“Real world projects have to be projects that matter to kids” is something that I say whenever I give my presentation,
Connecting Kids With Projects That Matter to Them. When the problem they’re tackling matters to them, students feel ownership of the project process. Even a cursory glance at
Tract reveals dozens of interesting projects undertaken by students that could be interesting and meaningful to your students as well.
Right now and through the end of the year Tract is hosting a Rock Star Award Contest that you and your students can participate in while engaged in project-based learning. The Rock Star Award Contest recognizes students and classes for uploading their best work to Tract. Every Friday stars are awarded and a leaderboard is updated. At the end of the year the class that has the most stars awarded will win a classroom creator kit that includes a green screen, lighting kit, microphones, and a subscription to WeVideo.
What Is Tract?
If you’re not familiar with Tract, I wrote a detailed overview of it back in September. The short version is that Tract is a project-based, peer-to-peer learning platform that provides students with a safe place to learn about things that are interesting to them. Some examples of what’s found on Tract include self-guided projects about digital photography, video game design, and making ice cream!
Step 1: Try Tract
The first step in using Tract for PBL is to have your students join your Tract classroom. That only requires them to use a class code that you provide to them from your Tract teacher account (a demonstration of that process is included in this video). Tract is free when you sign-up and use the code BYRNE.
Once your students have joined Tract, give them time to explore the various learning paths and projects that are available in Tract. The goal here is for them to become familiar with the format of Tract learning paths (AKA lessons) while learning something of interest to them. The basic format of Tract learning paths is a video followed by a small “do now” type of activity followed by another video and another activity (the sequence can repeat as many times as needed for a given topic).
When they’ve found a Tract learning path that they like, let students work all the way through it so that they get a full understanding of the process of completing a learning path. Bonus! They’ll also earn some digital coins that they can later redeem for prizes in Tract.
Step 2: Brainstorm Learning Path Topics
After completing a learning path in Tract students are ready to try their hands at making their own learning paths for classmates to complete. To do this they need to pick a topic for their learning paths. I’d encourage them to pick a topic of interest and then brainstorm a list of sub-topics that are related to it. Doing that will accomplish two things. First, it will help students break down a topic into little sections that will become parts of the learning paths they create. Second, it will help students identify if they should just create a learning path about a smaller section of the big topic.
Step 3: Research
With the topic of their learning paths identified it’s now time for students to research and plan their own Tract learning path projects. Presumably, students will have chosen topics of interest to them and will therefore have a little bit of knowledge about the topic. Case in point, I’ve never had a student who was interested in video game design not be able to tell me dozens of things about their favorite game. But the goal here is to get students to dive deeper into a topic of interest to them. To that end, I use a research checklist form that asks students to list what they know about a topic, what they’re trying to find out, and how other people talk about the topic. A copy of the form that I give to students is available here as a Google Doc.
Step 4: Create a challenge
With their research complete it’s time for students to think about a challenge activity that they would have classmates complete to prove their understanding of the topic or skill taught in the learning path. I’ve learned from experience that some students will try to make the challenge impossible for their friends and classmates. You might find the same and have to intervene to scale back the challenge to be something that is manageable for all class members.
A good example of a challenge activity is found in the Tract learning path about digital photography of nature. The challenge there is to take a series of photographs that implement the zoom methods taught in the videos of the learning path.
When I did PBL activities with students in my PC Repair class, I had them create challenges for their classmates. Some of the challenges they created included implementing troubleshooting strategies that were taught via video lessons created by their peers.
Step 5: Create a series of instructional videos.
In this step we want students to create short instructional videos to teach a skill used in the topic of their learning paths. Aim for the videos to be under three minutes. A few three minute videos is better than one nine minute video. The video production process that I use with students is outlined here. In short, have students create a brief outline then take a crack at recording a video. The first one won’t be perfect and that’s okay. Think of the first attempt at recording a video like the rough draft of an essay.
Step 6: Put the learning path together.
Students are familiar with using slides so I’d have them assemble their learning path in slides. Start with an opening slide that has the topic and objective then add slides that have the instructional videos and challenge activities. Students can also add in slides to add clarifications or additional information between video slides and challenge activities. Again, take a look at how some of the most popular Tract paths are constructed and use that as a model.
Step 7: Share the learning path!
If you’re having students create learning path projects with an end goal of publishing for a global audience, then you’ll want to submit students’ learning paths for inclusion on Tract. Before you do that, I’d have students share their learning paths with each other to learn from each other.
This last step isn’t a step. It’s just a reminder that Tract is hosting a contest through the end of the year. The Rock Star Award Contest recognizes students and classes for uploading their best work to Tract. Every Friday stars are awarded and a leaderboard is updated. At the end of the year the class that has the most stars awarded will win a classroom creator kit that includes a green screen, lighting kit, microphones, and a subscription to WeVideo.
Reminder! Classroom accounts for Tract are free for teachers who sign-up using the code BYRNE.