by Joseph Grit
I am a high school chemistry teacher at Zeeland Public Schools on the west side of Michigan. I have a huge heart for impacting and empowering every student I teach and strive to teach my students much more beyond just chemistry. Being very relational, I value not only getting to know every student I teach, but also enjoy developing partnerships with professionals and groups outside of just my classroom to create authentic learning opportunities for all learners. Outside of teaching high school chemistry, I enjoy coaching both soccer and basketball, have been involved with research on the Nature of Science (NOS) and science inquiry, and have also taught middle school science and STEM.
My PBL journey started individually, after hearing about it from a co-worker and seeing a video online. Energized by the idea, I used my research background to discover more about the methodology and key components of PBL. Students crave authentic and engaging learning experiences and PBL is an avenue that can provide just that. Teaching at a traditional public school, I saw PBL as a way to combine equity with engagement while assessing content and success skills along the way.
As a teacher, I see first-hand the enrichment PBL can bring to students, teachers, districts and communities. It is a rare and beautiful thing when students ask if they can stay in class longer to work after the bell, or when students excitedly line up to ask what’s next when a project has come to completion. When I first started implementing PBL, I used to worry if my students would discover and learn all I wanted them to. My students responded by showing me, “What if we surpass your expectations and take it far beyond what you had envisioned for us?” This profound deduction has stayed with me to this day and is a constant reminder of why PBL and authentic learning experiences are such a great fit for all learners.
Two Favorite Projects
One of my favorite chemistry projects came from the unfortunate events of the Flint Water Crisis. Especially being a teacher in Michigan, this event was very relevant and students studied the driving question of: “How can we, as scientists, raise awareness and prevent the Flint Water Crisis from happening again?” I was very intentional about including “raise awareness” in the DQ because at the time not everyone in the classroom or community was entirely aware of the tragic events in Flint. In the mist of the project, students gathered water samples, qualitatively tested their water samples for lead and other ions, and tested a water sample with similar conditions to the toxic water in Flint for comparison. Students were also able to learn from and ask questions to a local water expert who was brought in for the day. What will always stand out to me about this project in particular are the thoughts and emotions that were written in students’ reflective journals throughout the project, and their true passion and willingness to inquire, ask questions and make a difference.
Another one of my favorite projects came from middle school art teacher Tamara Draper, middle school computer teacher Vickie Grit and fellow BIE National Faculty member Mike Fenlon. The goal of the 100 Tables Project was to collect, refurbish and sell at least 100 tables to raise money for families in need within the school. The tables were also featured at Art Prize, one of the most-attended public art events on the planet. Allen Bellman, artist for Captain America, caught wind of the project and offered to autograph three of the tables. This project stands out to me, because it exceeded the expectations of all those involved and students are still wanting to help out after school with the project long after its conclusion.
Lesson Learned About the Need to Teach Collaboration
A time when a project did not go as planned is when I wanted to incorporate and assess the success skill of collaboration, but hadn’t taught or assessed collaboration previously. It was evident that students did not know what I was looking for or how to improve in their collaboration skills. From this experience, I learned that I needed to build in time for more self and peer assessment as well as model and teach collaboration beforehand. I also found that teaching collaboration skills through fun activities and then taking time to reflect on those activities with your students using your collaboration rubric works extremely well.
My Work as a BIE Facilitator
It is a privilege to facilitate PBL 101 workshops around the country, because I get to see first-hand how participants go through many of the troubles and triumphs that their students go through in the classroom. I am able to see the troubles and triumphs, because participants take part in the 101 workshop as a learner. They learn that it’s about the process rather than a pre-misconception that it’s all about the final product. I also enjoy coaching teachers to help them find their own solutions for implementing Gold Standard PBL and watching their confidence grow throughout the three days.
I truly believe in “failing forward.” Everyone makes mistakes and it is important that we learn from them and use them to grow. This is true with Project Based Learning as well. Some projects are going to go great, while others are going to need vast revamping. I am constantly aligning, refining, and reflecting on my practices and celebrating both successes and failures along the way. It is important to celebrate both success and failure in PBL, because you can learn and grow from both. Continue to be authentic with your students and model that not everything is a home run success the first time around. Don’t be afraid to try something new and I always encourage you to “fail forward.”
For information about BIE’s professional development services, click here.
Do you have questions or comments? Please enter them below.