Them rutabagas ain't edumicatin' theirselves.
Them rutabagas ain’t edumicatin’ theirselves. Credit: Peter Fraser Dig on For Victory

Being Flexible

If there’s anything I’ve learned from undertaking projects, its time management is your friend and the project will almost always end up different than you expected. This is true from my experience composing music and programming software – by the end, you rarely recognize the final product in relation to the notes you started with. This is true of project based learning, too. Our initial outset for an iBook was intimidating – and its clear from our work-flow – the place we ended was different than expected.

I feel this is necessary – and its something I understand as a musician and educator. The idea you have at the beginning is rarely the idea you end up with. Being flexible is incredibly important. As an educator, you need to be able to step back and reconsider your lesson plans and workflow, often in the middle of a class. It takes a deep understanding of your subject matter and your students. You kinda have to be ready for everything.

We had the benefit of being teams. We weren’t an educator lost to make the changes on our own, but rather had the Super Cadre and some awesome instructors to help us achieve the best project possible.


I feel there’s been varying opinions on what we really learned about Alaska and its rich history – but I have to say I feel I learned a lot. I doubt I’d pass a test, but I feel I really internalized much of what I researched deep in my being.

Honestly, another approach and I wouldn’t have been as interested – I was researching into the night until the last minute digging deeper into the story of the West Coast. Only sleep could conquer my insatiable desire to learn more. I read so many things I knew were impractical for our iBook intro or my lesson just because I was interested. I read things about other regions because I wanted to know more.

An assigned series of primary sources and readings would have been less interesting to me – I was initially afraid of the self guided research, but I found so much that intrigued me I ended up with far more than I could use in a practical way. Even if my research was limited by being an outsider, I feel my desire to provide an honest narrative of Alaska and its history helped me feel confident in my contribution.

Conflict and Beer

The conflicted nature of a project is it needs to be well defined at its outset, but also willing to eschew any of its standards along the way to succeed. I think this is what made our iBook stressful but successful (that would be a good motto for a personal trainer!). Just imagine how you would feel about our final product if we hadn’t had the last day where we edited with essential questions and balance in mind…

It feels scary if we didn’t have that amazing day – and there has to be time for students to reflect on their progress, too. If they just finish a big thing and have no chance for reflection, it makes the final product less impressive.

That means its time to step back, relax, and take advantage of finishing a project like an adult.

6 thoughts on “PBL == PBR”

  1. Andy-Your comment about being flexible is essential for teachers. Also, I now know where you got all of those marks on your forehead from–be careful out there 🙂

  2. Andy you taught me so much about flexibility in this project! I admire that you talked about conflict, as it is scary. However, I am still blow away by how much we were able to come together as a group despite our differences!

  3. Andy – You are one positive guy. I appreciate your take on the project. I was a little bah humbug on the whole thing -I felt it was a great example of what NOT to do. Did you really feel successful? I am obviously a person who requires more structure in order to feel safe….don’t want to hazard a step in either direction until I know it’s ok. How can we help students like me be a little more bolder and a little more flexible a lot more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants?

    1. I agree, Shannon, there were lots of examples during the last two weeks on how not to run a project. Things changed regularly and often up to the last minute – and often it was not clear when those changes did occur. It definitely could have been organized better at the outset.

      When it comes to running by the seat-of-your-pants, you’ll need a durable fabric. The kind that is toughened by taking on projects – putting yourself out there and collaborating, where things change up to the last minute. I guess I’m just really used to fixing something the last day I have the chance. I guess I’m used to showing up knowing something I’ve created isn’t quite ready, but I have to make it work anyway. Maybe I’m not wearing proverbial pants anymore. :/

      I guess my best advice is practice. The more creative self-guided projects you are part of, the more skills you have to resort to when you’re not sure what to do next. Personally, I like mind mapping and scribbling on white boards. It lets me put all the things I’m thinking somewhere else, so I can focus on what’s necessary. I make lots of check lists – and I often have lists that tell me what lists to make.

      Also, high fives. High fives make EVERYTHING more manageable (except broken fingers).

  4. “It takes a deep understanding of your subject matter and your students.” For me, that’s a pretty intimidating sentence. But what I’ve come to be assured by in this class is that collaborative social learning, such as our iBook project, could be the norm in my teaching career. I certainly look forward to collaborative opportunities with my colleagues that will make me a better teacher. Thank you for sharing your insight into this process, particularly in your experience not to rely too much on early expectations, which will invariably evolve into something wholly unexpected, and maybe into a better project than initially conceived.

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