by Sol Fernandez
Spanish Teacher, The Agnes Irwin School, Bryn Mawr, PA
This past summer I was very lucky to have the opportunity to participate in a three-day BIE Project Based Learning 101 workshop that our school hosted. I loved it! I learned a lot and over the summer I worked on different project ideas that might be interesting for my students.
I decided to focus on designing first PBL project for my Spanish V Honors class. This is a group of senior girls (I work at an independent, all-girls PreK-12 school) who are interested in applying their knowledge of Spanish language. Two important topics in our curriculum in that class (which is similar to AP Spanish) are Family and Communities and Personal and Public Identities. I thought PBL would be a good way to address these two issues in a relevant and meaningful way for the students. My driving question was: How does your birthplace affect your future?
With this question, I was hoping the girls could dig into their own heritage and how that has impacted their lived experiences. From there, we read “Cajas de Cartón,” a powerful story of survival, faith and hope of a family's journey to the fields of California, seen through the eyes of a boy who longs for an education and a place that he can call home. We also watched the documentary ”Los Invisibles” which presented the students with unique testimonies of migrants who speak about the dangers and hopes of thousands of men and women who cross Mexico in search of a better life. After learning from these two sources, the students were ready to begin to work on their projects. The students had three weeks to find valid sources about immigration, collect data, and compare information with one another. They had to come up with ideas to share these sources in ways that enhanced the content and message of their presentation, be able to discuss the issue of immigration with people who do not agree with them, and respond to audience questions accurately and clearly. All this had to be done in Spanish, of course!
My Changing Role as a PBL Teacher
One of the things that drew me to PBL was the chance to change how I engaged with students. During this project, I limited myself to providing the students with support, empathy and inspiration. I focused on facilitating their thinking, growth and engagement instead of leading from the front of the room or focusing on direct instruction. I have come to see that in PBL, teachers are part of the student learning journey on multiple levels.
The students struggled, at first, to adapt to this new way of class: fully student-directed, open-ended inquiry and ongoing problem-solving where I was not giving any answers. Soon, though, they realized that this was an opportunity for them to express their own passions and shape how their peers and project audiences understood critical issues regarding immigration and heritage. I was impressed with the time, energy, and thought they put into project.
My Students Present Their Work
Last week, the students gave a public presentation of their final projects to some of our faculty members, including a few immigrants, and the Head of the School. Their projects included: a documentary, a website, a song and an art display. The documentary included interviews of several members of the community, telling the stories of their experience as immigrants in the USA. Another group created a website to inform the public of unbiased facts regarding immigrations and to share stories of immigrants lives. The art display showed different informative posters and they used The Statue of Liberty and made edits to part of the United States Declaration of Independence, to express their opinions about the immigration laws. The last group wrote a song of hope to the rhythm of Shakira's music, using their lyrics to inspire listeners to feel a sense of unity and community. All of these final products were written in Spanish, which helped students deepen their knowledge of the vocabulary related to the main topics for the project and apply their knowledge of the language in a practical context.
The students did very well with their public presentations, even performing the original song they wrote and answering all of the audience questions. They kept saying how PBL was a great experience for them. The students shared that it meant so much more to them to do this project because it was no longer about the grade but instead, an issue they cared about and could express in a way they found meaningful. I was so proud of them!
This has been my first experience with PBL and of course I know there is a lot of room for improvement. As I continue to develop new PBL projects, I want to explore ways to bring in even more external audiences and community participants. But I also know that from now on, PBL will always be part of my curriculum and I cannot stop thinking about what my next project will be!