13 February 2008

Bringing the Outside In

Tomorrow will be one of my favourite lesson plans of the year. You see, my sophomores have been working on a Problem Based Learning unit for genetics. I placed them in the role of a genetic counselor, gave them a bit of background about a couple, and asked the students to please advise the prospective parents about their choices and options for having a healthy baby. This particular unit is more student driven than many others. They choose the questions to investigate. They drive my lectures and our classroom work.

What they don't know is that tomorrow, I have someone coming in for a counseling appointment with the students.

I work this out ahead of time---finding a parent volunteer or someone else to fulfill the role of the person the students are writing to. I give the person a bit of background on the case. I've always had women (all of whom are also mothers) come visit with the kids, although I don't see why I couldn't have "the husband" show up. The adult volunteer receives some background from me before her arrival and as someone who is already a parent, she always has other questions for students---things kids don't always think about.

The look on kids' faces is priceless. As much as they buy into this particular problem they are solving, they are not 100% sure it is "real" until our surprise visitor walks in the door. Kids always say afterwards that it is a lot harder to talk to someone in person than it is to write the letter to him/her. Sometimes the discussions are great...and sometimes, it is like pulling teeth. I'm not sure which I will get tomorrow, but we'll give it a try and see.

The most important thing is to just bring the outside in. It is simple enough to teach a set of lessons about genetics, but good for kids to work on applying knowledge within the context. Not every piece of learning lends itself to this, but it is fun when you can make it work. I'm really looking forward to watching my students show what they know tomorrow morning...and hoping they don't get tongue-tied.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

This sounds awesome. Is there a way you can share the results of the "counseling" meeting with your readers?

During their investigation of their task/problem, were their situations when students' explorations did not lead them in the proper direction? I'm interested in hearing about other teachers' experiences with PBL and granting students the time to experience an initial "failure" or lack of success in order to rethink and direct their own learning rather than being guided or prompted to the solution by the teacher in order to speed up the process.

Also, how has this PBL changed since you first implemented it in the classroom?

Thanks for sharing this experience!