Oh my life. It works!

I introduced my year 8 class to their first PBL style project on Friday – we’re going to be working together to build a museum style exhibition on life in Tudor Wales.

I started by explaining that I was going on a mystery holiday and wanted some help as I could ask 5 questions to help me pack. They brainstormed in groups and we got a selection on the board, which I then answered with info about Tudor Wales and asked if they could guess where I was going!

I then explained the project, why I was doing, and the difference between what I had done in the past and what I was proposing now. We took a vote as to which they wanted to do – the old version, or the new, and the voting was unanimous in favour of the project.

I then handed out the textbooks and gave them 25 minutes to come up with a list of possible topics or questions, while I went round and talked to them, set a few on the right lines (mostly of focus – lots wanting to talk about Henry and the six wives) and answered some questions.

We then started feeding back to the board, and turning topics into enquiry questions – From ‘Tudor food’ to ‘What did people eat in Tudor times’ etc etc. This also allowed us to talk about the difference between closed and open questions, and unanswerable questions (‘How many pets did they keep in Tudor times?).

So far so good, but at one point something happened that I wasn’t expecting.

One of the girls asked a question along the lines of ‘did they go on dates?’ which we reworded as ‘How did people get together’. For some reason that seemed to open the flood gates to much more genuine questions, rather than ones culled from text books topics, including ‘Did they have condoms in Tudor times?’ and ‘Could you be gay in Tudor times?’.

Writing it down now doesn’t quite do justice to the buzz that seemed to in the room. And this was Friday last lesson! The reality that they could genuinely ask questions and be rewarded for it, rather than playing ‘guess what the teacher wants’ seemed to be genuinely liberating, for them and me.

Someone later commented that it was the kind of feeling you wish you could bottle. I know there are going to be plenty of missteps along the way, but for a first step on the road this was way better than I was hoping.

Even Better If…

In the cold light of reflection there were two things I would have changed. Both to do with the way I want to try and use exercise books this year. The first was that I got them to draft their questions in the back of their books. In hindsight, this is a key part of the process and deserves to be recorded as such. There will be no more ‘back of the books’ work.
The second was that I messed up the timing so they didn’t fill in their logbooks1. This is something I need to work on.

  1. I’ve got them to leave the first few pages free to keep a summary record of each lesson. Note to self: Blog about this

Dave Stacey

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