When I talk with teachers about getting started with PBL I often tell them to think of something they have seen done before and take the idea and make it their own. But I also caution them to think of their content first – what are the verbs and nouns in their standards? Unless they are incredibly comfortable with their standards it really doesn’t make much sense to start with an idea and try to fit the standards.

Now that I’m teaching Design this frees me up to be more creative and experimental with where I ask my students to go with their learning. Unfortunately I have 7th graders who have been living, for at least a few years, in the world of “Learn the Content -then-Do a Project.” In addition to teaching them about the Design process I have to teach them the the PBL process.

I’m attempting to create a classroom of asking questions, taking chances, making guesses, trying new things, and thinking about the client. Through the first semester my students have worked on projects that were centered on content standards for their science and Texas history classes. In science they needed to understand forces for the Rube Goldberg Machines they built. In Texas history they needed to understand French and Spanish settlers/settlements in the 17th and 18th centuries in what is now Texas to build models.

The content might have been for other classes but the creation and building were accomplished in my classroom. Now, with this next project, my students will be working for me (and for themselves). We are embarking on my version of the Cardboard Chair Challenge.

You might have guessed from the title of the project, that the main idea is to build a chair out of recycled cardboard and glue. But there is SO much more I want them to learn about managing a project. This, in reality, is a project management project.

To keep them focused on creating the chair and to make things interesting I have created an opportunity to have the students present to parents. There’s nothing like an authentic audience to up the ante. To be honest, I don’t really care whether they successfully build a chair in the short time period I have given them (but don’t tell them that, shhhh.)

Things I am focusing on:
(1) Roles. In this project everyone has an individual role and everyone is responsible for making sure the final products are completed. There are 6 students in just about every group and I have 6 roles in each group. The roles are Group Leader, Work Leader, Group Liaison, Web Site Designer, Artistic Leader, and Promotions Leader.  For the first two weeks I’ll be meeting with each of these role players every day to ensure they are on top of what needs to be done to be successful.
 (2) Leadership. Related to their roles, everyone in the group is responsible for something that they will need help with. Will they step up and be a leader to make sure the group is successful. One role I will be working very closely with is the Work Leader. I expect the Work Leader to create a Team Accountability Form and use it every day. The Work Leader needs to be on top of what every member of the group is doing and where they are on their individual time line.
(3) Working on both individual and group work. Can they work together on their product (the chair) while also working on their individual assignments based upon their roles?

I want my students to understand that their is a lot more involved in successfully completing a project besides the final product. My students are competing to create the “best” chair possible using just cardboard and glue. But they are also learning how to work together as a team.  And with that, I can truthfully say: I want them all to be winners.

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