The PBL Classroom of Twists and Turns


Today has been full of surprises. The following is why I love to do Project Based Learning (PBL) in my Gifted Classroom.

One group of my students is trying to figure out what kind of sensors we have in the road that triggers traffic lights to change from red to green or vise versa here in Lima. They researched two common types of sensors used around the United States: weight and magnetic sensors. They spent most of last Friday, and this morning coming up with interview questions to the Public Works Director.

The moment came, and my student called the Public Works Director. The Director transferred him to the electricians who install the sensors. We found that the sensors in our roads here in Lima are mass triggered. My student was stunned. So he began to change some of his questions after the electrician described how they work. My student took down his number, and asked to call him back later in the day with a few more questions. The electrician has agreed.

Now that is authentic learning. Sometimes you have to change what you are doing because of a new piece if information. Students don’t get that doing problems out of a book. The information was made real when he talked to the guy who installed the sensors. That guy knows those things inside and out. My student found that authentic learning is different from book learning. I truly believe he will not forget the feeling he got this morning having to adapt his questions so as not waste this guys time, but also how it felt to hear from an expert what these sensors are, and how they work. You can’t plan that.

I think every classroom should have its twists and turns. Having that feeling of not knowing what to expect is so important. Not only for students, but for teachers as well. I have to tell you I was shocked by the student interview. He did a great job. He was polite, and was succinct. He let the Electrician know he was taking notes for a project. He did everything right that he practiced. He just didn’t know he and I were not on the right track.That’s education. The learning process is full of twists and turns.

As I said, today has been full of excitement, and twists and turns. Students are learning. What I love about PBL units is that you never truly know what path it will lead you, or what part your students will be most jazzed about. But, when you find it you know it.

What are you doing to encourage authentic learning in your classroom? When was the last time you were surprised by the outcome of an activity in your classroom?

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