What could possibly go wrong?
Remember when teaching was simply planning a lecture, shutting the door, and delivering it to students? This may have been easy for the teacher, but it certainly didn’t make for deep and relevant learning for the students. The work of developing project-based, engaging, and personalized learning is much more complex.
It’s also full of uncertainty. Let me tell you about a recent field trip I took with students.
How I thought it would go
This field trip was an entry event for an integrated project-based learning unit based on our local museum.
For over 100 years, Proctor was home to the Vermont Marble Company. At the turn of the 20th century, the Vermont Marble Company was the largest corporation in the United States. They produced such buildings and monuments as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Jefferson Memorial, and the United States Supreme Court. In my PBL unit, students learn how extensive an impact the Vermont Marble Company had on their hometown as well as the surrounding areas.
Best of all, as part of their PBL, my 8th grade students are building exhibits for the museum. So it made sense for them to go take a look at the location. Plus I’d planned a scavenger hunt!
How it actually went
I drove over to the museum ahead of the bus, talked to the museum manager and brought my scavenger hunt materials in. After struggling with some logistics, I was ready for the students to arrive.
After several minutes went by, I wondered: where are the students?
I went outside expecting to see the bus, but there was no bus in sight. A few minutes later, a second chaperone pulled up and let me know they were getting a late start. As she was leaving, they were just wrapping up taking attendance. We stood and talked in the parking lot for a few minutes. Then a few minutes more. Then we began to wonder why the bus was taking so long.
We waited another five minutes. Then she headed back to school to see what was wrong.
A few minutes later she came back and said,
“You’re not going to believe this…”
The bus had broken down in the driveway of the school. The kids were walking to the museum.
Ten minutes later the kids began appearing, a few hundred feet down the road from the museum.
A little background on the Vermont Marble Museum: it’s right next to a set of train tracks. Sometimes trains, meant to be passing the museum, idle in place out front …for up to an hour.
And yes, just as my students approached the parking lot, the railroad-crossing bell began to ring. I held my breath.
A train appeared, lumbering down the tracks towards the museum, and squealing to a halt out front. I stared.
However, after a few minutes, the train backed up just enough to stop the bell and my students and I sprinted across the tracks.
(What happened to our bus is still a mystery. It apparently got fixed while we were still at the museum but never came to pick us up. The ultimate result? Students walking back to school, getting safely inside within seconds of a huge downpour.)
Now for the awesome part.
Once we got the kids in, I reminded them to be SUPER careful because some of the sculptures in the building have six-figure price tags.
I unveiled my scavenger hunt, and let students know that the first, second, and third place teams would win Curtis Cash.
Let me explain: in my classroom, we have a mock economy where students have classroom management jobs and get paid in Curtis Cash. They can use their Curtis Cash for classroom luxuries (healthy snacks, or renting the use of a beanbag chair for a week) or to pay fines (for being tardy or unprepared).
That was all students needed to hear! They were off and running.
Now for the official launch
After the scavenger hunt, I brought students back to the area where they would be setting up their exhibits. I asked them for a drum-roll (they obliged — as they always do — by drumming on their legs) and told that our Marble Museum PBL was officially kicking off. I asked them if they thought this was a pretty neat place, and I got the most enthusiastic 8th grade “Yes!” I’ve gotten so far this year.
Then I asked them if they wanted to learn more about all of this and got an even more enthusiastic “Yes”!
I showed them where their projects were going to be, told them to start thinking about what they saw today and that we’d be starting the PBL in a couple of weeks. And then we headed back to school, but not before almost all of them asked if they could wander around for another few minutes!
What we learned
Yes, it was a lot of work. And yes, some things went wrong. Yes, it took me out of the comfortable predictability of my classroom.
And YES, it was absolutely worth it!