Sunday, February 19, 2017

Organizing Your Project Briefcase

When you're starting the design of a new project, or beginning to organize project documents into your learning management system (LMS), it's not uncommon that we all feel a little like this:

Am I starting in the right place? I have so many ideas!!! How do I provide enough structure to stay organized (and keep my students organized) while still allowing space for student driven exploration!?

Well...why not think of your PBL/PrBL unit design just as you do a briefcase!? (At New Tech Network, we do this quite often and even house our PBL/PrBL units in Echo, our LMS, and refer to them as "project briefcases".) Let me explain...

A briefcase is the structure that carries important papers and documents.
Within your briefcase, it's helpful to have file folders to organize/categorize those documents.
Within each file folder, you will find the documents which relate specifically to the categorized, labeled tab on each file folder. 

This is exactly the structure that we should be using when designing projects if we're going to support students from beginning to end with just enough structure to check in on their progress along the way without over-structuring the learning experience (which we know can...and will...crush any hope for inquiry)! The specific "structure" I'm referring to is that of "benchmarks." Not only should benchmarks provide formative feedback to students as they progress toward finishing their application of learning (i.e. their product), but they also serve as substantial tasks that groups/individuals need to complete in order to mark their progress along the way. That said, as PBL/PrBL units are designed, it will look a little something like this....

A driving question and problem statement serve as focal points to guide student learning throughout a project.
Within your focused project, it's helpful to have benchmarks that guide individuals/groups toward a finished product(s).
Within each benchmark, you will find activities and tasks which relate specifically to the benchmark designed to support students from start to finish.

You see!? Professionals don't carry around their whole desks (i.e. all of your content standards) to every meeting (i.e. every project) they attend, and they certainly don't dump all of their documents out in front of clients as soon as they sit down at a table (i.e. front load information and hope the clients are able to sort through it on their own)! Instead, they only take their project briefcase (i.e. a subset of standards geared towards a particular focal point) filled with labeled folders (i.e. benchmarks) that aide in organizing documents (i.e. activities and tasks) related to each particular folder category. 

In your LMS (ours at NTN being Echo), it would look a little something like this:

A sample project briefcase  (project title & image at the top with file folders easily marked as "Phase" or "Benchmark" and what product will mark student's progress)
A look inside one of the folders at the activities & documents students investigated & completed to support their progress towards this benchmark/phase.

If you're feeling at all like your project is a bit "scattered," or if your students don't seem to be able to make progress without your spoon-feeding them the next task or activity to attend to.... it might just be that they're struggling to dig through the intended purpose, or focal point, of the project. Perhaps there are too many "un-organized documents" for them to sort their way through.  OR MAYBE time just got the best of you and you HAD a great design and/or organization system, but ended up dumping resources into the nearest folder, whether it really belonged there or not. 

I beg of you.... while it's 64+ degrees here in Southeast Indiana this week..... PLEASE....start your "Project Spring Cleaning."  Go get your PBL/PrBL unit designs cleaned up which will set your students and yourself up for successful launch, but be sure to also clean up your LMS organization as well! 

Peace, love, and tab dividers,

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