One of the trickier components of creating a high-quality PBL experience for your learners is the launch of the project; that period of time where the students are introduced to the question or the challenge they are to face and creating the situation that makes them instantly want to dig in..to have to know more…to solve the problem. The launch (or hook) may be one of the most crucial points of a project because no matter how cleverly a driving question is designed, no matter how well the rest of the project is planned, a launch event can potentially be the make-or-break moment before the project ever leaves the launch pad. A perfect launch can send the project spiraling into perfect orbit, while a poor launch can sputter, fizzle, and never achieve learner lift-off.
This is especially true in a classroom where the learners are new to PBL. The project has to grab them in order to get them motivated and engaged in digging deeply into the content. The teacher who is able to masterfully create her launch event has a greater chance of buy-in and persistence from her students.
So what are the key pieces to a successful launch? What are the must-have components that leave the learners wanting more?
- It’s short.
- It conveys a sense of urgency and importance. It’s a “thing” that must be done.
- The students‘ interests are the focal point for planning the launch, not the teacher’s interests, necessarily.
- It’s got novelty; something the kids aren’t used to seeing or experiencing every day.
- It explains only the absolute minimum of the information needed. The rest needs to be filled in by the students’ investigations.
- It’s a call to action.
- It outlines the parameters of the project which includes overarching purpose, players involved, specific objectives (including content expectations), and the deadline.
The following video is an example of a successful launch done to accompany the Doomsday 1 project, a project included in the LifePracticePBL recipe cards. Kevin Honeycutt designed this project, invited my teachers and students (grades 5-8) to participate, and enlisted the help of Dr. Steve Wyckoff to play the part of President.
Now obviously this Doomsday asteroid is a global issue, while this video launch is very American-centric. It didn’t have to be. It’s just what we chose to ignite the fires of these particular students.
It was also done over Skype in a very short event (less than 2.5 minutes). The novelty was that the students had never met Dr. Wyckoff before and we made it a school-wide event by brining them to a large room to hear the “news release” all together (you only see a small portion of the room). Was it worth it to do a school-wide event for a 2.5 minute announcement? Absolutely! What if this was a real thing? Wouldn’t we bring all the kids together for the live announcement? Novelty and urgency rule the day for this launch. And quite honestly, the teachers were then able to add a little additional information and begin the questioning and grouping process right afterward while the urgency was fresh in the kids’ minds.
There is a definite call to action after the President has explained the situation in minimum. After all, the students are playing the role of scientists and the President wouldn’t have all the scientific information at his disposal. That’s our role as scientists to figure out the information and get it back to him so he can deploy the best people to enact our plan!
As academic support for the project, in our planning, we had already enlisted our own math and science teachers, but also had partnered to bring in a Physics professor from the local university (novelty and expertise), as well as received help from a math expert from the Chicago area (we were located in eastern Kansas). However, the students had to request that outside assistance; we simply had the people standing by, expecting to come in. If the students hadn’t have requested, we’d have questioned them so that they saw a need for deeper expertise. But I digress, as this portion is less about the launch and more about the planning and implementation.
In the video, the students were given a very clear deadline. And 24 hours in this case was literally 24 hours. We sent our videoed plans in to the President (via YouTube) by the 24-hour deadline, so we had students staying late after school, working into the evening conferencing with their group members, and others coming in to school early. We had students choosing to do working lunches to crunch the numbers and save the earth. Talk about engagement and authentic math and science learning!
This was about figuring out what would hook this age group into learning physics and math that would never be addressed at this age level and getting them to want to do it. That’s what a hook is all about. Finding a way that compels the learner to want to dive into their learning and persist, even with it gets tough.
Because the world is depending on us.
If you’re interested in learning more about creating a high-quality launch event for your project, or if you would like to learn more about the Doomsday 1 (which has been successfully implemented at grades 3 through 12) or other projects in the LifePracticePBL recipe book, contact me. I’m glad to visit with you and even arrange to come visit your school!