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Problem Based Learning – aka inquiry/passion projects

Three weeks ago I assigned a problem based project to my Criminology 12 class.  The assignment simply asked them to find a PROBLEM to a social issue plaguing Walnut Grove, Langley or British Columbia as a whole.  The topics have been insightful and have allowed for conversations to start within the classroom to continue to build on student/teacher relationships.  To start each class I remind them of where they should probably be by this point, remind them of required criteria and get feedback of problems they may be having.

One of the big issues is getting the students started on contacting experts and specifically who to possibly contact.  This is a challenge as grade 12 students, who for the most part do not like putting themselves “out there”, have to do just that.  Students draft emails, have me check the initial email and then, as some have done already, have numerous contacts with their contacted expert.  I have asked the students to include me in all their emails to “experts” in the area they are finding solutions to and I have been both taken-aback and inspired by reading the interactions grade 12 students are having with the adults they are attempting to make connections with.  Below is an excerpt from one of my students in reply to a security expert at a major university:

We are able to come to campus however we are not aware of the exact location of the offices.  As for more information about our project, the premise was for us to come up with a criminology related issue that affects the area that we live in. Our choice was sexual assault on university and college campuses as it has become an increasingly large issue here in BC as you know. Our conclusion will be to have a solution, or multiple, to the issue at hand. At this stage of our research we are meeting with representatives from other educational institutions as well as members of the RCMP to understand protocols, security measures, and what schools are doing to protect their students.

Please let me know if you have any further questions.  Thank you so much.

Students are extraordinarily engaged in this assignment as the only required criteria was: a social issue/problem, link the issue/problem to social or criminological theories, create a blog and record your research/findings/solution.  Currently there is also no due date, as students have as much time to complete the task as necessary (as long as they show me through blog posts and class work that they are still engaged and creating information).  Students have been empowered to take risks and whatever steps they deem necessary to achieve their solution.  They have been informed that they may start down a path, just to realize that they hit a dead-end.  They know that I am there to support them and that there are numerous alternative paths to try.  As I framed it, “failure of one path does not mean failure of the assignment.”  The critical thinking, collaboration in their groups and communication skills they are developing in this assignment far surpass the “old way” of me teaching this unit to them in a lecture style and then seat work to show understanding.

Students have been asked to blog a minimum of once a week to share their research findings, struggles, next steps etc.  My aim is that other students and other experts from around the region can contribute and help guide student learning.  Student’s blogs are below – please check them out and offer any help, guidance etc. that you feel will benefit their exploration!






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