The Buck Institute defines project-based learning as “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.” (Buck Institute, 2018).
What is The Archibull Prize?
The Archibull Prize is an innovative program providing students with the opportunity to engage in agriculture. Through the project students “meet young farmers and engage in genuine farm experiences, gain knowledge and skills about the production of the food they eat, fibres they use and the environment they live in.” (Archibull, 2018) The program involves three elements – the design of a life-sized fibreglass cow based on the theme ‘Feeding, Clothing and Powering A Hungry Nation Is A Shared Responsibility’; a reflective blog; and a multimedia animation / infographic.
You can learn more about The Archibull Prize here.
How do you ensure PBL links with authentic intellectual engagement?
Ron Ritchhart (2009), author of Making Thinking Visible and co-author of Creating Cultures of Thinking, identifies four criteria that are useful in shaping classroom activities to more effectively promote the kinds of authentic intellectual engagement that leads to deep understanding.
These criteria include: Novel Application, Meaningful Inquiry, Effective Communication and Purposeful Reach.
Ritchhardt claims that the more prevalent these criteria are in a learning opportunity, the more powerful the learning opportunity will be for the students involved. He has designed a simple scale on which teachers can measure their learning opportunities against. You can find this here.
How did The Archibull Prize measure up as an authentic intellectual learning opportunity?
The Archibull Prize completely embodied the four criteria for powerful authentic intellectual engagement. Let me explain how.
Novel Application - Novel application comes in bucket loads in this project. Our students hadto use higher order thinking to complete the three tasks asked of by the project including the artistic design of the cow, the blog and multimedia animation. The direct question is or the problem they had to solve is – How can we artistically represent the current climate of agriculture in Australia?
Meaningful Inquiry - In order to solve the question above our students had to delve into many aspects of sustainability and agriculture in Australia. They examined careers in agriculture, climate change, biosecurity, food security and much, much more. They did this both in the classroom and on the farm.
Effective Communication - This project encouraged students to share their learning in a variety of ways. They had to reflect on and share their learning through the blog. They had to articulate deep understanding in the multimedia production, and furthermore each time someone new sees their cow our students launch into explaining the many elements of their design.
Purposeful Reach - For me this is the key to effective PBL. It raises the steaks for students. Students need the opportunity to present their work to someone other then myself or their classroom peers. In every instance that I have worked on a project with purposeful reach, the quality of work has significantly risen. This is a competition. They want to be competitive. This image here sums up the reach this project has had. Their multimedia production has been shared in a number of forums including the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. Suddenly, our marginalised students, living on the fringe, have a voice across our nation.
Many teachers shy away from PBL and cross-curricula projects as they are unsure how to document or measure it against syllabus outcomes with formal assessment. However, there are multiple solutions to this problem. Firstly the advantage of choosing a competition generally means there are already teaching resources and pre-established links. This is definitely the case with The Archibull Prize with a number of resources available through the website across key learning areas. Most competitions will also have an assessment criteria that can be modified to formally assess the project either individually or as a group. We chose, due to the experiential nature of this project, not to make this a formal assessment, but in hindsight I wish we had because the evidence of learning was substantial.
When programing cross-curricula PBL I sit with all the outcomes across all subject areas I wish to cover, and I look at what outcomes I need to meet and want to meet that connect with the project. In this instance The Archibull Project covered both Geography and English outcomes. However, The Archibull Project could form the basis of any art, agriculture, design and technology, industrial technology, or even photography and media unit. As long as you program it effectively, identify and incorporate the outcomes you wish to cover and collect formal evidence of learning, you can easily embed a program like this into your scope and sequence.
Which PBL model should you follow?
Usually I work from the Buck Institute model for PBL but in this instance I chose the solution fluency model to map out my approach and structure the unit. I chose this model as I felt it was simplistic and well-fitted to what I wanted to achieve. The Essential Fluencies are outlined extensively in the book ‘Mindful Assessment’ (Crockett, L. & Churches, A. (2016) Mindful Assessment, published by Solution Tree. (See also ‘Solution Fluency’, Global Digital Citizen Foundation website.) The six phases of the solution fluency include:
Define – The define phase involves capturing students attention through the definition of the problem at hand. In our project this occurred through an entry event that involved a virtual reality beef bus. Students were able to witness the production of beef by virtually visiting the farm and following the production of beef from the paddock to the plate.
Discover – The discover phase involves asking questions and thoroughly investigating the problem at hand. In our project this took place through guided inquiry in our classroom and through two farm visits, one with our farming mentor and another at a local chemical-free farm. The discover phase can take place both inside and outside the classroom.
Dream – The dream phase is the time in which students apply higher order thinking to solve the problem. They dream up ideas and solutions that stem from the basis of their learning. No ideas is too silly, too big, too hard. Once all the solutions have been dreamt up, students go about selecting the best possibilities to further explore in the design stage.
Design – In the design phase students work together to plot out the details of their solutions. In our project this involved detailed discussion, draft designs, written symbolic ideas and mind mapping.
Deliver – There are two components of this phase – production and presentation. For our students this involved the production of the multimedia element, the construction of the blog and the painting of the cow. The students then find a way to present this to the community. In our case students presented the blog online, shared their multimedia production through social media and have presented their cow for judging in the competition.
Debrief – This is an opportunity to ‘revisit, review, and reflect’ on the process. The Archibull Prize provides both entry and exit surveys for students to complete which provides an opportunity to debrief. Furthermore, we have reflected with our students and reflected ourselves by presenting our learning at The Alternative Schools conference.
These are the challenges identified with my colleague and fellow presenter John Martin.
The delivery of the program and lessons for our students was no harder than the delivery of any learning we may offer. However, we are a small school and we don’t have an art department, agriculture department, a separate department for sciences or a department for TAS. As such we had limited resources and staff experience available when working through the practical aspect of the project. In saying that, it allowed us to turn to the community and encourage our students to develop a culture of thinking within our school.
The second challenge relates to the students level of learning and inquiry. Our students are in Yr 9 and Yr 10 and so they should be able to analyse, rethink, and synthesise yet, as so many of our students have experienced trauma and extended absences from school, we found that many their abilities spanned a wide range which required carefully replanning and differentiation for us. This included the careful selection of individual roles and scaffolded tasks.
The final challenge was to encourage our students to appreciate and understand that no matter the outcome, they could not fail. Our students come to us having experienced trauma, and a sense of shame and failure derived from words told to them in the past and actions they’ve experienced in their lives. Overcoming this sense of shame and failure is perhaps one of the hardest challenges we faced. Students were sacred to ‘mess up the paint’ or have a go in case they failed. Our responsibility was to work with them and say “It is totally fine! Let’s problem solve this together.”
What was the impact of the project?
Not only do we have to give students in our schools the opportunity to fail, we need to give them the opportunity to succeed. I have found it difficult to put into words the impact this project has had on our students but I will begin with authentic intellectual engagement. For the first time, pretty much all year if I am honest, my students were 100% actively participating in authentic intellectual work. The evidence of learning expressed by not only the cow, but also the multimedia project and the blog is substantial. I can guarantee that next year my students couldn’t tell you a thing about the novel we studied in a traditional sense this term but they will be able to tell you where potatoes come from, what products are made from beef, the impact of climate change on our farmers and one particular student now knows exactly where calves come from and is happy to share this newly found knowledge with anyone that will listen. There is complex thinking in this cow.
Secondly, the most profound impact I have seen in this project has been the collaboration, connectedness and belonging that this cow has brought to our school. Believe me people - a giant fibreglass cow WILL bring your school community together. The cow has lived in my classroom for two terms. Before school I would have students gathered around it asking when we working on the horns, and questioning how we were going to problem solve the window. This discussion would continue to lunch. At times we would have eight or more people working around the cow, engaged in conversation, growing relationships and painting, one stroke at a time, the perfect picture of community.
In a speech presented at our school open day this year one of our students said, “We are the students that are known as stuff ups, won’t amount to anythings, failures” but then he articulated school was the one place where they weren’t seen like this. We made it our mission as a school to change this perception, one cow at a time, and we did. Now our students, who would never have seen their work hung on the walls of mainstream classroom are being celebrated in the local newspaper, agricultural journals and many other community based forums…. and they have never been prouder.
I would highly recommend The Archibull Prize as a starting point to introduce cross-curricula PBL into your teaching program. Lynne Strong, founder of The Archibull Prize, is an incredible support and I know she will assist you and your school to implement the program in the best way possible.
To read more about our Archibull journey visit – www.tlcraisesthesteaks.weebly.com