This is a VERY annoying wall. It stands in the way of so many things I want to do with my students during our Learning Commons specials. I often try to ignore its presence, but then I end up bumping into it again and again. It would feel very satisfying to find a big sledgehammer and knock those limitations right out of the way, but that’s not really an option. So rather than ignoring or fighting the wall, it’s time for me to face it and reflect on how I can work more effectively within its confines.
This week, as I read about Project-Based and Challenge-Based learning, I confess that initially felt a bit discouraged. It’s not that I don’t want to make this part of our Learning Commons curriculum, because I do. As a librarian, I want nothing more than to nurture a sense of wonder, exploration, and creativity in my students. I want to teach them how to seek out answers to questions and challenges by really digging into all the great resources available to them both online and in our library collection. But then, there’s that darn wall. I face very real limitations in my ability to spend quality time supporting students in that exploration.
What Are My Limitations?
Lack of time. That is my biggest limitation. I only see my students for a 50-minute special in every 6-day rotational cycle. Within that 50 minutes (which is really more like 45 by the time they arrive and get settled in), I also have to leave time for book checkouts. This means I’m lucky to get a solid 25 minutes of instructional time about every other week. It’s barely enough time to scratch the surface of a topic, let alone to dig deep. I’ve tried to collaborate with teachers so that we can work together on inquiry-based units, but since we don’t have scheduled collaboration time, it’s challenging to plan together effectively. So I’m facing this wall of limitations, reflecting on how I can work within it and squeeze in some PBL/CBL experiences with the limited time we’ve got.
Questions to Consider
*How can I more effectively collaborate with teachers on their units to provide support for project-based/challenge-based learning in the classroom?
*Could I realistically restructure our Learning Commons curriculum to a project-based format even if we only had 25-30 minutes of project time in a 6-day cycle?
*What lessons and activities would I need to give up to make this work?
*Would students stay motivated to work on the projects, or would the time between specials cause them to lose interest?
*Is this something I really need to do? Should I just teach some basic inquiry skills and leave the rest to the homeroom teachers?
After reflecting on these questions, I went back to the Buck Institute’s Introduction to Project-Based Learning to review PBL principles again and try to envision how I could implement them within the confines of our existing Learning Commons specials. Going back with a more open mind helped me to see the possibilities. The intro reminded me that “outstanding projects” will “recognize students’ inherent drive to learn” and their “capability to do important work.” In other words, I need to place trust in my students. I need to believe that they will embrace the time I give them to explore answers to questions and pursue projects of interest to them, even if that time is limited. Of course, they will need guidance and support, but hopefully, they will become so passionate about finding answers that they will continue projects independently even when we can’t work on them together. It’s worth doing. It’s worth trying. Because this is what our students need to learn how to do. They need to know how to seek answers and resolve problems.
If students are to be truly passionate about PBL/CBL, I need to help them understand the possibilities. I think they need an overview of some global challenges they might consider exploring. For example, this image shows Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and might help spark some inspiration for students.
There are also great websites, such as Kids Go Global and Teach UNICEF which can help students explore various Global issues.
I have some terrific books in the library which show how others have had ideas or faced challenges and done something about them. These would be great inspiration for my students.
As I was browsing Barnes and Noble this summer (oh, how I miss B&N when I’m overseas), I found two terrific books that I think would be perfect for introducing project-based or challenge-based learning:
I love how these books use simple text, along with powerful illustrations, to help students understand how meaningful it can be to face problems head on and seek out solutions. I love these lines from What do you Do With a Problem:
Not only is this a perfect way to introduce PBL/CBL to my students, it’s a reminder to me that I can take these limitations I’m facing and turn them into an opportunity. With continued reflection and seeking, and perhaps a bit of bravery, I can find a way to do this!