Project-based learning

I had a great meeting with a group of very passionate and excited teachers and their principal who are embarking on an exciting innovation to change the whole approach to learning at their secondary school. The school has been questioning what they are doing for the kids and can they do it differently to help improve student engagement. This has been done in a spirit of collaboration and professional dialogue.

They have been concerned that the boys are too often disengaging from learning particularly in year nine. They arrived at the conclusion that the problem lay not with structure of the school in year cohorts but with the nature of the curriculum construct and the approaches to learning an teaching that resulted from such constructs.

parramattamarist5.jpgThe staff from Parramatta Marist High School are going to focus their work in 2008 on Year 9 as a pilot and have taken a radically different curriculum model and teaching practice. Their aim is to improve the learning outcomes for all boys in the year. They believe these students are not learning as effectively as they could under the existing model.

Their principal is also a driver of innovation and doing things differently.  This is a school to watch. Their approach reflects what we know makes makes a difference to kids learning; that is good teaching supported by leadership which works from a framework in partnership with those who can support them in their efforts.


11 thoughts on “Project-based learning

  1. Isn’t Pat Howlett an inspiration to other Principals!! I don’t find many prepared to articulate the reality in our good Secondary schools. I’ve offered to come out and be a mentor/guide for him but I don’t think he can afford me!!! – maybe when I have retired)

    I think the example of someone (and I go back a long way with Pat) who is strong on “traditional” values in schooling and yet aware that the reality is not in step with the world in which the kids live, let alone the one they are being prepared for, is just what is needed. No disrespect intended to any individuals, but the ICT world is peppered with individuals who have not “done the hard yards” of traditional schooling but have jumped on the ICT roadshow with all its glitz and kudos. For all the talk of re-engineering the whole shebang – and to be sure that will have to happen- we have to make it really work within some existing structures. A guy like Pat can do that!!!

    Power to him!

  2. I was invited to visit Marist Brothers Westmead last Friday and to observe the staff lead professional learning for their colleagues as well as staff from other schools in the diocese. What I was struck by was the excitment and energy that the teachers were filled with when talking about their own learning and that of the students. Each staff member spoke about the rejuvination that they experienced in their own teaching and the commitment that they have to implementing Project Based Learning. The teachers have witnessed the difference in the engagement of the boys working with Project Based Learning that is leading to quaity work.
    When talking to the boys (we were able to observe a Year 9 RE Class in action) they enjoyed the opportunity to work on an aspcet of the project together. They also admited that they had to work out their roles and responsibilities within their groups. It was not always plain sailing….however they worked through the issues and now each member of the group saw themself (in their own words) “as a leader within the group.’

  3. Great to see other schools engaged in similar projects. This forum is a great place to share our stories and learn from each others experiences…At Terra Sancta our approach to middle schooling is designed primarily to address the issues of transition and the learning dip experienced from stage 3 to 4. We are now developing a collaborative and cooperative curriculum that promotes project based learning. There will quite a few Terra Sanctans at the PD this week at Parramatta.

  4. It is great to see the enthusiasm with which Br Pat and the staff interviewed in the video have embraced the project based learning model. The questions for me arise around how is this model different from using a group work model or ‘metacognition’ as I once knew it within a specific KLA? If project based learning is markedly different it would be valuable for all schools to have a look at it. Are their links and support available to schools to learn more? Also if this model is soundly based in research and that research tells us it works it should be being used across the diocese. Hopefully the blog and PD mentioned by previous posts will help expand the knowledge around this.

  5. What an exciting time to time to be involved in learning and teaching. I am impressed with Mick Prest’s assessment of how the tide is turning. For a while now, Mick has been an old dog willing and able to learn and perform new tricks. The store of wisdom we have in him, Br Patrick and other innovators will serve us well. If PBL is able to engage Year 9 boys then it should be pretty successful with almost anyone. I’m looking forward to attending the PD meeting with PBL guru Paul Curtis on Wednesday 29th August at Marist, 4:00 – 5:30pm. Course no. is 07353. Register by this Friday.

  6. Phil Stewart from Gilroy attended the two days when Br Pat very generously opened the doors of his school (and of the classrooms). He was not only impressed by PBL as a concept and what it can do to reshape learning and classroom activity but also by the enthusiasm of those involved. Br Pat’s comments have indeed brought a clarity to the issues that we face as we move forward. His beliefs have ignited sparks of interest across the Diocese and we have other people attending the Paul Curtis talk. It will be important to harness this enthusiasm and Phil has already talked about creating networks to ensure that PBL grows and prospers. It is obvioulsy a case of ‘watch this space’.

  7. this pbl is a great thing if the student is motivated, i’m a student in one of these classes and when talking to other students they say things like ”this is so great, we haven’t had to do anything for weeks”, but when it came to the presentation they were wetting themselves because they weren’t well prepared. the idea of pbl is great, i love it and i put alot of time into our group presentations but there are always some sutdents who see the oppurtunity of working in a group as the opportunity to relax and let others do the work.

    i didnt like the way we were assessed, i mean you’re not going to make someone in your group look bad by not having a speech or whatever, because that will make the group look bad and bring down your mark as well. but i suppose that if you mark it as a group then that person can get away with not doing any work, this in fact is a moral dilemma which is ironic given this was our topic.

    anyway, i liked the way it works and so did many others but there are always going to be people who don’t work, and you can’t say ”don’t be surprised when next time we do a pbl you don’t get chosen”, because classroom dynamics are based on popularity!

  8. an honest reflection. This is not unusual since this is such a new way of working. It requires new norms that have to be learned and instituted.
    The traditional curriculum structure and resultant way of teaching deskilled both the learner and the teacher. The approach at marist challenges the individual to take more responsibility for their learning.

  9. As Greg said this is an “honest reflection”. How heartening it is to see that students can contribute to the discussion. It seems to me that we are going to have trouble involving teachers, and to some degree students, in way that they find satisfactory until we seriously address the issue of the assessment and reporting of student learning.
    In the case of project based learning the students’ learning should be reported against explicit and transparent standards of performance. The existence of these standards will allow students to make decisions about how they would like to demonstrate their learning. In this way they have a choice of project while at the same time understanding the level of performance they are required to demonstrate. Transparency of process ensures full student understanding and involvement.
    In terms of group projects a coherent approach to the assessment of these projects is long overdue.

  10. how you doing folks, it’s true that PBL is a great idea but my personal opinion is that it may still a bit to early to fully incorporate the syllabus (since that won’t change for a long time)….. and the school wouldn’t be able to afford to keep up with technological changes.. (at the moment icomputers are like 2 years old, software is getting old too.. good for basics and the foundation of learning and PBL, but for the more advanced students which are increasing in knowledge of computing… they realise that teachers and technology don’t mix.. since majority of teachers aren’t particularly positive to learning new skills to keep up with technology.. sigh… but still much more to consider and talk about. go marist westmead, good job and hopefully all the best!

  11. I think Kevin’s comment was very insightful, as was the students’. Quality assessment, conceived of in terms of rich, deep learning, with built in systems to ensure justice and a quality product, is the only way to begin down the PBL path. In fact, quality assessment can go a long way towards shaping teacher behaviour and attitudes too.

    A reluctant teacher, working in a team, with a quality assessment process may well bend his or her thinking and teaching towards the new paradigm. As Paul Curtis says “You get what you assess” and poor assessment is a nail in th the coffin of learning innovation.

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