Project-Learning (aka PBL) for beginners #plsm13

Bianca Hewes

This blog post is probably not written for you, even though you may have stumbled across it accidentally thanks to your search engine. This blog post isn’t even written for the people who follow me on Twitter, although a few of those do just happen to be in the group for whom this post is being written. This blog post is being written for the eager, dedicated, risk-taking and generous educators who will be attending the inaugural Project Learning Swap Meet at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum on January, 19th 2013.

I’m getting very excited about the event because I know wonderful things will come of it. I know that you lovelies who are attending will be bringing your questions, your experiences, your ideas and your enthusiasm to the day because you want to do more than just listen to people talk about new pedagogies or new technologies or new designs for…

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Why Am I Struggling with Assessing Creativity?

Let me begin by emphatically stating that my last few days at PBL World 2013 were truly inspiring! All of it was inspiring, truly it was. However, I must admit that on the 4th day, I was confused, at some points irritated even, after Yong Zhao gave an incredibly thought-provoking keynote speech. I was not irritated at all with his keynote but what followed afterwards. I must first explain the two points of his keynote that stuck out in my mind the most. #1 Yong Zhao does not like the Common Core Standards. He went into great depth regarding why and it made sense. He began with the name itself, “Common Core.” Why do we basically want students to be common to their core? I am oversimplifying greatly here, but I am sure you get the gist. #2 What these standards do is to help produce more of the old factory-style students that lack creativity or more specifically, lack the opportunity to be creative. Zhao further explained that schools have been like meat grinders producing little sausages that are all the same, ‘common’, if you will, with the same ‘core.’ I agreed! I totally agreed and thought to myself, “No more! No more will I be a part of that process, on whatever level. My students will not be treated like little sausages.” His keynote speech ended and off I went to attend a session called “Creativity and Innovation.” I was pumped!

This next workshop was to teach us how to assess creativity and innovation. I was confused…wasn’t this in direct opposition to what Yong Zhao was talking about? Should we be assessing the only thing that young students had left that was all their own? Should we make a rubric to attribute value to that human spark that is so beautiful and unique to each individual? I was perplexed. As the workshop progressed, I realized that some of this was about figuring out what behaviors creative people have to help students become more creative. The “value” portion of the rubric was what I really took issue with. I began wondering about how to create a PBL that specifically targets creative thinking with significant content, and for some reason, something about it does not sit right with me at all. I wonder where early van Gogh and early Picasso would have been had we held their work up to a rubric. Would they have continued their creative pursuits? How would Frank Lloyd Wright have faired at age 11 or 12 with a creativity rubric? Would it have squashed his creative spirit? I hope not. Maybe it all would have gone well, maybe it would have even been better for them. I just think we need to be very, very careful with assessing creativity and innovation. I am young in my thoughts regarding many things and realize I learn by doing, so on with my next idea!

I began to think about creating a PBL to begin my year with my new 5th grade students. The driving question, which is still a work in progress so please do not judge, may be, “How do we decide what creativity is?” or “Should we decide what is creative?” or “How will we decide what creativity is?” It seems I am always drawn to the philosophical type PBL projects, but it is what it is. I teach at a Quaker school so it makes sense. I am so excited to embark on this new adventure and will be working on it all summer. Any thoughts or ideas would be greatly appreciated! I will be sure to keep you posted.