Most of this session was centered around Brad Latimer, Math teacher at SLA. He shared a downloadable collection of lesson plans and materials with us, which included project descriptions and rubrics for both Algebra 2 and Calculus projects. And then we peppered him with questions for an hour and a half.
What makes group work happen?
- Classroom set-up matters. In Brad’s class, students are always in pods of 4 or 5 except when quizzing. At the start of a regular class, they work on their warm-up in groups, and are also assigned to occasionally present the warm-up in those groups. They are used to doing structured class work and presentations all year, so getting into group projects is less of a challenge. By the time they get into projects, they know who they do and don’t work well with.
- You have the flexibility to both have students pick their own groups and pick for them.
How do you deal with the group work “disasters?”
- At the first day of a project, he asks students: Have you ever done a group project? Have you ever worked in a group where someone hasn’t carried their weight? Students then talk about what makes a good partner.
Do your projects have clear roles for each group member?
- The short answer: Sometimes. Most of the time he lets people figure out their own roles, so they figure out how to best work together.
- You can be surprised about what tasks might “wake up” a student, so that can be an advantage to not assigning roles.
- It can be great to have a project that relies on individual work that is then combined into a group final product / presentation. There’s more interdependence.
- But there’s also a struggle between giving students independent autonomy and also getting them to deeply collaborate with each other. Too much freedom can encourage students to just create in separate bubbles and slap it together at the end, without integrating and proofing their work.
- For one project, Brad had an 80/20 point value split for group/individual points in a project — so students were individually motivated, but the majority of the grade still relies on the group project.
- From Jaimie: One way to help track progress is to have students self-assess on a chart each day: what do they think the goal was, and how well did they meet it during that class? The teacher can then do a quick check-plus check-minus on the day. This also becomes a part of their process grade for the project, so they are motivated to hold on to it.
How do you scaffold students who are new to group work?
- Very, very carefully and with repetition!
- For freshmen, big projects usually have a clear deadline after each class of work. Sometimes the master plan for the project isn’t even revealed until halfway through the work (or even later) to prevent students from the “sticker shock” of a big project that they think is insurmountable.
What would you do differently? What are project based traps?
- Try to give out the rubric quickly with the project description. THey need to see exactly how it’s going to be scored and what the point breakdown is.
- Break the project down into intermediate deadlines.
- There is a lot to be said about showing examples from previous years. There are different ways to do this — share it briefly, let them peruse for a set period of time, or longer, but let them know you know it well.
- Do the project yourself!
- Be flexible with changing projects mid-stream. Or seeing a glimmer of good work for the next round of pojrects. Or tossing one when it really didn’t work for students.
- Let students pick three students they’re interested in working with, and the option of a “no go” list for people that would be bad matches. This gives them freedom while also giving you the ability to control for productive groups.
Next week, we will be sharing and peer reviewing our draft lesson plans.
Related posts: Project Based Learning, Sesson 1 / Session 2 / Session 3
Larissa, Thank you for this PBL series. I’m at a school that is moving in a more PBL direction and doing unit planning from a UbD perspective. Your blogs are very helpful! I noticed the link for the math units appears to be broken. Do you have an update?
Yes, here it is: http://tinyurl.com/samplemathprojects