One student bemoaned the lack of "hard" science and wanted to get back to the "real stuff". It is interesting that we already have trained the kids that lecture and testing is "real" by 6th grade. While this is worth exploring further, I won't address it here even though I wanted to acknowledge that not every kid liked it. And that's important to note. Some kids don't like pbl. Be forewarned.
Padraig Barry, the classroom teacher writes, "I normally incorporate a host of projects into my sixth grade curriculum, but his one was somewhat different. Usually, a project is based on a specific topic that we are covering in class and is broken into discreet segments. The MARS project was more student-driven and I was very impressed by just how much the students and their partners took ownership of their own project."
Padraig also observed that this played to different strengths and weaknesses in students. Some of his stronger students in a traditional classroom setting struggled with the more open- ended tasks. Some students, whom Padraig considers to be on the shy side, blossomed while doing this project and showed sides of themselves he had not previously seen.
It is worth distinguishing between project and problem based learning. While these terms are used interchangeably, they aren't indeed the same thing. One can have students do projects that aren't problem based. I think this is the difference that Padraig, my colleague, is getting to. There is something fundamentally different about an open ended task whereas most of his projects which he refers to above have a specific end goal in mind.
I thank Padraig for his willingness to give up time and "coverage" to do this project. It isn't easy to do. I am also very grateful for his willingness to trust. I found out about this contest relatively late in the game and with almost zero advance notice he was willing to change his plans to do this project.