My school has a PBL focus this year. Every staff member is expected to try one out, so my PLC and I have designed one that I want to document here. Our students will work on it on 5 consecutive Tuesdays in January and we started last week on our first day back from vacation.
This fall I read this article that explains that though many chemists would say students dislike chemistry because it's difficult or boring, people actually don't like chemistry because it doesn't feel relevant to their lives. To a chemist, this is hard to believe. After all, our "central science" is the heart of every other science. What in the world, after all, isn't chemistry?
Using this article as our springboard, we developed our driving question: How is chemistry relevant to an aspect of your life? In the project, students, working in teams of four, would investigate the chemistry of something that interests them. We love the infographics we have seen at Compound Interest, so we decided we would ask our students to create one about their relevant chemistry. With some of the major decisions made, we needed an entry event. Something fun. Something that would welcome students back from vacation and catalyze their interest in the project. Something that would draw them in. A breakout!
We bought a BreakoutEdu box and created our puzzle. We wanted our puzzle, like our PBL, to be relevant to chemistry and relevant to our project. Because we were coming back from a holiday, we decided to focus on candy. We found, and loved, this infographic on the Chemistry of Candy. We would use that as the exemplar and put the project rubric on the back. We loaded the infographics and some candy into the Breakout box. Our puzzles and clues all had to do with the chemistry of candy and reviewed many skills that students learned during first semester.
I will admit that I felt a little sorry for my bleary-eyed first period students when they entered the room at 7:20 AM last Tuesday and two minutes later I told them they had to use first semester knowledge to solve a puzzle and unlock 5 locks. Though it must have seemed like the middle of the night to the vacation-brained teenagers, they quickly got up and started moving around the room to solve the puzzles. All my classes opened every lock on the box within about 30 minutes.
Overall, I thought the entry event was a success. It was a great way to come back from break and get back into the swing of learning while reviewing first semester concepts. From the teacher standpoint, it was great to stand back and watch them work as a class of 20+ to solve these puzzles. Sometimes students would step back and watch too or disengage for a bit, but, for the most part, the engagement was very high. In two classes, two groups emerged - one of boys and one of girls, but eventually they intermingled again. The 30 minute solve time was terrific because, with our 48 minute classes, this left 15 minutes or so for a description of the project, including what makes a good infographic, a first reading of the rubric, and questions from students. That was Day 1. Day 2 is tomorrow. We will take a closer look at the relevance of chemistry, form teams and start to consider topics.
Have you done a PBL? What advice do you have for us as we move forward? We can use all the help we can get! Please comment with your tips and hints.