Throughout this session, Jake demonstrated to the educators present a range of protocols that they can use with their own colleagues and students in order to create significant learning experiences through PBL. One of the protocols was the 'Project Tuning Protocol' where teachers share ideas for their projects and then, in critical friend groups, delve deeper into the project to allow the project designer to ensure that they are on the right track.
The project that I shared with my group was the project I designed with a Maths teacher from Rosebank that was implemented during the 'Festival of Creative Spirit' that was held at the College in term 3. The project was titled 'Your Brain on Sport'.
The 'Festival of Creative Spirit' was a week long project event where all students from Years 7-10 were involved in one of 28 projects that were designed and run by groups of 2-4 teachers. The students were given a catalogue of projects and asked to choose the project that they would like to take part in using a scale of 'I would love to', 'I would like to', 'I would be ok with'. This avoided any negative connotations towards the projects and that when the students were not given their first choice, they were given something that they were still relatively happy to be a part of!!
The driving question for the project was: Are sporting associations doing enough to reduce the long-term impacts of concussion for their athletes?
The inspiration for my project came from the fact that I am a huge rugby league supporter. Anyone who follows me on Twitter or has read my blog on how being a football supporter makes me a better teacher will know that my heart lies with the Wests Tigers and my tweets during games can sometimes get a little carried away! Another inspiration for my project was the fact I worked in girls schools for 10 years and had just started at a co-ed school, so was hoping for a project that would help me to connect with the boys a bit more!
The real world connections that the project involved was developing empathy for those athletes who had put their heart and souls into their chosen sport and have had their careers ended due to concussion along with the fact that they were able to relate this to their own lives as most of the students who were involved in the project play sport of some kind.
In order to hook the students and introduce the project we watched the film 'Concussion' starring Will Smith. This was a great starting point for our project as it showed the students the impacts of concussion for NFL players. The students were affected from the watching of the movie and it really helped to start the students thinking about whether sporting associations in Australia are doing enough for their athletes.
Through my connections in the NRL, I was able to have one of the Australian Kangaroos trainers come and speak to the students. By contacting the GWS Giants AFL team, we were also lucky enough to have one of their trainers and two of their interns also come and speak to the students. During this session, the students were told about how athletes in both are assessed during games if they have a suspected concussion and the protocols that must be followed before the player is able to return to the game. Both sporting codes also discussed with the students the different research that they are conducting to help minimise the impact of concussion on their athletes.
After these input sessions, the students were given the rest of the week to research concussion in their chosen sport and then work on the possibility of designing and building a new form of head gear that could help to reduce the impact of concussion in that sport. Some students also chose to research the impacts of concussion and develop concussion tests that could be carried out on the sideline of a game or a rehabilitation plan for athletes to undertake to return to the sport after suffering from a concussion.
Because the project was only a week long and resources were fairly limited, students created fairly basic prototypes of their helmet designs, however, a lot of research was conducted into different materials that help to absorb shock and reduce the amount of movement of the brain inside the skull during impact.
Upon reflecting on FOCS week and our project, I came to a few realisations:
- I don't always need to be in control of every minute detail of a project
- some students struggle to reflect on their own experiences... they want structured questions where they can just show what they know rather than thinking outside the box a bit more
- students still have the need for extrinsic motivation - this was evident when our guests asked the students to reflect on their session with the 'best' reflections being offered two tickets to a GWS Giants AFL game... later when we asked the students to reflect on the whole project week, with no 'prize' the quality of the reflections was much worse.
- some students find it difficult to speak to adults who they do not know - this was evident when the NRL and AFL guests were visiting
- students can struggle to stay focused and still think that they need all the bells and whistles to considered themselves being engaged in an activity
- there needs to be a positive culture across the whole school from the top all the way down to the students in order to be able to implement a whole school project like FOCS week. Many teachers were onboard, but if the students got wind that not everyone was on the same page, it can take away from the whole experience for everyone
If I was to conduct this project again in the future there are a number of things that I would do differently including:
- having the adult guests visit the students earlier so that the students could get moving on their research/design/prototyping earlier
- having a supply of materials that students could use to create their prototypes on hand from the beginning of the week. We lost quite a bit of momentum on the day where we needed to shop to buy the equipment the students needed.
- obviously, a longer time frame to run the project would be ideal to allow the students to dive deeper into their research and curiosity into concussion
- by having a few alternate activities prepared to help keep those less engaged students on track and motivated throughout the week so that they do not take away from those students who are keen and change the whole dynamic of the group