How PRINTS Accomplished Project-Based Learning with the Get Real Competition
As a Montessori Middle School, Pacific Rim International School's (PRINTS) philosophical approach to all aspects of our curriculum – not just science – is to establish the relationships between things; to convey the interconnectedness of ourselves in relation to the universe. We find that teaching details often brings confusion and does not allow for the space for students to make their own discoveries. We are a very small private school and our technology resources are limited. So, when we heard about the Get Real Competition, the first thing we did was talk to the students about the idea of making a video because we knew they would be very motivated by the idea of being able to win iPads for the science classroom!
We had already undertaken a school-wide food-waste recycling/composting project-based learning initiative earlier in the fall, and we were learning about the Bokashi Method of composting. This was also tied into our work on an organic farm where we had been studying NPK emendation of soil to boost plant growth. The Get Real Competition email came in and it seemed a natural extension of what the group was already studying in their science explorations for them to choose composting as the topic.
We believe in project-based learning, so the class was very comfortable understanding the goals of the project and then working backwards to devise a timeline. They also worked out roles and responsibilities between them, although we – as teachers – had the right to veto an appointment. They figured out they needed a director, script writer, props and costumes, editor, hair and make-up…they worked all this out themselves as we observed them coalescing around the activities.
The teachers also reviewed the scripts to ensure that every student in the class had a role and a speaking part and had the opportunity to shine in different ways, an important peice of project-based learning. Fortunately, our Montessori approach allowed for a great deal of latitude during the creative stages of the project – the scripting work counted as language arts assignments; the prop and costume-making counted as art; the shooting counted as humanities; and our afternoon of shooting at the local organic farm in Pescadero simply meant that for one trip to the farm we weren’t harvesting and weeding, but making a movie!
At each stage of the project, our “scaffolding” of the students was to observe their activities carefully, make notes, and only to insert ourselves into the creative process if there was an altercation or disagreement that the students could not solve themselves, or to provide logistical or technical support that they could not manage – e.g. driving! Or providing our own laptops and editing software so that they could accomplish their vision of the final product.
Overall, the “Compost Gone Viral” video was 95% the work of our students. The only additional footage we had them shoot was some extra stop animation frames to ensure that the viewers would fully comprehend the optimal balance required to make great compost! Other than that, we barely interfered. As Montessori teachers, we believe our job is to set goals, provide the optimal environment for students to take charge of their own learning to achieve the goals, and then get the heck out of the way of the students! We think that our students’ win validates our approach!
About the Authors
Today's guest blog post comes from Jo Ellis and Krista Riihimaki, the advisors to the 3rd place winners of the CK-12 Get Real Competition, Pacific Rim International School (PRINTS). Ellis holds her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English Literature from the University of Cambridge and the AMI Orientation to Adolescent studies certificate. She is also a nationally recognized gifted and talented teacher (Sarah D. Bader Fellow) of Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth. Riihimaki earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Biological Sciences, minored in Marine Science and Policy, and attained the Five-College Coastal and Marine Science Certificate. Krista is a trained Montessori guide at the infant, primary, and adolescent levels.