PBL: My WOW Moment of the Day!

Today was a particularly hectic, maddening day for me.  Senior grades were due at 9 am this morning, I taught three back to back classes with a meeting during second break, and my seniors had their Paper 1 and Paper 2 IB Biology exams at 1:00.  It was one of those days.  I am so anxious and distracted while my students are taking exams.  I just want to take it for them.  I would do really well on them and it would sure make the two years leading up to exams so much easier on me as a teacher. AHHHHH!!!

The seniors started wandering in at the beginning of my lunch period (causing me to miss our teacher appreciation lunch) in a last minute desperate attempt to close the loop on two years of learning after what I am sure was a sleepless night despite the fact that I ordered them all to bed at midnight.  "Lunch" ended at 12:10, and my grade 10 students filed in to continue their work on their independent projects that they have been working on for the past couple of weeks.  I had to make a choice, and I chose my seniors who were heading off to their high stakes exams in about half an hour.  So I told my 10th graders to continue their work in their groups and then proceeded to shut the sliding glass doors so that I could focus and calm my frantic seniors while walking them through as many troublesome topics and testing tips as we could manage in that short amount of time.  In fact, I was so focused on them, that I didn't notice the work that was going on outside of my classroom. 

As a teacher, this was one of those moments that you never forget.  While hugging my seniors goodbye hoping that some of my knowledge and confidence would rub off onto them, I looked out to find my entire 10th grade class reviewing the cell membrane as one cohesive group.  Three of the students took the initiative to grab some whiteboard markers and lead the rest of them through a review of the topics that they are required to know for their independent projects.  Amazed and shell-shocked, I went outside and joined them, but not as their teacher. At this moment, I was an admirer, impressed by the fact that each and every one of them had made good decisions about their learning independent of my supervision.  They could have just as easily been playing games, chatting on Facebook, setting fire to each other and countless other things that I would rather not think about.  It was so fulfilling to join a discussion with a group of students that were prepared and determined to explore these concepts at a deeper level.  At the end of the day, if all they walk away from this project with are the skills of collaboration and taking personal responsibility for their learning, I would consider this a huge success.  Fortunately, most of them will also understand the mechanisms of cell membrane regulation and be able to apply them to specific functions of the human body such as lactose intolerance, Parkinson's disease, how endorphins work, starvation, why asthmatics need inhalers, weight loss and many other interesting topics.  I truly look forward to learning from their presentations at the end of the project.

After school today, one of the students posted the pics from class to our Facebook group via Dropbox! 

Looks pretty productive to me! 

Looks pretty productive to me! 

At 3:30, the first wave of my SL students returned to my class to report back on their exams.  The first words out of there mouths were, "You are like magic! The two topics that you predicted and reviewed with us at lunch were essays on the test! Thank God we went over gene transfer!  We nailed it!"  

I would call this a WIN-WIN! I have to say that I am most proud of my 10th graders.  I am so thankful that I work with students who are committed to their learning and motivated enough to engage without having to have someone looking over their shoulders monitoring their every move.  I am also thankful that they didn't start any fires.  I think a little celebration is in order. 

Maximize Student Engagement with Voice and Choice


The assignment: Figure out how a cell maintains an internal environment separate from its external environment by researching any function of the human body that interests you as a group. Tell your story as if you were standing on the cell membrane watching your function in action.

  • You choose your groups and make a group contract. 
  • You set your class and homework schedule over the next four weeks. 
  • You maintain a communication platform that I can monitor. 
  • You decide how you will communicate your learning of the requisite learning objectives and individual research question to the class.
  • You decide how you should be assessed on your learning and presentation.

Of course there is more to it, but you get the idea.  Here is the link to the project details.  The assignment was made only five hours ago, and this is why PBL is AWESOME! 

This group chose to use Trello to plan their project.  Notice that one of the three has already completed his assignment for the day.  There has been quite a bit of chatter on their facebook group as well. 

This group chose to use Trello to plan their project.  Notice that one of the three has already completed his assignment for the day.  There has been quite a bit of chatter on their facebook group as well. 


I just love watching students take control of their own learning!  This year, several of my students have decided to use Trello as a platform for organizing their project and communicating their progress.  The fact that there is a mobile app for Trello makes it even better.  Looking forward to getting feedback on this tool! 

I also love how organic the process is.  They set a task to learn information and then "book me" for mini lessons to help with their understanding.  Today I spent 5 minutes going over the basic structure of the cell membrane at their request.  Three of the four groups in one class joined in on the mini lesson and then I sent them off to explore the concepts further.  At the end of class, one group asked for a fifteen minute mini lesson on cell transport in the next class to help synthesize their self-assigned homework over learning about this topic.  Another plans to meet with me as well.  Thanks Facebook for the heads up! 


The engagement is fantastic, and the best part... I can't wait to learn with my kids! 

How do you actually lose weight?  What causes cocaine addiction?  How does Parkinson's disease affect the body?  What happens when you starve?  What causes depression?  What's the deal with lactose intolerance? Why are French fries so bad for you? How does an asthma inhaler work? ... and the list goes on.  Stay tuned for updates on our project.