One of the most productive summers of my entire life is quickly coming to an end, and this is marked by the fact that my internship is complete. I have to admit…I got a little emotional saying farewell to my mentor. I was entirely invested in the process from start to finish.
When I think about my time with Hyde Park Partners, I keep coming back to my time with American Engineering Group in an area they call “Genesis.” It’s basically an incubation chamber for engineering innovation. A group of interns and engineers spend their time improving upon designs in this giant warehouse, and they use a process called “Innovation Engineering.” I could instantly draw parallels between the work they do and the work I want my students to do in my classroom. I want my students to vet their ideas with true critical thought. I want my students to fail fast, fail cheap, improve, and try again. All of this is done in the Genesis area of Hyde Park Partners, and I can’t wait to tell my students that the work they are doing is truly preparing them for the world outside.
There were certain areas that I couldn’t instantly draw that same instant parallel, and that was a challenge for me at first. How could I bring the principals of industrial hydraulic motion to a 4th grade class? Then, I had an epiphany. I don’t literally have to teach students about hydraulics. I can look beyond that obvious front to the deep level of success skills that are needed for people to be successful in the field. Rather than bringing hydraulic science back to my class, I’m focusing on the skills of collaboration, problem solving, abstract thinking, and more! What previously looked like a stretch now fits seamlessly into my plans for PBL rollout.
All said and done, I think my biggest lightbulb of the whole experience is just how excited all of the employees of the company were to be a part of something. I always wanted 100% of my students to be THAT excited about school. I think PBL is the lever that can take me closer to that stage than ever before. I can’t expect them to be enthused by dull traditional lesson structures. If I can distill the energy of being a part of a project that MATTERS and also teach them core content at the same time, I’ll be achieving my vision this year.
Although I am a little sad that I’m done with my internship, I am so empowered to start the next step of my journey – polishing my project and rolling it out in the context of my 4th grade science classes this year. To infinity and beyond!
Most of my friends have the habit of giving me some ribbing during the summer. They are stuck at work while I get to spend about 2 months on my own – getting things done around the house and planning for the upcoming year. I assure them that they are just jealous and that teachers need this time to plan and reset for the next year. Imagine their surprise when I told them about my fellowship! I have a job to do this summers, and a big part of that job is to craft a product – a unit of study that bundles my field experience and the traditional standards together into a cohesive final project. My friends don’t get to make fun of me this summer; major work is going down.
Designing this PBL unit is exercising muscles I didn’t know I had. I’ve done plenty of lesson and unit planning in the past, but this time I am armed with much more knowledge of true PBL inquiry. I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of creating a unit that focuses not only on content but also on success skill development. Since this is a 3 week unit, I’ve found it challenging to envision what each day in class will look like. I have a clear vision of the launch of the unit, with a fantastically open-ended guiding question and challenge. I have a clear vision of the end of the unit, with a final product that necessitates sharp teamwork and problem-solving skills. What I have struggled with a bit is planning the progression of the unit. How many lectures should I give? When should students be working on their group artifact, and when should students be applying their knowledge on their own? I brought these questions up with my cohort at our last meeting, and I received very useful guidance from them.
I’ve been very heartened by many successes I’ve found along the way. The one thing that made me feel the most successful was sitting down and brainstorming an idea for the project. Instead of thinking of just one great project, I listed the science standards for my grade, and I thought of some very interesting projects for each of them. Although I am focusing on just one idea for my Kenan Fellows product, I still have those other ideas written down, and I can’t wait until I have the time to have not only one deep PBL unit, but one for each standard. This process has really planted the seed for further curriculum development. One other success that I found came as I was planning the unit itself. I needed to find a way to launch this unit, and I contacted someone that is actually in the field of acoustic room design, which is the topic of my PBL unit. They said that they would be more than happy to come out and talk to my classes about acoustics. I don’t know if I would have had the confidence to make that phone call without my time in the field with professionals. That might sound silly, but now I know just how willing people are to volunteer their own energy to help students learn. That’s a a great thing to know, and I’m sure I can make so many new contacts around the city to help with my units.
Although this is a new adventure for me, I am so confident that it will be a huge success. Mistakes will be made along the way, and just as I remind my students…mistakes can be some of the best learning experiences.