basic and I am not confident enough to stray from the directions on a recipe. I can cook. I am confident I can make a cake from a recipe (I can't actually remember ever actually making a cake in my life).

I am not a chef. A chef creates food based on knowledge of how ingredients and different cooking techniques work. A chef makes their own custom cake from scratch because she understands how the proportions work, what kinds of things can be substituted, and how to experiment to bring out new flavors. Any cook can follow a recipe, but a chef can create master pieces from her own expertise.

Project Based Learning (PBL) has a recipe that any teacher can follow. My favorite description of it comes from Buck Institute:

I was taught to cook to this method and I think it produces a very tasty cake. It is a tasty white cake that is delicious, but would never make it on Cake Boss. But when it comes to teaching I am a bit of a chef. I understand the overriding philosophy of the process and ingredients of PBL and I have enough experience in the classroom to take this process and give it my own flavor.

So in my classroom we do not "follow the recipe." We definitely are a student-centered, PBL class but I have adapted the process to fit my teaching style and my students. This is also not a completed process but something I continue to adjust with every project.

I would like to start a series of blog posts explaining the philosophy of PBL and its components according to the recipe and also my adaptations to it. Hopefully it will serve both as an overview to a teacher who is new to PBL and as some suggestions to teachers already using PBL on modifications they might choose to make. As always please chime in on the comments with your questions or share your recipes for how you make PBL unique for your classroom.