Each term (ideally), I put out a newsletter showcasing my students’ work. Instead of a newsletter each quarter, I’m trying out a blog. I hope to have a lot of students input and a little teacher input. I have the students write articles each quarter, and the best articles are put in the newsletter (and given some bonus points). Some articles are great, some boring, and some are just terrible, but all have given me insight into my students’ learning. Sometimes I’m surprised by what they liked. Sometimes I’m even more surprised by what they disliked! I often find they still have misconceptions that need to be addressed. And all of this information directly or indirectly influences my future teaching.
Last year, I discovered what should not have surprised me. The students’ articles focused almost entirely on the hands-on projects and activities, without exception skipping over topics we learned through traditional lecture and worksheets. Their writing showed an enthusiasm for the learning, but they clearly didn’t retain information presented in the most traditional ways. I saw less misconceptions and more true, long-term learning from the projects. It should not be surprising that a PowerPoint and a worksheet are much less useful learning tools than a hands-on project, but yet, I was amazed.
This year, I’ve flipped my classroom. Presentations and worksheets are homework so that we have more time for projects in class. And again, I see in their articles enthusiasm for the hands-on projects and disdain for notes and worksheets. In one activity the students created and presented their own PowerPoint. In general, the students were approximately 1000% more interested in each other’s presentations than they would be if I had presented the exact same information. To quote one of my students, “The activity was helpful because students explained the different types of energy and really connected with the students because they knew how to act and what to say they would get the students’ attention.”
I can’t take much credit for the project-based learning. My school started using Project Lead the Way’s (PLTW) Engineering curriculum last year, and that has truly made a huge difference. Just like any teacher given a curriculum, I make tweaks and adjustments to fit the needs of my students and my personal teaching style, and I steal ideas from my peers, friends, and the web to enhance the curriculum, but the foundation was provided by PLTW.