Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Pressure of Failing #PBLChat #EdChat

One of the things I have learned over the years with project based learning is that some students are willing to take a risk and try something new to demonstrate their understanding of a topic and others will play it safe and stick to tools and resources they are comfortable using. There were many factors that contribute to playing it safe or taking a risk, but in school, being graded has a large influence on these decisions. Since removing grades from my new elective, Innovation and Design, I'm starting to see how much an impact grades were having on trying new things.

Students have been working to create prototypes of objects from the story, "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury. A student was very frustrated over the amount of time it has taken him to craft some type of cover for a Sphero so it could drive around easily and look like a mouse from the story. Time and time again, the student has failed, but gets back to the design and tries again. At the start of class I asked the students why they are willing to keep trying over and over again and they simply said because it wasn't going to hurt their grade if they tried something and it didn't work. They still have a deadline, but they can try crazy ideas that might work without fear of getting bad grades.

Giving students a space to try and fail without punishment is so important for students. They are given the opportunity to push themselves, explore new concepts, and see what they are capable of at the end of the day. A 6th grade student spent five 75-minute class periods figuring out how to use to design 2D images for the laser cutter to create a windows that could stay opened. After 5 or 6 failed prototypes, she was able to get the right size for everything she needed and then decided to add acrylic windows. Here is a shot of her work.

Kalie expressed some frustration that it took her 5 class periods to design something and cut it on the laser cutter in one day, but I told her she spent those days learning how to do something and then she did it. That's exactly what school is supposed to be about. As a 6th grader, she is now able to design to use the laser cutter and then set up the machine and cut on her own. This was all driven by her want to design the windows from the story. She was not chasing a grade and probably would not have chosen to learn an entire new program if there was a grade at the end of the project. This is the example, along with many of the other projects in the class so far, that shows me the extended value of Project Based Learning and a grade free environment. 

My new class still needs some fine-tuning, but I am confident the basic structure of PBL and no grades is going to create some amazing opportunities for student learning moving forward. 

If you are interested in connecting about bringing PBL, Design Thinking, and more to your school, please feel free to reach out to me at

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