Sunday, October 25, 2015

From Nothing to Something!

Danielle Odom
8th Grade ELA Teacher
Hand Middle School
Contact Mrs. Odom

When I present a problem-based learning project, all I see are wide eyes staring at me with fear, confusion, and anxiety plastered all over their faces. I can see the panic set in as we go over the rubric and requirements for the projects and slowly they begin to unwind. I tell them many times over, “Don’t worry, I will be with you every step of the way, this is a process.” No one ever believes me. They fire question after question trying to determine how big the project is and how long will it take. Their lack of confidence is evident and in a way it saddens me because I want them to believe in themselves as much as I do.

They begin this journey with an empty paper in front of them. They ask questions that I will not answer for them because this is a journey that they have to take. Once they realize that this is THEIR journey, they begin to talk, and debate about what needs to be done and where their project will go. Their questions go from how do I tackle this to how BIG can my project be?!! They begin with nothing but the requirements and the rubric and they create beautiful works of literature and art that amazes me every year.

This year we began AAP with our Utopian project. Students are responsible for building their own Utopias and in the end explaining how their world is better than the world they currently live in. They have to create a government, healthcare, educational system, employment, create a philosophy, address the citizenship of the country, a declaration of independence, economics (importing and exporting goods, money, etc.), and help to sustain life in their communities. It seems like a lot, but they started to tackle it, one step at a time. The thing I love about problem based learning is not only the cross curricular element, but the ability to incorporate new ideas and problems for them to solve along the way. Every Monday we discuss current events and propaganda. We used the propaganda to create posters inviting people to join their Utopias. After the migrant crisis in Syria and Europe, we compared and contrasted three articles from reputable news sites and discussed how our current world is handling the situation. I then gave each Utopian group 16,000 migrants to take into their Utopia. They have to figure out how to feed them, house them, educate them, and fully incorporate them into their world. Students then had to write a newsletter to their community to let them know the plans for the migrants. The problem solving skills of these students floors me sometimes. They had so many ideas on how to help the Syrian’s and yet the leaders of the world are at a loss as to what to do with them. I am wondering if they are smarter than an 8th grader.

My other classes worked tirelessly on Public Service Announcements as we read Tears of a Tiger which deals with some serious young adult issues. They had to research and discuss issues that are not usually talked about in class and create a poster project that shows their understanding of the research. Could they do it? ABSOLUTELY! They too started with a blank page and lots of questions, but when they were done, their creativity shined through. The students put their all into the projects and while many claim “they cannot draw” they are still creative in their own right.

The best part about problem-based learning for all of my classes is that I can incorporate service learning into the curriculum. The best is yet to come. Our goal is to make an impact so big that we break the cycle for so many who have been dealt a poor hand of natural talents.

In the end the students learn how to solve problems and become the true leaders they were meant to be. I am excited to see these projects all the way through, but their growth is what amazes me the most. With every problem-based project they grow more confident and more ready to turn nothing into something.

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