08 June 2015

Novice PBL Unit: Make a Change

Novices CAN make a change. [Image]
High school sophomores might not be ready to change the world. And novices are really only qualified to talk about themselves.

That's why, as the King of Pop said, I'm starting with me.

Well, yo.

The point of Project-Based Learning is learning, yes. But more than that, it's about doing. I outlined a few different possible novice-based units last year in an attempt to meld novice-appropriate skills with action. Because my sophomores were going to be working with Keep Gastonia Beautiful through Public Speaking that semester, I decided to go with Plan Verde.

I know my lessons won't always work,
but it still hurts! [Image]
It wasn't a flop, per se, but it felt kind of..icky throwing away their abandoned projects after our Save the World project was finished. And in the end-of-year survey/discussion, pretty much all of them were eager to point out its pointlessness. (That's not a tear! I'm not crying!)

I confess the commitment to the international school supply drive was not exactly life-changing for most students either. Maybe it's because brain chemistry makes teenagers inherently self-centered. Maybe it's because the effects of such projects are too removed from them and their lives to trigger motivation. Shoot, maybe I just didn't set it up right.

Whatever the reason for past inadequacies, it's my job to remove barriers to engagement and success.

And so, I'm both narrowing the focus and expanding on the idea of the healthy habits unit. I really liked how it focuses on the yo and observable changes. But I got to thinking about some of my students from last year, some of the students I know I'll have next year, and I know they wouldn't go for it. I know some of them may feel they have more pressing problems than diet and exercise. And really, isn't it kind of tough to change diet AND exercise all at once?

So now students can choose whether they want to improve: their health or their organization. If they want to focus on their health, they can choose from three types of habits:
  • eating
  • exercise
  • attitude 
If they prefer to focus on organization, they can work on getting themselves together in one of three areas:
  • time
  • space (room, locker, etc)
  • money

Based on the problem area they choose, they'll split up into groups--support groups, if you will. They'll analyze their habits, choose one thing to change each week, talk about their plans and results, and keep a record of their process.

I hope also to involve the community, perhaps enlisting a Spanish-speaking expert for each of the groups (like my amiga who's way into couponing for money) or maybe making some connections while I'm in Peru in a week to set up international buddy groups.

Here's how I envision the process:

  1. Diagnose the problem - Break out the dictionaries (or doodles) and list their habits--good and bad--in the designated area and then put a number on what is wrong--and right--with their habits. We'll get a little number practice as well as a little personally applicable vocabulary.
  2. Research recommendations - This is where starting with Genius Hour will come in handy. Each kiddo finds at least one infograph to express where they should be and/or what they should do. Of course they'll interpret it, maybe webmap some vocab and/or pertinent tips and info.
  3. Powwow - Use that newly harvested vocabulary (and essential verbs) to discuss what they do, what they need to do, and what they can do first. Since the groups are interest-based, they should have plenty of vocabulary in common, and plenty to talk about! They can also begin to outline potential plans of action together.
  4. Acquire target #1 - The focus is going to be first on short-term attainable goals: what can I do this week? when can I do it? where can I do it?
  5. Write it down - Like the previous healthy habits unit, I'll have students keep a log each day of whatever they are currently doing to further their progress and what they are going to do next.
  6. Reflect together - Then at the end of the week, they'll sit down with their amigos again, talk about what they are doing, what need to do (why they aren't doing it), how that is going for them, and what they are going to do now.
  7. Lather, rinse, repeat 
It would be really sweet to get some guest speakers in to sit down/Skype with each group (post-Peru mission #1?) at some point during the unit, perhaps as part of their reflection groups. Or maybe they could come up with some questions to send out to some experts they find?

Even if I can't secure community amigos, though, students will definitely be reading about a problem that personally affects them, writing about their habits, and talking about their goals and accomplishments with each other. I'm sure I could work in some listening with some sort of advice video for each group too--to say nothing of the TPRS story I have brewing at the back of my mind (Think: a girl who's got it all together--except all she eats is ice cream)! 

So my novices will be communicating in a way that is appropriate for novices AND making a change that is appropriate for "wise fools."

What other changes can novices make and communicate in the target language about?


  1. Hi, I teach PBL Spanish. I love this project idea for my Spanish II class and would really like to know more about it. Is this the very first project you do in Spanish II? How do you introduce the project? How do you present the story? What do you expect that your students can do by the end of the project? Is there a final product that your students create? Do they present to an audience? Who?

    1. This is indeed the very first project for Spanish II! We started with goal setting and establishing routines (please forgive the lost nearpods):

      The story ended up being slightly different than I had anticipated:

      It also didn't quite work how I'd hoped, so I'll be readjusting that when I have II again next semester.

      Students created an inspirational "viral video" to help others make a change, and we just had a little "film festival" in class to vote for the best ones, which we posted to the school Facebook. Not terribly authentic, but I couldn't make the outside-of-class buddies happen last year. I need to think more about the audience on this one.

  2. I love this idea! Thanks for sharing. I will do it with my Spanish II classes this semester after we get warmed up. Many of them don't eat breakfast and are so hungry during the day. They end up eating junk all day. I wanted to incorporate a healthy eating challenge and had thought about having a refrigerator or cooler with fruits and vegetables. Debbie Simmons, Windsor High School