Backwards Planning Post: A Project Based Learning Unit, Explained Backwards

The End Result
This is one of the documentaries produced by one of the groups in my grade six project based learning unit. It represents the median, based on our rubric. I am quite pleased with all of them as a whole. As to be expected with a collaborative presentation produced by a variety of collaborative groups there are obvious levels of difference in the demonstration of skills and knowledge gained throughout this foray into project based learning. I, sadly, must also mention that the students did a fantastic job and never gave up despite the constant technical difficulties we experienced at every step.

Part of the “grammar of cinema” focus we had with this was the use of catharsis. I would ask that you bear this in mind while watching this. In this case, the boys put the humour at the front, partially missing the point but then, on the other hand perhaps being cautious was better as the subject matter of their documentary is rather serious. Please enjoy this documentary on the Effects and Reconstruction of the Tohoku area of Japan.

The Division of Labour

Also coming as no surprise was the fact that one, clearly motivated and usually talented (seeing the connection here?) student was the one nominated to tie it all together and make it look sharp. No problem. As the development of individual skills necessary for producing an effective piece of visual communication (rubric below) was just as important as the time management, collaboration and research skills focused upon all students were required to produce a version of the documentary.

As we were planning to unveil our work at the graduation ceremony, it was presented as a chance to create shorter versions for possible inclusion as an abbreviated preview. This way students could put both their own versions and their complete group versions on their blogs.

Assessment as Learning II
As homework one week all students were required to assess two other students’ independent presentations made on a topic of their own choosing (executed earlier as a skill-building exercise prior to the introduction of the project based learning unit). This was meant to get students thinking critically at the time when they were making their own final cuts and further inspire conversation.

The Infographic
This was my way of lighting fires under those who needed it in a public, yet light-hearted way. I put it up on the SMART board asking students what it meant. I further underlined that I instinctively wanted to make the toon images of the groups who had made the most progress biggest to match their effort but had, in the end, decided it would probably be more embarrassing to have a big picture up so went the other way around to raise the heat on the “less inspired.”

The Skill-building Formative Assessment
Students were given free reign to extend their skill levels using Camtasia Studio 7 to produce effective presentations on a subject of their own choosing. Having seen how I used transitions, title and end scene animations and background music to fuse all of their previous independent productions (see below) students were now charged with using them, as well as other elements of the grammar of cinema (simple rubric below) to produce more effective pieces of visual communication for themselves.

Assessment as Learning
We managed to make a science crossover here. We watched a series of six short YouTube and other educational videos on the flow and sources of rivers. We assessed them based on this very simple rubric below and later used the actual material gleaned from the videos as the start to our lesson on the causes for river flow directions, sources of water for rivers and the planning and execution of experiments related to this study.


The Rubric & Intro
At the start of term I introduced Project Based Learning to my Grade Six class. I explained that we would be combining English Literacy, Japanese, ICT Integrated Studies and Social Studies to create a documentary to share with the school. I explained that we would be extending our skills with “digital story telling” while taking our previous term’s Social Studies lessons further by producing primary source material based on excursions, photography, video recording and interviewing a variety of people. I then introduced the rubric I had devised, explaining that this was what the excellence we sought looked like. I also told them they would be responsible for how well they did.

Checking for Prior Knowledge
At my present school students take turns running assemblies and presenting to the school. The theme our class drew for their final assembly was, Representing Ourselves. My students did so digitally, producing Power Point animated presentations which were screencasted and narrated to be later fused by me as elaborated above. I knew what they already knew about the material we would cover in the documentaries from my previous assessments which made it easier to produce the provocation of having the class divide themselves into groups based on their areas of interest based on an overview with some questions offered for further elucidation of the points. Students were instructed that they would need to add to their current level of knowledge through this ensuing process.

About Sean Thompson

Sean is an educational technology specialist at Sacred Heart International School in Tokyo. He travels extensively across southeast Asia speaking, presenting and participating in discussions regarding the effective integration of technology in an educational setting. In 2014 he partnered up with DEEP Learning to support the team with the development, promotion and execution of professional development conferences for teachers worldwide. Sean is also an Apple Distinguished Educator, an International Baccalaureate Educator Network Workshop Leader , a Google education Trainer and a Certified Google Educator available for professional development at your school.
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