Modding ASHS Impact Projects for a Primary School Context

Late last term we decided to embark upon a bit of a pilot programme. Our goal was for the children to have a snippet of regular time each week to explore their passions and interests in a purposeful, autonomous way. We started with the idea of “Explore Time” but it soon became clear that we were so enamoured with the Impact Project model we saw at Albany Senior High School earlier in the year at Ignition, we just had to give it a crack.

PBL: Problem Based Learning. I like to think of it as Passion Based Learning.

“your chance to follow and explore your passions in an authentic project that makes a positive contribution to our community.” – ASHS/curriculum/ImpactProjects

Luckily, ASHS has a fair bit of documentation online which I perused during the holidays. I also checked out a few other PBL resources, read ‘Drive’ by Daniel Pink, and managed to pull together a framework for what it might look like for us at Amesbury School. We ended up calling them Ignite Projects. What follows is a look at what we did, what lessons we learned, the challenges and successes, as well as next steps for the future.

What Went Down

Our first few sessions were dedicated to explaining the process as best we could (having not done it before). Here is what I came up with as a road-map for the process: Ignite Project Sequence.

I printed all these steps, shuffled them up, handed them out and then had the children put them on a continuum of where along the line they thought they may need to “do” these things. It churned out some good discussion and as an introduction, I think it gave the children a fair idea of what they were about to get amongst.
Albany Senior High School Impact Project Cycle
The next step was brainstorming interests. We encouraged the children to think widely and deeply about their interests. More often than not though, it was the first idea they hit on which was selected. Some of the topics included: Minecraft video walkthroughs, netball and rugby skills videos and blogs, designing a multi-cultural fashion line, volcano warning information, conservation of endangered animals, a Rome: Total War club, robot making, designing and creating reusable supermarket bags, creating a healthy cookbook, starting a dance tutorial blog, and holding an “Amesbury’s Got Talent” show.

They then got into self-selected groups based on similar interests (some went alone, others between two or three), and began to plan a road-map. This came in the form of a written proposal which they had to submit to teachers for approval. Here is a link to the doc. Within this, they had to propose an intended outcome – a real thing; a website, event, video, book, or presentation they thought might be the end-point of their project. They also had to justify their choice via explaining how their project will have a positive impact on the community (local, national, international). This was a bit of a stretch for some, and in the end, we were happy with outcomes which indicated they had increased their own knowledge of a subject (with a view to sharing it with their peers in the concluding workshops).

Writing their proposal took a few sessions – we plugged editing and re-crafting as the piece was for an authentic audience, and needed to be perfect. We publicised that if their proposal was not well thought out, didn’t make sense or had errors, it was likely to be denied – just like in the real world. This actually ratcheted up the tension quite a lot, and the announcement of successful proposals was quite an event.

We allocated the groups with advisers, and then let them loose.

What followed was (to date) six weeks (of an hour, three times a week) of messy, engaging, loud, authentic, autonomous-ish, epically awesome learning. The children were so engaged they often worked through lunch time, and at home in the evenings and weekends. For a bunch of Year 4 to 6 children, this was a sight to behold.

I can’t say it was always easy though. It was often teaching in the moment (the best kind!), juggling multiple groups and personalities, guiding and suggesting, being pulled in a hundred different directions at once. It took a lot of energy, and often left us feeling drained and wondering if it was worth it after each session.

Other times though, we could stand in the middle of our hub and have no one hit us up for the bulk of the session. And this was when the magic happened. This was when the children entered a “flow” state – where the task was on that razors edge between challenging and interesting. Where motivation and engagement was king and children were in the zone.

We’re now drawing to the end of this period – the kids are starting to wind up; hold talent shows, sew bags and clothing, post videos, make visits, cook food, and blog. It’s also a time for children whose goals were achievable-but-not-achieved to reflect on time management, collaborative skills, and their ability to show initiative and be self-directed.

Design, create, impact.

What we learned

  • Groupings: we divided the groups evenly between three of us, but in hindsight, we could have used what we are now calling Trust Groups. Children who have proven themselves able to sustain and self-direct their learning are given more autonomy. High trust groups need less supervision, low trust groups need more targeted support. Give advisers allocated with low trust groups less groups, and advisers allocated with high trust groups more groups. **Note, this notion of “Trust” is simply trust in terms of ability to have a high level of self-direction and initiative in autonomous work – it’s a bit emotive, so may not be the best language to use.
  • Planning: we were quite loose with encouraging planning, which could have been tighter. Next time we could use a calendar or diary, or a to-do list chart with columns for to-do, doing, and done (with post-it notes) to help structure time-management a little more.
  • Evidence of learning: next time, we will encourage mini-reflections, perhaps on a weekly basis as well as have children collect their own evidence of learning (literacy, numeracy etc. as well as key competency based development). This will sit hand in hand with recording the development of their project, and would be perfectly suited for an ePortfolio.
  • Preparation: children need to select interesting AND sustainable topics – topics which are broad enough to keep them going and which won’t putter out due to lack of steam. This needs to be clearly communicated to children in the first few sessions.
  • Sharing: Spending five minutes at the start of each session as a whole group sharing some of the ups and downs, challenges and success of what has been happening during the sessions could be extremely beneficial. Children are often curious about what others are doing, and discussions about each others’ projects can often spark ideas or motivate others.
  • End-game: our Term 4 is shaping up to get incredibly busy very soon, so it’s not looking like we are going to be able to get to the workshop phase of the process. I had envisioned a barcamp style day of workshops and sharing which would mark the end-point of projects. Prep and organisation of this takes time, so we need to be more aware of our own time-management for next year.

PBL takes time to really get cranking though. According to this post, it takes three years for things to “click”. We made a start though, and learned a swag-load about the process along the way. It’s all about iteration, reflecting and learning and understanding things may not be perfect the first time, and to not give up and keep moving forward.

I know there are probably lots of ya’ll out there doing PBLish stuff – what has your experience been? How can we make the process more functional and meaningful for children in the earlier years? Let’s start a dialogue and share our experiences!

TL;DR We tackled passion based interest projects with the aim of positive outcomes for the community. It was tough at times, but awesome. We (children, teachers, whanau, stakeholders) learned so much, and are excited for the next iteration.

More information via ASHS: Impact Projects: Igniting Passions

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1 comment

  1. Really enjoyed your reflection as was clear and concise yet covered all aspects of the process. Going through a similar process, but at a much earlier stage and have taken away lots to think about, especially with the End Game approaching and trying to continue with the ‘Passion Project’next year.
    Thanks

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