In many ways, the program that I’ve facilitated over the last several years, is an ideal environment for project (or problem) based learning. The program focuses on career exploration, job readiness skills, and planning for post-secondary education. Participants are involved in workshops, activities, field trips, and events that are designed to help them discover and consider careers of interest and they leave the program with a “next steps” plan to guide them in navigating their post-secondary choices in education or training. Typically their final project consists of creating a final presentation that is given by each participant at their culminating event, a graduation of sorts where they share what they learned and how they were impacted by the program. We used this final product in place of presenting their transition plans, as those are more personal documents and not suitable for a wider audience. The disconnect is that the presentations can be a bit repetitive and participants are not given a significant amount of time to share. As an organization, we struggled to find the balance between a personally meaningful product for each participant (besides their transition plan), and a meaningful product that could be shared appropriately with others in this graduation style event.
Paris and Huske (1998) referenced models of integration that could be used to integrate academic and vocational learning, which they point out is crucial in supporting high school students to make successful transitions to postsecondary education and career paths. I have the unique position of facilitating a program that focuses on the same thing – transition to postsecondary education and career paths. Since my program takes place during out-of-school time, I found the fifth model to be most appropriate for the content and scope of the program:
“Model 5: The Senior Project as a Form of Integration
The fifth model proposed by Grubb, Davis, Lum, Phihal, and Morgaine (1991) calls for students to complete a project that shows mastery of several competencies. In some schools, this project involves a physical representation requiring the use of vocational shops, a written paper, and an oral presentation. The project is usually completed during the senior year and is considered a capstone achievement. In preparation for this project, students learn various skills during ninth and tenth grades such as working independently, receiving hands-on experience in various vocational shops, doing research, solving problems, and presenting findings”
(Paris and Huske, 1998, para 7).
This project as a capstone achievement could happen on a much smaller scale in my program but still have many of the same elements as the Senior Project described above. The participants could design a product that would be showcased and presented at their culminating event and shared with others in a gallery or “science fair” type of setup where guests would interact with their work. All of the young women who enroll in the program expect that somehow it will help them solve the looming questions of “What am I going to be or do when I grow up?” and “How do I get there?”
Since there are quite a lot of great questions related to career exploration, job readiness, or college planning, I often engage the students in coming up with driving questions about these topics that they use to guide their work in the program. Through a series of activities, we “whittle” down the list to one question that they will answer at the end of the program; sometimes they choose to add another related question that is also important for them to answer. Earlier this spring, I began thinking about incorporating a PBL approach to the program, where each participant (or a team) would design a project to answer their driving questions, and I outlined many of the elements in my blog (Kuartei, 2015). I think this addition of a product that is “made” rather than a presentation, could be the missing piece that I’ve been looking to add.
The question or prompt that I plan to pose to all of the participants is: Design an interactive experience around a career of interest. There are oftentimes some participants who are more concerned with the more immediate relevance of job readiness, and still others who are more focused on college planning; so I would be probably need to adapt this prompt to each category of the program so they could choose one.
For this program, we use the Career Technical Education (CTE) Curriculum Standards which are aligned with at least one, sometimes several of the Common Core English language arts, math, history/social studies standards and the Next Generation Science Core Ideas. For this project, the relevant standards are:
|ANCHOR STANDARD||CCSS ELA Standards|
|Anchor Standard 3: Career Planning and Management
Speaking and Listening Standard: Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.
|Anchor Standard 4: Technology
Writing Standard: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments and information.
|Anchor Standard 5: Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
Writing Standard: Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem, narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropri- ate, and synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
|Anchor Standard 7: Responsibility and Flexibility
Speaking and Listening Standard: Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discus- sions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
|SLS 9-10 11-12.1|
|Anchor Standard 8: Ethics and Legal Responsibilities
Speaking and Listening Standard: Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize comments, claims, and evidence made on all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions when possible; and determine what additional information or research is required to deepen the investigation or complete the work.
|Anchor Standard 9: Leadership and Teamwork
Speaking and Listening Standard: Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision making; set clear goals and deadlines; and establish individual roles as needed.
|Anchor Standard 10: Technical Knowledge and Skills Writing Standard: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.||WS 11-12.6|
(California Department of Education, 2013, p. 6).
There are no formal grades in the program but participants must complete their projects and have a minimum number of hours completed in order to pass or complete the program. To assess these standards, I would use rubrics to evaluate their process by examining planning documents (project proposal, team “reports”, research materials), use of technology (I will add NETS standards), and teamwork. I will have a different rubric to evaluate the actual product created; it will include categories for design, creativity/innovation, use of technology, interactive elements, and relevance for the target audience (their peers). We usually incorporate feedback throughout the process from other teams or individuals and participants in other programs at the organization. I also formatively assess progress through group check-ins, journal reflections, whole group discussions, feedback sessions, and benchmark checks at important intervals over the course of the program. Rubrics will assess performance, process, and products with “Does Not Meet Expectations”, “Meets Expectations”, and “Exceeds Expectations”. I will need to figure out what would “fail” a project besides it just not being completed, and what that would mean for a participant’s completion of the program. Participants have been more likely to not complete the program due to scheduling or time commitments than failure to complete the final project, so I need to consider what would happen in that event.
According to Martinez and Stager’s (2013) “Eight Elements of A Good Project” (p. 58), here is how my project could be measured:
- Purpose and Relevance – Participants will explore various careers, those of interest to them but also new and emerging careers, before selecting one to design their project.
- Time – Participants have six (6) hours a week over 12 weeks in the program from beginning to end. This give us time to explore careers and build in time for participant to learn tools and software as needed for their projects.
- Complexity – The complexity will come from the combination of activities that will inform the project – exploring career fields and their respective industries, interacting with a wide range of professional women during company tours and events, learning about the post-secondary options available, weighing options and costs, and developing a plan, including a timeline for tasks such as applying for scholarships and internships or writing a personal statement.
- Intensity – I’ve seen the potential for intensity around group projects aimed at the existing product – creating presentations, and I think oftentimes participants want to work in groups because they think the workload will be easier. This added “making” element of the project will allow them to bring their own unique skills and interests in an even more personal way than the presentations.
- Connection – Since the project is a reflection of their own experience throughout the program, I think they will have a powerful connection with making a representative product. The program has been proven to build a sense of community and collaboration among participants through their groupwork, and the ownership over their project and choices involved also creates a strong connection for each girl. They also network with the guest speakers, community members, professional women, and participants in other programs to explore what it means to decide what you want to do with your life and how you accomplish your goals.
- Access – Already each participant has an assigned laptop with an internet connection, software for designing, productivity, presentations, multimedia (music, video, audio, imaging, etc.), but we also still use whiteboards, papers, posters, markers, etc. Another program at the organization is focused on art education and they have even more technical tools and supplies for arts that would be accessible by participants.
- Shareability – This is perhaps the most important aspect of this project that would be solved by adding the maker component. Previous presentations have only been given at the graduation event but have little use or impact beyond that audience. Having a product that can continue to be used, added to, and shared with friends, classmates, future participants, and a wider audience online and in their communities, can make the final creations that much more meaningful!
- Novelty – During one program cycle, I introduced the participants to Gardner’s multiple intelligences and asked them to brainstorm presentation ideas that would appeal to each category. I then asked them to choose one or combine several to create a final presentation that would appeal to a wider range of people. This was my attempt to get them to run away from creating a power point presentation (why are students so obsessed with them?). I think it might be that they seem “professional” and organized but at any rate, I wanted them to NOT come up with something like that. When they finally told me what they had come up with, I was impressed and it turned into a major production that had most of these eight elements above! They decided that they would dress up and arrive as a band of superwomen who had superpowers related to their careers; they had props, a script, cool names, the works! So I know that whatever I think I can come up with, they will find a more interesting, creative, and innovative design than I could possibly imagine in my “brilliant” planning stages.
Martinez and Stager (2013) also pose some important questions to test my idea; I have rewritten them with my answers:
Can the questions be answered or problems be solved? Is the project monumental or substantial? This is something I will have to guard against; oftentimes it’s students who want their projects to snowball while I’m trying to get them to keep it simple but make it better. So I think the project is substantial because there is a lot of content and ways that they could dig deeper and make stronger connections with the content.
Who will benefit and be satisfied through this project? Definitely each participant will be ultimately answering a personal driving question through this common prompt; if they create a product that has personal meaning for them, then that satisfies me.
Where will the project/product lead to next? I am excited about the potential for this aspect of their projects; we’ve never had a project “live on” after the program so the potential for their work to be re-used, re-mixed, re-purposed, improved, etc. is exciting and I think a very practical, natural next step. For sure, their projects will live on in the program and could potentially be used by another participant as a starting point for their project!
I’ve started to keep a list of some ideas that could be very fun to make, let me know if you have ones that I can add:
An interactive display…
I’m still thinking….
California Department of Education. (2013). California Career Technical Education Model Curriculum Standards. Retrieved from: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/ct/sf/documents/ctestdfrontpages.pdf
Kuartei, J. (2015, March 14). My 8-stage recipe for PBL. [Web log post]. Retrieved from: https://rockislandtechie.wordpress.com/2015/03/14/my-8-stage-recipe-for-pbl/
Martinez, S. L. and Stager, G. S. (2013). Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Torrance: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.
Paris, K. and Huske, L. (1998). Critical Issue: Developing an Applied and Integrated Curriculum. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. Retrieved from: http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/envrnmnt/stw/sw100.htm