BY ALI VEATCH
We have all heard about Project Based Learning (PBL) being used in classrooms across the United States. Project Based Learning can look incredibly different depending on the subject being taught, at what level, and the experience that both teachers and students have with PBL. This type of learning can also go by many different names, but it is essentially teaching curriculum and covering standards while students discover information as they take charge of their own education in order to reach a goal or end result.
One way my classroom uses PBL is mock scenarios. I mostly teach a civics block, which is either AP or honors government combined with English 9 Honors. My partner teacher, Alex Huck, and I host 50-60 ninth graders daily to cover both government and English Language Arts. The mock scenarios are an engaging way to get all of our students focused on a task with a clear goal that ultimately teaches them necessary standards and content, while also utilizing 21st century skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, communication, selfdirection, and creativity. Although this process for learning is not unique to our classroom, we have managed to adapt it to meet student needs each year. Our main two mock scenarios are mock electoral process (mock election), and mock Congress. My favorite is mock election.
Whatever mock scenario you decide to try will have to be adapted to meet the needs of your students, but here is how we do it:
Identify learning goals – This is classic backwards design. Ask yourself:
1. “What CONTENT will my students need to learn?”
2. “What SKILLS can they build while learning this content?”
For mock election, the content focuses on the ins and outs of the electoral process. The skills students develop include speech writing, creating persuasive texts/media, collaboration, finding credible research sources, and then ultimately writing an informative essay, which is part of the summative evaluation for both content knowledge and ELA skills.
Set the task (and sub-tasks) – What are we mimicking and how can I adapt it?
In our class we ask our students to run presidential campaigns from beginning to end. The ultimate goal for the students is to get their presidential candidate elected president. This starts with identifying political leanings, nominating roughly 8-10 students to run for president, and then creating campaign groups to support each candidate.
Sub-tasks that help solidify the learning goals and act as formative assessments include: writing political speeches, hosting and asking questions to facilitate debates, creating campaign advertisements on various media platforms, and much more. All of these tasks are given deadlines appropriate to the actual campaign process and they help us to assess student content knowledge and skills. We try to keep each task and step similar to an aspect of the actual U.S. Presidential election process. For each task, we look at real-life models and examples. For example, we take time to analyze political ads and speeches so that our students know what to do.
Essentially, adapt the task, simplify it if needed, and model expectations and examples. While the actual presidential election process takes years, our project takes roughly three to four weeks. We adjust timelines and task due dates as needed.
Designate roles- What will students be doing on a daily basis?
Once in groups, students are given a list of roles that need to be filled. They work as a group to assign the specific roles, such as campaign manager, speech writer, public relations, vice president, etc. These individual roles give each student a specific purpose, however, we emphasize that depending on the part of the campaign, all members must be helping with the most important task at hand for that day or week. Students are expected to keep a daily log of the tasks they individually completed that day. This daily log is turned in at the end of the unit.
Assessment – How do I know if my students have learned?
Although the final assessments will be specific to the content and skills students are supposed to master, we generally break it up like this:
1. Project total of 100 points
a. 30 points for various assignments and classwork. This includes the daily log, speech and ad analysis worksheets, notes, etc. Students hold on to any work done throughout the unit and turn it in at the end of the project.
b. 30 points for participation evaluations. Students fill out peer and self-evaluations to outline what they did well, what they and other groups members did well and what they could have done better. Teacher observation of time on-task, collaboration, and engagement are also factored into this score.
c. 40 points for the Informative Essay. Students are given a prompt relevant to the project in which they have to incorporate the evidence and knowledge they have gathered to answer the prompt. This allows for students to show their content knowledge while applying writing skills that are also taught throughout the unit. This is also a great way for us to see what each student individually knows and is capable of, rather than relying on collaboration with their group.
Mock scenarios can take any real-life situation and make it relevant to the learning level and environment of your classroom. Whichever way you decide to break it down, implement, and assess real-world scenarios will surely be a high-engagement way of getting your students where they need to be with content and skills.
Ali Veatch teaches at Battle High School in Columbia and is head speech and debate coach.