Problem Based Learning On The Move

Throughout this term, I have been working with four classes in the middle primary years. Our problem was based around the recent Commonwealth Games held in Melbourne and with the help of our teacher-librarian, we designed the unit of work over an eight week period. With students aged from seven to nine years in this group, we tried to keep the problem simple.

You've been selected to represent Australia at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. You have been asked to produce a digital story telling about your preparation and participation in Melbourne.

We used the process outlined in TSOF's Problem Based Learning steps and the kids grappled with extracting key words (with varying degrees of success), using print and online resources (set up a account to make tracking useful websites a lot easier) and downloading images as they strove to solve their problem. We used the free (but not open source) Photo Story program from Microsoft for their final presentations and overall, the students did a pretty good job. They loved using the software and found that easy to manipulate. A harder task was ensuring that their research sentences made it onto their digital stories and that relevant images were able to be found and included. I tried hard to find Creative Commons licensed images but that proved to be really difficult with some of the less popular sports so I had to use the "fair use" component of using copyrighted material for educational purposes so that the kids had access to enough photos to make the idea work. However, if I want to post a link to an example here on this blog, I will have to find one that used exclusively Creative Commons images - the one sport that did have Flickr based images with the appropriate permissions was the triathlon which was the only sport open to the Melbourne public for free. That would explain the plentiful images. Other events like the road races in cycling and the marathon in athletics had free access for spectators. On a final note, it was frustrating that our education system's internet filter blocked out any reference to boxing including the little icon used to illustrate the different events. I had to unblock sites so that kids could access needed and appropriate material. I suppose it is dangerous for our students to know about this sport.

Photo by PDR - MCG panorama (Commonwealth Games 2006)

With our first PBL unit succesfully completed, we met with the next group of teachers to plan the next installment for next term. This time we are working with the MYLU students and the expectations change when you are planning for middle school students. Our general theme this time is "What does it mean to be Australian?" We had a half day release to plan for this on Tuesday and have based the problem around a famous Australian song released just before the 1988 Bicentennial celebrations called "We Are Australian." (Link via Wikipedia entry.) The students will have the job of creating and justifying new verses to this famous (for Aussies) song but I'm still undecided on how the learning could be documented and presented. I am tempted to use wikis where the students work in pairs to first dissect an existing verse by hyperlinking key phrase and words to sources and images on the web that explain them and adding their own reflections in as well. One of the teachers is keen for them to use Photo Story as well and maybe that might be OK as the way to show off the completed verse but PBL is about more than the completed product. I might have to play around a bit with a wiki over the holiday break we have coming up to see if my ideas will fly - however, I am working with teachers (and this is not a criticism) who are not at all familiar with how a wiki works. I think they would rather have the kids record their digital notes in Word but maybe it's my responsibility to expand the horizons a bit here. Dean certainly did in a counter reply to a comment I placed on his blog recently. In fact, I would be pushing the old story and continuing to do "old things in new ways."

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