Class 5: Exploring Project Based Learning

Henry Sakamoto

Henry Sakamoto
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The Densho Digital Archive holds a wealth of visual history interviews and other materials that broadly document the Japanese American experience. These unique primary sources cover a span of history from immigration in the early 1900s through redress in the 1980s with a particular focus on the World War II mass incarceration.

Students explore their world with an expectation of choice and control that redefines traditional notions of learning and literacy. Increasingly educators are discovering that they can motivate students with a project (or problem) based approach that engages their students with the opportunity to think like professionals while solving real-world problems.

Here’s 6 reasons why PBL works:

  1. Traditional instruction is based on “teaching as telling.” PBL creates learning more immersive experiences.
  2. A new information “culture” demands a new literacy. PBL can build those skills
  3. We need to increase the rigor in the classroom. PBL moves students to higher levels of Blooms.
  4. PBL makes learning relevant – student take responsibility for their progress.
  5. Usually the audience for thinking is the teacher – PBL shifts the focus to real world application.
  6. PBL can gain added impact by inspiring and empowering student as change agents in their community.

Instead of simply talking about PBL, our class will be undertaking a PBL project that embodies all the elements above. We will be serving as curriculum consultants to the Portland’s Nikkei Legacy Center. The center is dedicated to “Sharing and preserving Japanese American history and culture in Portland’s Old Town neighborhood, where Japantown once thrived.”

Our task to is to use our instructional design skills to assist the Center in creating curriculum material. At this point we are considering three possible projects:

  1. Self-guided instructional activities for middle school museum visitors.
  2. A teacher’s curriculum / activity guide to accompany a historic document filled suitcase that goes out on loan to the classroom.
  3. Selecting historic materials for inclusion in an iPhone App tour of Portland’s historic Japantown neighborhood.

A PBL experience always needs a good kick-off entry event to get students engaged in the task. We will begin our project with a classroom visit by Henry Sakamoto, who grew up in  Japantown and was attending high school at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. Henry and his family were subjected to FBI search, transfer to the Portland Assembly Center and eventually interred at Mindoka Concentration Camp in Idaho.

Henry will be introduced by Kim Blair, education manager of the Nikkei Legacy Center. Next week’s class will be held at the Center where we will be able to tour the museum and work with Kim and Todd Mayberry, Director of Collections.

Update: Unfortunately Mr Sakamoto could not make it to our class. We discussed our project work with Kim Blair, education manager of the Nikkei Legacy Center.

Then we did a bit of “speed dating” of our ideas for the DBQ AssignmentStudents formed two lines and had 2 minutes to pitch their DBQ design idea to each other and share some feedback. Then one line shifted and we repeated the pitch exchange. In all students pitched their idea three times.

10 Replies to “Class 5: Exploring Project Based Learning”

  1. It was very unfortunate that Henry could not join our class this week, as I was looking forward to hearing him speak. Thus, I must limit my comments about the classroom to our “speed dating” exercise. It was good to hear a couple people’s ideas, if only to make sure that I was on the right track with my own DBQ. I am really excited to see how they turn out, and will definitely be stealing many of these projects to use in a classroom at a later date. I wish there had been a bit more time to give and recieve suggestions about my project. Specifically, I really enjoyed Aram’s topic and was interested to see what suggestions he would have for me, but this was not to be. I am sure that I will hear them at some point, but it would have been nice in the moment. I did like that we got to share our topic with multiple individuals, but I also felt like I could have gotten advice from other people that were more closely related to my topic. Not that any of the advice I received was bad, just that I also felt like I was missing out on what some other members of our classroom had to say.

    1. I was skeptical of the activity before we began, but it in the end, I found it beneficial. Pitching my idea several times helped to refine my plan and also gave me new angles to consider. And, like Sam said, more time would have been nice.

      I thought it was a bad idea to conduct this activity in the hallway. I can appreciate mixing up the learning environment, but the distractions and the standing made it harder to focus.

    2. Thanks, Sam. Sorry we didn’t have enough time for the feedback you wanted! It seems to me that the “speed dating” wasn’t really about in-depth peer review, but about forcing us to articulate our thoughts. If you want more comments, though throw them up here for us to look at again!

      I was talking with Peter after class, and I may be changing my topic. My initial plan was to compare children’s roles and children’s media between participating countries in WWII, but although the material was rich I wasn’t sure what kind of activities I was trying to lead my DBQ readers to. Peter suggested narrowing the focus to comparing the imagery, rhetoric, etc. of several war-era posters, and several modern day advertisements. That speaks to one of the specific skills I was hoping to help build: media-savvy-ness and awareness of advertising techniques. I think either form of my DBQ could work; however, if your scope is feeling a little large, remember that it is an option to re-frame your topic in narrower terms.

  2. I thought the 2-minute drill regarding our DBQ ideas was helpful for a few reasons. It helped me think through my plan, which made perfect sense to me before I started articulating it. I gleaned ideas and improvements from my peers’ advice and their own DBQ ideas. The fact that I heard multiple DBQ project ideas and it’s always interesting to hear other perspectives, along with advice. I was able to refine my idea through multiple opportunities to articulate it as well.

    1. I think you’re on to something. You have to think more in depth about the plan in order to articulate it in a way for other people to understand. That is why the 2-minute drill exercise was a good idea. I think multiple people in the class say their idea became more refined as they explained it to more people. I think everyone’s ideas make sense in their own mind, they just need to refine it for everyone else to get what they are thinking.

  3. During the idea pitching activity, I found myself wanting to hear more from others than explaining my own idea. That’s not because I felt I was not in need of peer advice; I was just genuinely interested in where other people had decided to direct their focus. Even though through most of the pairings we went over the two minutes, I actually would have liked a little more time thinking about the ideas. Strangely enough – or not, I’m not sure yet – I felt I could give a couple suggestions of books others could turn to in order to provide some starting points about a couple topics. This support only worked, however, because I happened to have some background in the topics. That being said, I was unable to provide that much help to the third DBQ pitched to me since it was of an era and time period I have little knowledge in at the moment.

    Once topics are settled and the projects begin to coming to fruition, I think discussing the best practices of displaying and presenting certain documents could be beneficial.

  4. Your comments demonstrate that you see the trade offs we are making as we try to group people in different configurations.

    In our first class you brainstormed as individuals, then met as teams to collect your thoughts into your vision of a great teacher. Then present it to the group for feedback. The variety kept it from seeming too long – individual, small group, large group, questions and feedback. But overall, it took quite awhile to accomplish. As well as post-its, paper, markers and space to collaborate.

    In our first lesson study, everyone met first in small one-on-ones (many outside the classroom), then shared out to the large group. Plus side – everyone got to hear each other’s lesson idea. As the teacher, I got to hear and comment on everyone’s idea. Yet it felt like it took too much time when we all presented to the large group.

    This time you only shared with 3 other people. On the plus side it was all accomplished in much less time. And you got to refine your ideas as moved to the next person – a nice chance to refine you thinking. Yet it felt somewhat rushed and I only got bits and pieces of each of your ideas. You only got to hear (and give feedback) to three of your peers ideas.

    As a teacher you will find different peer groupings all have + / – s. As well as logistic constrains – standing in the hallway?

    We’ll explore some more configurations as we move through the course. Next up – the Fishbowl. We’ll also try our hand at role play, mock trial and a few others. I’d like to expose you to as many as we can fit in and let you get lots of tools for your kit.

    Teaching is not just about transmitting information, it’s about finding ways to organize people into effective learning situations.

  5. I really enjoyed the section of the class where we did the ‘speed dating’ and our fellow students i our ideas and our plans. As with other projects done in this class, getting a second, third, and fourth persons’ advice on the topic was incredibly helpful. It was also very useful as during the process of explaining our topic we ourselves could examine our work again. My only problem with the speed dating was that there was a little too much emphasis on the ‘speed’ portion. I felt like I was not given enough time to properly explain my idea or question my partner on theirs. Still, very helpful overall.

  6. I really enjoyed talking about our projects with others. It was very helpful in clarifying our own ideas as well as getting advice and hearing about other projects. It was definitely helpful in etching out our own ideas and though processes. I would have liked to spent more time on each discussion, perhaps having a more in depth conversation about what we planned to do with it and where we were going with it. Although I had a few notes, I enjoyed the majority of discussion about each DBQ project. It was sad that we were not able to have our guest speaker, but it was nice that someone was still able to come from the center to talk about it.

    1. I completely agree with you; a little more time with more in-depth responses/dialogue would have been interesting and helpful. I’m also disappointed that our primary guest speaker was unable to come, but I think that Ms. Blair did a good job explaining what we would be doing and how the Center operates. I’m looking forward to doing this project!

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