PBL – managing the process

My role in a PBL teaching/learning process will definitely move into a facilitator role instead of the instructor. I will use modeling to help guide the students in their learning, meet with students to monitor their understanding of the content, and assist the students during the inquiry process and synthesizing of information. I don’t have all the answers and with technology ever changing, they know more about what is out there than I do. Students need to take a more active role in their learning, taking the driver’s seat and I am the passenger.

Eventually students will learn the essential skills, 21st Century skills and competencies needed for the future. However, we need to model, scaffold the skills and build each year. Through the PBL method it becomes more of  a personalized learning. When students are able to have voice and choice in their learning, they are more inclined to learn the content and produce the work required. They see purpose and meaning, instead of the “memorize this for a test” and then forget it. If a teacher offers opportunities for  inquiry, collaborative and constructivist approaches, our students will be prepared for the future.

What does this mean for me?  I am no longer in the classroom, but I am working with the Technology and Learning Coaches and teachers across the district. Our district is moving into the PBL approach, giving training to the teachers at schools each year. As a Technology Integration Specialist I need to give teachers guidance, assurance, modeling, and assistance in effectively transitioning into the PBL classroom and make it successful. As a TIS team, we are creating templates for PBL and Blended Learning to make this easier for the teachers. We are coaching the TLCs for both methods so they can also be in the classroom assisting the teachers. Once the teachers build that confidence, they will be able to move forward with PBL and Blending. Giving teachers ongoing assistance, but not doing the work for them, will keep the energy alive and the desire to continue with PBL, personalized learning, and Blended Learning.

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Planning and Preparing

Teaching and Learning Guide

I am finding it completing amazing to see how the ideas just keep coming in and I have to reel in that I can only do so much with this one project. Brainstorming about the project with a colleague and we pose the question “How does the island get electricity? Did not even think about this one. However, I believer these are the types of questions that can keep inquiry going throughout the project.

I am finding it harder to plan not knowing my learners and expectations of that classroom yet. I had the hardest time determining how I would scaffold student learning and the materials. I feel that I have planned my best for the start, but will need to add once I know the students. They will work with a partner, having individual requirements. The teacher will meet with students at least 2 times on the project phase. The topic’s learning guide is scaffolded so they can learn the content individually, but then build their knowledge with their partner and teacher. The use of the reflection log allows the teacher to make modifications if something arises. I will add more details and strategies once I know my learners.

This is an 8 week project and I know things will change throughout the project timeline. I envision the project really making sense when my students can add their ideas to it.

Assessments in a PBL classroom

In my previous experience working with students on projects, the most success I had in receiving outstanding projects was when I included my students in building the assessments, specifically rubrics. As a whole group, we would reflect on what we feel and think a product should include and what it should look like. We would ask, what does a “Proficient level” or “Level 4” look like? We would discuss these elements so they had a deeper understanding of the quality we all wanted.  With this experience, I am having a harder time developing my end of project unit with them.

I included different types of assessments in my project and plan to include more. Checklists-As I work towards building this project for a blended classroom, each group will be at different stages and parts of the learning and product. I am determining the best method for the students to stay on task, know what is expected for each part, and my mind keeps coming back to checklists. I feel that checklists are critical for this project so it guides them in their production phases. I created a checklist for the island design that includes the required elements, but also suggestions for each elements. This checklist can also be a discussion tool when I meet with each group at the end of each phase.

Reflection sheets – There are a couple of opportunities for the students and I find these to be critical tools throughout the unit. I use these to group my students when I see a pattern of misconceptions. It allows me to help in situations if a group needs a teacher to mediate issues that are occurring that they don’t know how to fix. These opportunities will give students a nonthreatening way to seek assistance if needed.  Students will keep a reflection log in their Google Drive to have a place to record their thoughts of the process throughout the unit. I have developed some exit slip topics so I can give students opportunities to show what they know, understand, not understand throughout the unit. I will use these pieces so I can pull students into a small group and clear up any misconceptions. Reflection can also be used to make themselves better. They can think back to how well, or not well, they did on various components and figure out a plan or goal for the next time. Every quarter my students would create goals for the next 9 weeks and list what we needed to do to achieve that goal. Every 3 weeks we went read through them and rated how we are doing on our goal. We would modify our process if needed or list some new ways to getting to the outcome.

I love the idea of a Gallery Walk. I just completed a PBL 101 course through Buck Institute and I really want the students to have this event during the project. The value of walking from project to project was tremendous. Students will have the opportunity to see what other people are doing, give suggestions of a way to possibly make their own projects even better. The affirmation the get from seeing what people liked about their own projects and getting a different perspective on their project will be a eye opener for them.

Quizzes, yes, they will have quizzes throughout the unit to monitor the content and if they are understanding it. There are standards that need to be tested on and we will get those; government, habitats and adaptations to name a couple of topics that will have a quiz. However, the products are going to give me a better indication as to whether or not they learned the information.

Link to my PBL assessment page https://sites.google.com/a/u.boisestate.edu/itsyourworld/project-overview/assessments

Learning process and end product

After creating my visual project organizer for the PBL unit, I am going to make some modifications to it. Instead of having 1 focus for each week, I can create a checklist for the students to as a road map for the project. (Use this project as my example of PBL in a Blended Classroom thank you Dr. Rice for the suggestion. Since changing my focus, I guess I really put the idea on the back burner.)

The learners do not have to be on the same topic as each other, the teacher needs to let go of so much control. This will certainly keep students engaged, not having to wait for the rest of class to complete the section to move on. Now, I need to create an organization tool, the road map, that will allow students and teacher to meet frequently and check off the tasks. I need to research for a website/platform, maybe I can use a Google Site, to organize the content and tools and add a component that will ask students to schedule a meeting with the teacher or small group. Maybe it is a self reflection survey that alerts the teacher the individual or group needs to meet with the teacher. This can be the ongoing feedback, 1 form of formative assessment, for the teacher to use for the project.

End product ideas – I am really playing with the idea of giving students an option to use Minecraft as an end product. Students can create this as the go along and it is all in one place. I have to find more options for the students, but I think Minecraft would hook the students. Is it too limited with the sections I am including in my unit? I don’t think it will successfully complete some sections, such as the clothing. More research to be done. Perhaps it is time for my 7 year old some to really teach me Minecraft.

Researching projects

I found some great resources this week while researching ideas for my unit. There are ton of resources out there for teachers to learn about PBL, from getting ideas, forms for planning a unit, and assessing in a variety of ways. I think it is helpful for a teacher to search through ideas because they are able to find a topic they may be interested in and tweak it to make it unique to them and their students. However, I think it can also be overwhelming because of all the information out there. Especially for someone who has no training and starting to dabble in this engaging teaching method. An apprehensive teacher may say “Too much and forget it” before they even start the process. That just may come down to organized professional development and some coaching by a partner.

I found many resources on the BIE website that will be beneficial to creating my unit of study. From planning forms, rubrics, and other articles such as this one, called The Main Course, Not Dessert, How are students reaching 21st Century goals? with 21st century project based learning  

Larmer, J. Mergendoller, J. (2010). The Main Course, Not Dessert, How are students reaching 21st Century goals? with 21st century project based learning Retrieved July 7, 2015, from http://bie.org/object/document/main_course_not_dessert

The article discussed the components of PBL, solidifying the information we learned last week. However, this particular article helped me to put the idea of “projects” into 2 different perspectives and perhaps some delicious analogies. When students complete PBL projects, the content learning is also taking place…analogy-the main course is being served.  When a project is assigned after learning the content and perhaps at home, this is the dessert. It even mentioned that these “dessert” are may not even have a presentation step to them. Interesting way to look at the term “project”.

The project ideas that I lean towards are social studies/geography related. Through my searches I found a couple of projects that resemble the TV show, Amazing Race. Students research and develop a project about a region and how it influences us as people…and perhaps we as humans, impact that region/habitat. I also have a project of students creating their own Utopia…a New World. Students create a map of their island, they develop their government and constitution,. they can also design their architecture, clothing line, flora and fauna. This is a project that I would do with my students at the end of the school year, as a culminating project for everything we learned during the school year. It does not have a solid driving question, planning, assessment and other components to make it a true PBL idea. However, this can be a great activity for a variety of grade levels.

Project Based Learning – Thoughts

What comes to mind when I think about or even hear PBL? I have a long list of ideas, words, phrases that immediately pop into my head.

“Student centered, student choice/voice,  co-construction, trust/respect, authentic, meaningful, coach/facilitator, reflection, feedback, supportive, passion, talents, aspirations, interests, collaboration, and community” are all topics that pop up and scream to me when I get to discuss PBL.

One aspect that I am learning more about is personalized learning through an online course (5W’s of Personalized Learning). Is PBL personalized learning? I feel that it is if it designed to be that way, but teachers are leery on giving students control of their own learning. I don’t think it is bad to let go as a teacher. The skills our students can master if we let them have more ownership.

My other concern for teachers, accountability. How can we get teachers to let go of the textbook, skill and drill teaching method when they see “results” on the scores? How do we encourage them to change their methodology when politicians want to pay teachers based on test scores?

As I go through this course, I hope one thing I can learn are effective ways to promote PBL to these reluctant teachers. I see the twinkle in students eyes when they are engaged in their learning because they make the meaningful connections to the content. I cannot wait to dive into this course and start developing my unit so I can encourage more teachers to make the transition.