PBL with ABCs

Back in February, I had the opportunity to attend a three-day workshop on Project-Based Learning given by the Buck Institute for Education.  Throughout the course of the three days, each participant planned, got feedback on, and revised a PBL project for their classroom.  I chose to expand on a project I already did because either I'm lazy or I actually liked the project and wanted to make it better instead of just starting from scratch.  Last year, my students made ABC books in groups of three.  They chose a verb for each letter and used some of the letters in a sentence.  While I liked the finished product, I felt that a lot of class time was spent creating illustrations for the book, and it was hard for students to accomplish all my directives in the given time frame (I ended up having to loosen the requirements).

At the workshop, we all described our projects on a huge piece of paper and everyone went around and offered feedback on sticky notes.  The notes started with "I like..." or "I wonder..."  Unfortunately, I only saved the "I Wonder..." notes, thinking those were more valuable.  Some of the suggestions people made:

-I wonder, could the books be shared with students in France?
-I wonder if having students do less (maybe 2 letters) would lead to a better product?
-I wonder if you could have students share these with elementary students?
-I wonder if a local bookstore could partner up for an evening of ABCs?

At some point during the feedback process, it was suggested to me that perhaps each class could do a book, instead of doing many books in groups (see above), and that is what we did.  So here is how the project played out:

I started by reading them all this wonderful ABC book, La vie de chaton, which is written in very simple French.  There is a verb for every letter of the alphabet.  It also tells the story of a cat family.  I did remove a couple of letters due to feeling the content might have been too "giggle-inducing" for American seventh graders.

PBL is all about driving questions and making students think critically.  After reading the book, I asked the students what made the book so good, and if they were to make a similar book, what qualities would they include.  Some of the things they said:

-A story line that's not too complex - implied
-Easy to understand
-Basic terms
-Good illustration that helps you understand words
-Entertaining - fun and exciting
-Appealing to kids
-Attention grabbing title

I told them they had to combine these qualities with my "must haves" (which started out more robust, but was eventually pared down to the following):

-A title page in French
-A verb for every letter of the alphabet (except W, X, and Y)
-A sentence for every verb
-A variety of pronouns used (not just “je” each time!)
-Illustrations for each, clearly depicting the meaning of both the pronoun and the verb

Together each class came up with a theme, characters and a basic storyline.  Then they broke out into groups and each took two letters to write and illustrate.  Our instructional technologist, who was at the PBL training as well, was in the classroom while the students were creating with technology.

I chose PowerPoint as the tool, since our district uses Microsoft Office 365, so the collaboration between students was supposed to be very easy.  The idea was that students would all have access to their class' PowerPoint, and groups would add their slides.  Unfortunately, due to a number of problems on Microsoft's end, we had to retool the mechanics of the project.  First, we switched from iPads to laptops for ease of use.  Secondly, students each created a PowerPoint file with their slides and shared them with me and the instructional technologist to be digitally compiled at the end.

Another important component of PBL is feedback and revision.  After groups finished their slides, they went to another group's laptop and left "I like"/"I wonder" comments similar to the ones we left for each other at the PBL workshop.

Fun fact:  The time stamps are definitely not accurate.  We do not have school at 5:00 in the morning!

After they were completely done writing their sentences, they made their illustrations either by hand, in Microsoft Paint, or on the iPad (which they then had to email to themselves to import to their PowerPoint).

After I compiled the ABC books, we went through them as a class and everyone had a chance to check the spelling and grammar for accuracy.  Then I published them to the blog.

A couple weeks later, students read their own ABC books as well as the other classes'.  They then left feedback for the other classes on their book.  Here are the books, as well as some of the feedback left on them:

"All the pictures fit well together with the theme."  "The sentences were really unique and well thought out."

"It was well constructed." "The plot was interesting!"

"It had a great storyline and it was very easy to follow."
"They used their French very well and they didn't just use simple sentences."

"I like how it actually took place in an area we know." "The French language was used well."

"The verbs were really good choices." "It kept us on our toes."

What I Liked About This Project
-Most students got really into it and took ownership of the story
-It was not an overwhelming amount of language for them to produce, but the finished product is still impressive
-Students seemed to enjoy the fact that it was a project for the whole class
-One student said it was his favorite thing we did all year!

How I Want to Expand This Project
-The "broader audience" piece is another major component of PBL, which contributes to the authenticity of the task.  I had intended for students to share these projects with younger students in the building, but due to extenuating circumstances, there was no time.  I plan to explore this idea again next year.  On the bright side, I did publish the projects to both my classroom blog and here, so there is the potential for an audience outside the classroom.
-Before we started experiencing the technical difficulties with Microsoft that greatly slowed down the digital collaboration piece, I had wanted students to break out into committees to take care of illustrations, voiceover, and companion worksheets.  If I can find a program that more efficiently facilitates digital collaboration, I think those extra components would make the project even more worthwhile.

Your Thoughts
Now it's your turn for "I like"/"I wonder"!  What did you like about this project and what do you wonder about that could be improved or expanded upon?

New YouTube Sensation: Google Translate Sings!

A colleague recently introduced me to a YouTube channel, called Google Translate Sings, run by Malinda Kathleen Reese.  Reese runs English language songs through various languages in Google Translate and then back into English again and then sings the results.  You can compare the original lyrics and the new lyrics on the screen as she sings.  While these videos don't have a huge educational value, it's worth a few minutes at the end of class to show one of these if you have the time.  I think they do a very humorous job of illustrating the limitations of this tool our students tend to rely a little too much on!  I told my students after we watched some of the videos to remember that every time they use Google Translate, this is how ridiculous they could sound!  Here are a few of my favorites:

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