This past summer some of the staff at PCHS had this crazy idea to do an all school thematic unit based on the building of medieval trebuchet siege weapons. As the project was constructed, staff members hashed out several different groups that students would be assigned to where they would plan and create items or ideas to be put on display at a “medieval” festival. The groups created would put students in situations where they had to work in teams to devise and construct plans for the various activities. The groups that were proposed included the following:
- Design and Building (for the trebuchets)
- Clothing and banners
- Public Relations
Our 60 staff members and 600 students would be assigned to eight different team of which members from each team would join the six groups. We decided to set aside five 1/2 days to work in groups to design and build, create team banners and costumes, create period entertainment, make snacks, and have time period based game competitions.
It was an idea that would certainly take all of us out of our comfort zones. From my point of view the project is all about the process, not the product. I have observed both teachers and students rise to the challenge of doing something we have never done before and demonstrate some very credible growth. Teachers have had to work without a bell schedule and plan activities on the fly. Students have had to move beyond the concept of what do I have to know for the test and simply do either out of enjoyment or necessity. Although we are just a little more than half way through the project, it is important that we step back and evaluate what we are doing, make adjustments, and note what does and does not work.
From my perspective, the groups do not have balanced tasks. While some groups have been as industrious as I could have ever imagined, other groups have finished tasks easily and have too much time on their hands. In my opinion, this is only a fault of the design of the project and not the individual students and teachers working in those groups. Again, it is the process that is important. Learning from the problems is the key! Honest evaluation of what we have done is the only way for both the students and staff to grow from the experience. We also have to realize that not all students are going to be engaged in this process. Yes, the project was designed to create interest based learning, but in groups as large as we have assembled with limited activities, some students are going to be bored (as are some of the staff). Again, I fault the design…not those who took the risk to make suggestions or try to execute them. As I walk through the building during regular days and during Pumpkinpalooza (the name of the thematic unit) I have noted that student engagement is based on tasks where students are actively working not passively paying attention. This project has certainly made those engaging tasks more widely available to SOME of the students. There are students who never really get a chance to shine during our regular activities that have come alive with a flourish during these days. It is also true that some students have shut down and have found that the activities do not interest them. The most important part of this is to realize that learning is happening in unconventional ways for both staff and students. Is it a perfected program to be repeated year after year? Absolutely not! BUT…we would be remiss to think we do not need to continue to challenge our entire learning community in ways such as this. Some suggestions (from my point of view) for next time:
- A smaller project perhaps involving segments of the school population as opposed to the whole group. Like each of the four Academies do a project.
- Less time. Less is more. I always tell my family it is best to quit when we still want to do more. It creates anticipation for the next opportunity.
- We absolutely need to carve out more time for staff collaboration. Lack of time to plan has been one of the biggest obstacles to be tackled by staff.
- I need to take a more active role in the planning and decision-making? I have purposely taken an observer/helper role in the process. I have tried to not have the answers to problems (I can hear you snickering as some of you say this is always the case!). I know this has frustrated some of you as you feel unsupported at times.
I will continue to reflect as we move forward. I would like you to do the same. Comment here. Send me an email. Leave an anonymous note in my box. Give your CONSTRUCTIVE feedback in whatever way you feel comfortable.