It’s a time for reflection as the Australia community had their culminating session this week. Delia Jenkins, a Maths/Science teacher at Brauer College in Warrnambool, Victoria, shares her thoughts on her learning experience with us. Here’s what she had to say:
In the beginning.
A colleague and I arrived at the first F2F (face-to-face) day after a very early rise and 3.5 hour drive. I had been asked if I would like to go to the PLP professional development and was told it would be a great opportunity to further my IT skills. Always up for something new in IT, I thought it would be a worthwhile day. After the first 5 minutes of Sheryl’s introduction I was already worried that I was way out of my depth. It was clear that every one else in the room had far more knowledge and was more comfortable with their skills than I was. I listened intently and did my best to keep up with the Ning, wiki and tweeting. So much information in a short period of time and a 3.5 hour drive home to try and figure out what had just happened.
I am actually a bit of a perfectionist and never like to let something beat me. This isn’t always a good thing, and I have learnt to control these feelings on most occasions, but after the F2F day I felt I was honoured to have been given the chance to be a part of this and I was going to give it 100 percent. I made it a priority to follow all the instructions, post as often as I could and get involved in all the different activities that were going on.
When it came time to select a group, I immediately chose the Environment group as it was an area that I felt I had most knowledge in and one where I could incorporate the topic into the Yr 7 Science class I teach.
I was disappointed that the group was slow to fill and it looked like some that chose it did so as there was nothing else left. Little was I to know that this was to be a very strong group of special, dedicated teachers that all have similar passions and abilities.
Got to put your trust in the powers that be and accept that all things happen for a reason.
How did working together change you?
Being able to work as part of a team where we hadn’t met face-to-face was an interesting experience at first. Communicating initially via the Ning and getting to know a bit about each other was a good introduction and everyone began to find their feet. For me, having the courage to communicate via Elluminate and Skype, where we got to see and hear each other, was a little more daunting but very rewarding and I have built some great professional relationships through the project. Being prepared to have a go at new experiences is getting easier and easier and the more you do it the more benefits you reap.
We often ask that of a lot of our students and really don’t appreciate the challenges that it puts to them. Collaborating as we did and then using the same format in the PBL gave us a deeper appreciation of the challenges put to the students and also gave us the insight in how to best support them in their learning using these ‘new’ technologies.
How was it collaborating?
I think because our team got up and running so early and everyone was very keen and interested (how fortunate were we!), the collaborating happened easily. We all had lots of different experiences to bring to the table and were happy to share these freely. The sharing of professional knowledge and experiences and the support from each other was definitely a major plus for me. To actually be able to put into use – in a meaningful way – many Web2.0 tools that I had heard about and looked at before but never found an application for in the past was wonderful.
Barring the occasional technical difficulties and availabilities of all the team members, we did a pretty good job of collaborating. With the use of the Ning, Elluminate, Skype, texting, e-mailing, etc., we managed to keep the project running smoothly.
What are your thoughts now about PBL?
I had actually done a PBL with a teacher from another school 2 years ago. I already knew this teacher which made communicating easier and we used mainly Skype. The project was a very simple one and we had a lot of technical difficulties. We did struggle through it and felt we had put in a lot of work for a small return.
When we started this PBL I was worried about the amount of time it was going to consume and yes, it did feel like I had a whole other job on top of what I already had to do, but the difference this time was the huge amount of extra support and professional direction from people who clearly knew what they were doing (Thank you PLP ConnectU and especially our coach John P.).
My main issue with our PBL was wondering what if anything my students learnt about the environment. We were initially going to assess what they learnt about the environment and decided that was going to be a near impossible task and changed our assessment to reflect their learning about collaboration, team work and communicating globally using web2.0 tools. I think all our students did extremely well and the assessments indicate that from a collaborative point of view our PBL was a great success. I was still a little worried that I had spent an entire term of science classes on a project where they hadn’t actually learnt any science (how was I going to report on that?!!). Well, how wrong was I?
Four of my students were interviewed and filmed about our PBL, by the DEECD. They were asked specifically that question – What did you learn about the environment and how did you learnt it? I was looking the other way and sinking in my chair thinking they aren’t going to be able to answer that question. Wrong again. All four very eloquently went about telling the chap amazing things about how they had researched, asked opinions, edited video drafts, created songs, discovered new information and so on. I had no idea. I don’t recall actually seeing this learning happen. They had learnt a great deal about the environment, specific to the topic for their group and when we get time to have a look at each of the groups work I am sure they will also learn from the collaborative work that they have all done. I still don’t know how to assess it though. Does it need assessing?
My final thought about PBL is, that it’s like learning to ride a bike or learning any new skill. We ask our students every day to learn new things and challenge themselves. Some persevere and others don’t. The more you do something the easier it gets. Yes it is a lot of hard work and sometimes you will fall off the bike and want to give up, but if you stick to it, it will be worth it in the long run.
Thanks, Delia, for leading, learning and sharing as part of the PLP Australia community, and congratulations on your outstanding accomplishments!