Monday, 20 July 2015

Reflections on teaching and learning during an urban biodiversity project

This semester my Grade 10 students conducted projects which contained a number of elements considered to be important for project based learning (PBL). In this post I will describe the various activities carried out by learners as part of these projects, along with reflections on how I implemented each activity. This will be followed by a summary of learners' own reflections on the projects. 

A screenshot of the front page created by students.

1. Driving question

The driving question for these projects was 'What biodiversity can we find around us, when we live in a large urban centre like Bangkok?' On reflection, next time I would spend longer having students developing their own driving questions related to the theme of urban biodiversity. In this way learners would have more voice and choice over the direction their project took. 

2. Opening event

Groups of students were asked to take photos of various wildlife that they spotted around Bangkok. Back in class the following week, I asked learners to upload their photos to the biodiversity monitoring website Project Noah. I have blogged previously about how Project Noah is a great way to introduce learners to citizen science. This was the opening event for these projects, and aimed to give learners a sense of how their own photos and observations may be used to inform real-world science. 

An example of Bangkok's biodiversity.

3. Creating authentic products

In order for learners to exercise some creativity, and make good use of the photos they had taken, I asked for each group to create a web page for their photos within Google Sites. This was also where students were able to reinforce what we had been learning in class about scientific naming and classification of organisms, habitats, and community interactions. 

Additionally, I asked each group of students to create a video based on their observations and photos. They had a choice of approaches here: a series of their photos put together as a movie, a filmed piece to camera, a video with a voiceover etc. These videos were then posted to YouTube (for example here), and so represent an authentic, public product.

5. Learners' reflections

At the end of the project I wanted students to have the opportunity to reflect on their learning throughout the projects. This would also act as feedback for me, affording me insights into what could be improved about the projects in future. These reflections were recorded by having students complete a questionnaire created using a Google Form.

All but one student (27/28) completed the reflections questionnaire. 25/27 students responded that they had learned something new about biodiversity in Bangkok. Many students expressed surprise at the range of biodiversity they discovered in and around Bangkok. 

A number of students expressed the opinion that going out finding wildlife of which to take photos of was fun, not boring, and in the words of one student '(felt) free, not like doing work'. Some students enjoyed making the videos, while others stated that they enjoyed putting their web pages together. 

When asked what was the most important thing they learned from the projects, many students noted that they had learned a lot about biodiversity and the relationships between living things. Other students highlighted team working skills as an important aspect they had learned from the projects. Some students talked about specific technical skills they had learned, such as building web pages and editing videos. 

When asked what they would change about the project, many learners responded that they wouldn't change anything. A few students suggested that there may be better options than Google Sites for building the web pages, since it is somewhat limited in the choices available. A couple of students also noted technical difficulties when it came to making the videos. 


My own personal feeling about these projects is that they were successful in many respects, most importantly that the majority of students felt that they had learned something new from them. I think next time I would spend longer in the driving question development phase, giving students more opportunity to have their input. Also, I would consider ways to give learners more say in the choice of what their final product should be. I still like the idea of having a website so that the whole group can collate their work in one place, but within that there could be a wider range of ways to display their findings. 

I would be interested to hear other views on these projects, along with suggestions for improving them.