Tag Archives: PBL

EdTech 542 Self-Evaluation

This class has been a challenge. Not because I do not understand Project Based Learning, but because I simply have not had time to process and create. I feel that the aspects of Project Based Learning that I understand best are the Driving Question and the Entry Event. The Driving Question is essential to PBL, because it guides the inquiry. Students should be required to dig into the material and come to their own conclusions. In order for this to happen, the question must be open-ended and not tied to a specific event or time period (if possible). The Entry Event is where you grab the students’ interest. If the Entry Event is not compelling, if the problem or project you present is not interesting, then Project Based Learning will not attract the students any more than direct instruction because the work will just seem like work.

I don’t think that there is anything about Project Based Learning that I don’t understand, but what has challenged me most is managing the process. I understand the concepts, but I know that I struggle with balancing direct instruction and independent learning. I tend to instruct too much or let the students have so much freedom that they don’t really know what to do. The key is to try to prepare as much of the material ahead as possible. I know my students will need some instruction on source citation and on research. I also know that they will need some guidance on organizing their notes. I can prepare materials in anticipation of their questions. Another key to my struggle with managing the process is time. I need to be sure that I have time to check the students’ work so that they can receive feedback. Formative assessments aren’t really formative if you never grade them. Because of time constraints in the past, that has actually happened. I hope that by preparing all of the rubrics ahead of time (I know; it’s obvious) I will be better prepared to evaluate the students’ progress and determine their needs as we progress through the project.

I came into this class without any real expectations about what I would learn, but I have learned so much. PBL is similar to Understanding by Design in many ways, so I was familiar with the process of backward design and driving, or essential, questions. What is different, is the focus on the project teaching the content, rather than demonstrating understanding of the content. Using the project to teach makes so much sense. As I read the class materials and the textbook, I realized that this was what I already believed. What I didn’t know was how to implement it. Having to create an organized website for someone else to use has helped me to focus and to plan ahead. If I had come up with my project ideas during the school year, not as part of a graded class, I would have jumped in and expected the students to figure things out with me, without any support materials in place – no rubrics, no templates, no instructions. I would have conducted an Entry Event and orally given the students directions. This is what I have done in the past. So having to create a project for a grade has forced me to slow down and plan out every aspect of the project before using it. I have learned to slow down and to plan ahead. I have learned to force myself to pay attention to the details. I am still plugging all of the details into my website, I have a lot of materials to create, but I feel more organized and my ideas feel more well-thought-out than in the past.

I plan to use my Lead an Expedition project with my students this year. We start school next week and will probably start the project in mid-September. We will not work exclusively on the project, because we need to spend time on literature as well, but I am excited to see how it plays out. Since this is supposed to be part of a larger, year-long project, I plan to work out the details for part II as soon as possible and possibly implement that part of the project this year. As a teacher leader at my school, I plan to encourage other teachers to work collaboratively with me to develop this project, and a couple of others I have in mind, into interdisciplinary projects. This particular project would work best with social studies, but I have a couple of ideas that would work well with science as well.

In all, this class has been invaluable to my education. I didn’t necessarily learn any new content, but I have learned to slow down and prepare in detail. Now I just need to learn to speed up the process of preparing materials.

Here is the link to my PBL website. I am still determining the overall project title, but I have renamed the Part I project to Lead an Expedition. If I have time, I may reorganize the site to separate the three projects that make up the larger, year-long project.


After PBL – Debriefing

Debriefing is an important part of the PBL process. Once a project is over, you need to analyze what worked and what did not. For instance, in planning my Create-a-Civilization project, I am unsure about the overall project timeline. So, assessing how well the project worked in my 3 month time frame will be part of my debriefing process. To determine whether the time frame is appropriate, I will look at what each student learned and was able to accomplish during the project, as well as solicit feedback from the students. Since I am not collaborating with another teacher on this project, I will ask for feedback from colleagues, but the student, and even parent, feedback will be more useful.

To begin the debriefing, I will ask students to write about how they felt about the project. Although I want this discussion to be as open-ended as possible, I will provide students with some questions to answer so that they don’t just say they liked it or didn’t like it and then not give any more input. I will ask the students to discuss how they felt about the amount of time provided, the access to resources to complete the project, the grouping strategies, and the materials provided. I will try to keep questions about these components as open-ended as possible.

On my own, I will look at the quality of the assessments, both formative and summative, and the students performance on those assessments. I will decide whether students needed more support, whether the assessments were clear and well-structured, and whether the assessments really assess the learning objectives.

Assessment of a PBL is not a one-time process. It should occur before and after you use the unit. I also think it is useful to reflect on the effectiveness of the PBL throughout the school year, each time the students are required to retrieve content knowledge or use skills that should have been learned during the unit. Is it an effective PBL unit if the students cannot replicate the skills months later? In order to keep a record of my reflections, I will probably create a hidden blog page on the PBL website. This will allow me to keep all of my materials for the PBL in one place. If I decide that my reflections would be useful to someone else, I will make the page public.

Managing the PBL process

As I include more project-based learning in my classroom, I will have to change the way I teach. I have always enjoyed having my students complete projects to learn, and I have required them to work in groups, but I haven’t always adequately prepared materials in advance of projects. One thing I will have to change about my teaching is that I will need to prepare far in advance. Rather than creating a rubric days before a project is due (or just grading without one), I will need to create, or include my students in creating, a rubric that spells out the requirements of the project, and I will need to create the rubric before introducing my students to the project through the entry event.

Another change that I will need to make for effective PBL to occur in my classroom, is that I need to be a better facilitator. In the past, I have over-helped student groups while moving around the room to check on them. Or, I have gone to the other extreme and completely ignored the students and graded papers while they worked. I will need to move around the room with purpose and be prepared to steer students in the right direction without over-directing or making decisions for them.

I believe that the project I am currently designing will be a good project for students to learn the skills they will need to complete other assignments. The purpose of the project is for students to practice research and writing skills, which are basic skills they would need to complete any future projects. I am hoping that this project will prepare my students for the rest of the school year. I plan to begin this project about 3 weeks into the school year, so my students will be well-prepared for future writing assignments. This project will also introduce my students to the themes of Need and Choice which we will use to examine literature throughout the year.

The main change I will need to make as a teacher, is to prepare ahead of time for projects. I often have an idea, usually of epic proportions, and I jump right into it the next day (or later the same day) without taking the time to prepare materials, decide upon final products, or determine its requirements. To be successful in using PBL as an instructional strategy, I will need to slow down, organize, and prepare in advance. Once a project is up and running I am usually adept at mentoring students in completing it, if it has been properly designed. So, the real change will be taking time to completely design projects in advance.

Here is the website for my current PBL, (currently titled) What do You Need?

Interdisciplinary Projects

Project Based Learning lends itself to interdisciplinary collaboration. Although it is not currently possible at my school, my students would benefit from this project being an interdisciplinary project. In Social Studies, students could learn about how civilizations arose, developed, and changed, probably as a result of people seeking to meet their needs.

According to this video, interdisciplinary projects benefit both teachers and students. Students get support in all of their classes to complete their projects. Each teacher assists them with the tools they need to understand their project and complete their tasks. The concepts they are learning are reinforced as they go to each class. Teachers benefit in a couple of ways. First, they are able to learn new concepts themselves as they discuss the aspects in which the project involves each of their content areas. Second, working together to plan a project can lighten the load for each teacher. A third benefit comes from the discussion of the standards students need to master in each subject. As teachers explain the standards for their subject, they are able to see how their standards overlap. When teachers see how their subject is being reinforced, they are better able to support student learning in every area, not just in their own.

There are also challenges to working with other teachers on an interdisciplinary project. For one, it can be difficult to agree on a project theme. Another challenge is the time involved in collaboration.

As I’ve thought about how my school could implement interdisciplinary projects, it seems like it would be a natural fit in 6th grade. Our 6th grade is teamed so that each student only has 2 core teachers. These teachers could work together to create projects that would involve math, science, social studies, and language arts. Unfortunately, in 7th and 8th grade our students are all mixed up. We would need to get 4 language arts teachers, 3 social studies teachers, and 5 math/science teachers to agree to the same project. To get around this difficulty, we could try to identify class periods in which we share a large number of students and create projects for those classes. Otherwise, we would need to drastically change our master schedule in order to implement interdisciplinary projects.


Assessments in PBL

For Part I of my project, students will be creating proposals for the development of a new civilization from scratch. The civilization will be built in phases, each phase taking care of a level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. The students will present their proposals to a fictional panel to see which group gets to lead a colonizing expedition to a new planet.

I have chosen to give the following assessments to determine whether students are learning during the project and to determine their level of understanding at the end of the project. Although students will be creating a new civilization and studying human needs, the learning focus of this project will be research skills and writing proposals/argumentative essays.

Summative Assessment

  • Oral Multimedia presentation of group proposal

Formative Assessment:

  • Research notes and resource list – rubric to come soon
  • Learning log
  • Lists of questions students are investigating
  • Civilization plan/map (concept map)
  • Storyboards for slides
  • Practice presentations
  • Civilization Progress Checklist – students will have deadlines for completing research for each phase of the civilization.
  • Rough Drafts – students will write a rough draft for each phase of the civilization proposal.

The key requirements for effective assessments are:

  1. They are for the students.
  2. They are faithful to the work students actually do.
  3. They are public.
  4. They promote ongoing self-reflection and critical inquiry.

My assessments meet these requirements. The proposal presentation requires students to present in public and the choices involved in its creation allow students to feel ownership of the process. The formative assessments reflect the work the students do. They will be taking notes as they research their geographic area and its resources. They will need to make lists of research questions and take more notes as they research solutions to the needs people will have in those areas. Their research will promote ongoing self-reflection and critical inquiry, especially as students think about what they have learned and how they will solve the problems that will face their civilization. Since the focus is on learning research skills and inquiry, the rubric for student notebooks will assess research notes, habits, and the use of in-depth questions.

Here is the link to my assessment page.

Choosing a Project Idea for PBL

If you saw my last post, then you know that I have been considering different projects to implement in my classroom for PBL. Rather than choose one of those project ideas for EdTech 542, I went with the idea of human need and choice. I wanted a project that was entirely my own, because then I know that I have put sufficient thought into every aspect of it.

My project will have three parts. In part one, students will create a fictional civilization on a new, earth-like planet. They will have access to the same natural resources we find on Earth, but they will not be able to import anything to the planet. The only existing technology they will be able to access is the ship’s computer, which contains all of the information we have on Earth. Students will need to solve people’s needs in order of importance. Then they can move onto solving the next greatest need.

In part two, students will analyze literature for the character’s needs. They will look at how the character’s needs determine their choices. They will look for how needs affect motive and how setting affects needs. Essentially, they will analyze how a character’s needs affect every aspect of the story: plot, setting, characterization, theme, etc.

In part three, students will find a local person (or group) in need and organize a service project to help that person (or group).

For this part of the assignment, I studied Driving Questions. A good driving question is engaging for the students, is open-ended, and applicable to more than just one situation or time-period, and it teaches the content standards. Two of the resources I especially found useful were a webinar by BIE on creating and refining the Driving Question, and a blog post by Grant Wiggins. Both resources focused on making the question truly open-ended. Wiggins says, “The best essential questions can be used for both topical inquiries and long-term recurring investigations that signal overarching ideas and intellectual priorities.

To organize my ideas for the project, I have chosen to use Coggle. I like it, because it is a large canvas for my ideas. I like how the ideas link also. However, I have found it difficult to make changes, AND at one point I shrunk the entire thing so that it was too small to read and I have no idea how I did it, or how I fixed it. The controls are not as obvious as I would like.

Here is the link to my project website.

PBL Project Ideas and Driving Questions

This week I found a few interesting PBL projects. I teach 7th grade ELA, and, by luck, my nephew who will be entering 7th grade in a few weeks is visiting me this week! With his input, I found several projects that would be workable for my students.

Whose concern is it?

-This project is similar to one I had my students complete a couple of years ago. In an effort to teach proposal writing (rather than a persuasive essay), I asked my students to choose an issue, or problem, that they felt passionate about and which directly affected their lives. We spent several weeks researching and conducting surveys and then wrote proposals. The students either mailed the proposals, or sub,otters them in person. This project would have been much better if I had followed the essential elements of project design. My nephew, however, thought this project seemed boring.

Create a civilization

-This project excited my nephew the most, but as I looked at it more closely, it seemed like a poor fit for my ELA classes. The driving question is weak and there are no standards listed. I would be recreating the entire project. I still might do this project, however, because the one class I regret not taking in college would have been this project (more or less). The year I taught sophomores, I began planning a year-long project of this type based on Robinson Crusoe! But then I returned to Middle School and forgot it. I have used Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for writing assignments in the past, and this project reminded me of that. If I were to use this project, I would have to focus highly on research and writing skills.

You Gotta Get This

-This project is also similar to one I have done in the past, and is my nephew’s 2nd choice. I like it because it requires students to think about how to convince other people to buy something, as well as about how they are being influenced by commercials. I could probably use most of this project as is, but if I choose to use it, I will add more about media influence and persuasive techniques.

Students Against Violence  (could accompany The Outsiders)

-I like this assignment because it could accompany The Outsider, which is a book that we already read. I probably will not choose this project, because it will require too many changes. I don’t like the driving question and I’m not sure about the overall purpose of the project. I like the idea of exploring teen violence, but I’m not sure that a media campaign would reduce teen violence.

I spent a lot of time researching Driving Questions. The best discussion of good driving questions came from Grant Wiggins. Here are my 3 favorite quotes:

“Compelling questions focus on enduring issues and concerns. They deal with curiosities about how things work; interpretations and applications of disciplinary concepts; and unresolved issues that require students to construct arguments in response.”

“Essential questions propose recurring priority inquiries. A small but important distinction between compelling and essential questions has now emerged from the examples. Do you see a difference? Our essential questions are more open-ended and not as specific to historical particulars as the C3 examples highlighted here. Ours will “recur over time” (the 7th indicator, above) by design; the compelling questions, by contrast, seem more tied to specific content. They do not seem to address “enduring issues” as well as they might.”

“The best essential questions can be used for both topical inquiries and long-term recurring investigations that signal overarching ideas and intellectual priorities.”

This research on driving questions helped me to see that many of the projects I found did not have good driving questions.

I think PBL will fit with my teaching style because I like managing projects. I would prefer for my students to learn through discovery as opposed to cramming their brains with information. My concern about PBL is that I do not tend to organize things well enough before starting. I am hoping that this class will help me to prepare adequately BEFORE assigning a project.

jAs I mentioned above, if I had to choose from these four already created projects, I would choose You Gotta Get This! However, I will include a portion where my students must analyze commercials and their effects before creating their own commercials. I’m looking forward to working out the details.