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Project-Based Learning

The blogs entries located here were made for my “Project-Based Learning” class through Wilkes University.

PBL: Left Brain Meets Its Match

(written 13 Mar 2009)

     In the three examples of Project Based Learning that I examined for this assignment there were several common elements which I feel are essential. The types of schools appeared to be similar. The roles of the teacher and the students were clearly defined. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the benefits to the students are made very clear. The combination of these elements makes PBL seem like a dream for any educational setting.

     Though specific demographics were only listed in one of the examples, there seemed to be a couple obvious commonalities. It often seems that people target the “white” class as the group benefiting most from innovations. Because these schools appear to be of mixed ethnicities, there is no basis for this claim here. These were all, I believe, public schools, not private. This makes the validity more real. The student ability levels may possibly have been mixed also, though I can’t be sure. The one example specifically mentioned the project done as a result of curiosity about a classmate’s cystic fibrosis, possibly showing a realistic and normal breakdown of some student abilities. One concerning commonality is the fact that these schools all had access to some pretty high-tech equipment. This is not a realistic situation. For a school to have this kind of equipment they either are located in a more affluent area than I am, or they have received some very nice grants. One nice aspect of all three situations was the amount of community support they obviously shared. They actively involved community members in the planning and evaluation process of the projects. This adds validity for the students as they see real life applications. With the exception of the financial aspect, all three examples clearly show that PBL is something attainable for all educators.

     It is also quite obvious that PBL is not for the feint of heart. Each example showed insightfulness in regard to where the “real” work lies. It was specifically noted that the students do not learn as much if the teacher uses traditional textbook techniques, which is the easiest route to take. For innovative and energetic teachers, PBL learning provides its own challenges. Because state standards play such a huge role in what we teach, teachers must take special care to address each one at some point. To incorporate as many of the skills addressed by the standards as possible, teachers must be creative and flexible. They must devote a great deal of extra, uncompensated time to creating a variety of tasks for the students to complete. Once the planning is finished, the students are given their own part of the tasks: implementation. Students are given opportunities for reflecting on their processes. They are given clear means of assessment which displays real-life learning. It is clear that PBL learning involves a great deal of preparation work by the teacher as well as a great deal of implementation work from the students. There would be no time for boredom!

     The most important aspect of Project Based Learning is what the students get out of it. There were several excellent benefits shown through these few pieces. There are, of course, the typical left-brain benefits afforded by academic skills: math, science, language skills, history, and the like. They learn valuable technology skills as they use digital cameras, scanners, and other various pieces of hardware and software. But even more significant is the focus on right-brain activities: problem solving and critical thinking skills, creativity, and empathy for example. Why would these be so important? This is where motivation comes into play. This is also what increases retention of knowledge for students. Every video showed immense enthusiasm by the students for their work. One school noted that students were engaging in conversations to plan out projects during their lunch time and at length at home. Allowing students to actively be involved in investigations, research, and creation will cause them be build interest in their own learning. Students learn the valuable skills of collaboration and teamwork. All three clips made clear evidence of the importance of the students working together in small groups. They learn to work together, compromise, and problem-solve. Since the students are more enthusiastically and actively involved in their learning, some of the normal negative group issues are resolved. Discipline problems are reduced, as is absenteeism. The geometry model shared a multi-faceted assessment. Prior to implementation, the students were given detailed rubrics to work from. The teacher gave frequent feedback, but also allowed for reflection afterwards. Another important component of the assessment was the teacher-led class and team meetings used for follow-up. The elementary schools had public presentations of project results. The displays in the worm clip reminded me of the way science fairs run: presentations by the students and answering visitor questions. The students gain an increased sense of self-worth and self-esteem through PBL as they begin to understand that their part in the project was valued. They take ownership of their work. The list of what they gain is almost endless. We need these valuable right brain activities to add meaning and value to the traditional left brain activities.

     The benefits of PBL are made clear through these examples. They show the dedication needed by the teachers and the resulting enthusiasm of their students. There is a great deal of work involved for everyone, but when you measure the amount of work against the benefits it really doesn’t quite compare. The students are learning valuable skills which will be needed in their future as they enter a technologically globalized world. They will develop empathy for others, collaborative skills necessary for teamwork, and be able to release as much of their creative energies as humanly possible. Obviously PBL is a worthwhile endeavor for all involved.

Who Cares About PBL? The dogs!

(written 20 Mar 2008)

     Who cares about Project-Based Learning? Everyone should! Many aspects of education have changed over the past several decades. The philosophies educators believed in when we were little are not the same as what we practice today. Not only have the methods changed, but the students have changed as well. Add to this the fact that the government is placing more restrictions on education, and we find the need for educators to become more creative. A “dog-eat-dog world” takes on a whole new meaning.

     The educational system of the past is no longer able to meet the needs of the present and future. Kids are now used to immediate gratification, “silver platters”, and higher expectations. They have become accustomed to video games and television instead of climbing trees and building forts. The sedentary lifestyle that we have embedded into their livelihood was caused by our technological wizardry. This has health issues on its downside, but it also has many advantages. Our children are becoming comfortable with technological advances at a very young age. We expect more of them. Whereas the norm 30 years ago was for children to enter kindergarten being able to say some of their alphabet, count to ten, and color, now we expect them to have beginning writing skills, to count higher, say and recognize their alphabet, and be able to use a computer. During their kindergarten year, they are expected to type a web address into the address bar of an internet browser and be proficient at the hand-eye coordination needed for proper mouse use. We are able to teach them more skills at an early age allowing them to learn more advanced skills when they get a little older. Along with these more advanced skills come the need to hold their attention. We must compete with television, handheld game systems, cell phones, ipods, and more.  They need the benefits offered by hands-on activities which will engage and challenge their minds. Now comes the fun part: PBL.

     Project-based learning solves many of the problems posed by educating our technologically enabled children. By engaging them and making them more responsible for their education, we are motivating and empowering them. PBL gives students the authentic connections to their world that they need. Those connections are what will help them remember the lessons even longer. Those connections are what will drive them to want to learn. If they remember more of the actual skills being addressed, they will perform better on the government ordained tests. If students are learning in a more meaningful way, we won’t have to worry about teaching to the tests or, more horrifying, teaching how to test instead (Brooks & Brooks, The Courage to be Constructivist). More engaged students who see the value of their education are more apt to be in class regularly and more apt to participate and cooperate. Besides the importance educational goals of increased academic scores, the fostering of problem-solving skills, and the development of collaboration skills, PBL has a side benefit to education which may be even more important in the long run: happier teachers. When teachers become overwhelmed with unrealistic government demands, high absentee rates,  and rising discipline problems, they lose their own motivation for being there. If at least the latter two issues are dealt with through enthusiastic students, the teachers will be more willing to put in the extra hours needed to make PBL successful. This kind of devoted teacher makes the education system “look good” to the public. That kind of public view means greater parental support. It really is a snowball effect. Teachers like this will be more devoted to their profession, have fewer absences, be more optimistic, less argumentative and complaining, and less likely to leave the profession too early because they will love what they do. Having experienced teachers who can effectively carry out the demands of educational expectations through PBL are a great asset to all involved. The government gets what they want: higher test scores. The school district gets what they want: energetic and motivated educators. The parents get what they want: fewer disciplinary actions, kids who want to be in school, kids who are prepared for the real world. Teachers get what they want: students who want to learn what they have to offer in a fun way and thusly making the teacher happier for the right reasons. Hence, our pedagogical justifications for PBL.

     When we as educators signed our professional contracts, knowing the amount of work necessary, we took on the commitment to prepare our students for whatever the future holds for them. That future now involves a globalizing world, in more ways than just technology. The skills our students need upon graduation are not the same as they were when we graduated. We must teach them to be creative problem-solvers who can work collaboratively with people they may never meet. The skills we graduated with are not what we need to accomplish this task. That also puts us back in the role of student and makes point of fact of us being life-long learners as Boss & Kraus point out in Reinventing Project-Based Learning (2007, p14). Because we were not given these skills, we must continually grow personally and professionally. Only then will we graduate students who will meet the ultimate educational goals: ones who will survive and prosper in our “dog-eat-dog world”.

Are You PBL-Challenged

(written 1 Apr 2008)

(Side note – I use the word “equivoques” which is not recognized by the Word dictionary. I looked it up to be sure I was correct and it does mean ‘double meanings’ or ‘word play’.)

The section of the Teacher’s Guide to International Collaboration on the Internet article on ed.gov entitled “Tips for Online Collaboration” proved to be loaded with helpful information. Though called “tips”, they were actually possible challenges and cautions from those experienced with Project-Based Learning and global collaboration. I always liked to consider myself flexible and creative enough to develop projects, but I am now discovering that the whole prospect is much more complicated than just that. When you throw globalization into the mix, you are in for a beautifully twisted ride!

The majority of the items on the lists deal with cultural awareness and sensitivities – something students, especially young children, have little or no experience with. This is an area I struggle with because prejudice is so difficult to overcome once set. One of the most prevalent sensitivities relates to manners. We struggle with proper etiquette in our classrooms. Parents have become lax in teaching their children how to relate to others in respectful ways. Without meaning to, young children could easily lay an insult. By having them carefully research their collaborating partners’ backgrounds, much of this can be avoided. Useful information would be entertainment, lifestyles, economic structures, history, climate, environment, business, and even politics and religion. Language is also important to understand. Young children do not understand that people communicate in different ways. Many foreign cultures insist on English as a second language. That is a definite advantage considering most of our children do not learn a second language until middle or high school, and then there is no guarantee that it will be the “right” language. Even if the students learn a few key phrases (salutations and catch phrases) of their partner’s language, they will show honor and respect to them – those two qualities can go a long way toward developing a healthy working relationship. It may even impress them that you cared so much about them as people. Students on both ends must be made aware that there are also two different forms of English: US and British. Spellings and phrases may look peculiar. Language is a two-way street. Besides learning theirs, you must also be wary of how we use our own. Before submitting work, have the students reflect on each others’ postings. Are there any big words or abbreviations, humor or equivoques to misinterpret, or slang phrases? Mathematical quantities may need equivalent forms: metrics, military time, monetary units. The educator should have a pre-project lesson detailing examples of things we do not give a second thought to but may give someone else the wrong impression. Studies in idioms and other library devices may prove most valuable. The two way street also applies to how we are viewed. Should we assume that they understand our culture and who we are? Initial contacts should begin with proper, but informal, introductions: names and ages, family structures, likes and dislikes, and especially pictures. Perhaps these initial conversations should include what they have learned about their partners’ cultures and ask for verification or clarification. Ask questions of each other. There are a multitude of question lists that circulate through email. The students can create one of their own to share. Again, all work should be checked and evaluated prior to submission.

Other challenges worth consideration do not deal directly with cultural sensitivities, but perhaps more with educational constraints. What is the structure of their school day? If your collaboration time is 9:00am, what time is it there? If their time zone is behind us there may be scheduling issues. This can be alleviated by the educators collaborating prior to implementation. Educators should follow the same protocol as their students: introductions, pictures, questions, sharing personal and professional information. They need to clarify all details and expectations. How will the projects be evaluated? How often should communication or collaboration take place? They must learn of any technological limitations. What equipment and software are available? Is there a connection fee for email or internet use?

The realistic challenges of Project-Based Learning are numerous. In a research and data-driven world, the numbers are there. PBL is successful in motivating students, improving discipline and attendance, raising standardized test scores, developing required 21st century skills including communication and collaboration, and students just plain having fun taking control of their learning in ways that actually mean something to them. Clearly, for PBL to work the educator must be dedicated enough to put in the extra needed time to develop the projects and work through the entire process. They must do the initial research, make the intial contacts, and predict possibilities which will come up during the process. They must instruct in etiquette, research into “people”, develop critical thinking skills so students understand how to critically analyze their own and each others’ work in ways which will make it more clear to their collaborators. So I ask you, dear readers, are you “PBL-challenged, or are you up for the challenge?

No Room for Pessimism in PBL

(written 2 Apr 2008)

As I read the ‘No’ part of “Is PBL Practical?” from the Point/Counterpoint section of Learning and Leading With Technology I am forced to realize that there is a far more critical challenge which must be conquered before any others can even be considered: pessimism. The points named were those of someone who does not understand PBL and lacks the flexibility and creativity to make it work. A recurrent theme was that PBL is only for the high level students – older students who are self-motivated, care about the topic, and are exceptional students. How wrong can one be? PBL provides the best opportunities for special needs children, even younger ones, to actually succeed and feel good about their contributions. Supposedly the topics are too vague. Isn’t that the point? Students are put in control of their education. They are developing their right-brained 21st century skills which are so difficult to address using conventional educational strategies. Everything that technology stands for was condemned – strange coming from someone who is working toward an Instructional Technology degree. Critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity are vital aspects of 21st century skills. Without these skills, our students will all fail in their globally advanced world. Claiming that it was a bad thing for kids to learn to work together and learn from each other, isn’t that our responsibility in our profession? Isn’t the goal real-life situations and authentic learning? By depriving students of the chance to develop creativity and critical thinking skills, we are depriving them of the chance to be successful participants in a global future. These deprived students will graduate unprepared for the challenges needed by businesses as they begin off-shoring jobs. This is a true injustice from our profession and those we are dedicated to and obligated to help. If someone is so dead against the concepts posed by PBL, how can students be effectively taught how to create meaningful presentations and “jazz” them up? How will they know if their students are learning what was intended if they aren’t allowed to create using the technology? We would be showing them great insult and dishonor by telling them exactly what they will produce with no choices. If students don’t care about the topics being taught by the projects, perhaps we need to develop our own sense of creativity. Kids today are already spoon-fed. Don’t they deserve the decency and respect provided for by letting them make some of their own decisions? If classroom management and discipline are the issues, then perhaps we should consider challenging students more and letting them solve problems – with guidance.
The points posed by the more positive Sarah Thompson seemed more realistic and on task. She cares enough about her students to provide them with meaningful educational opportunities which will develop the skills they will need upon graduation. Her students are not just the brainiacs, but are those from a diversified classroom. Her students “rise to the challenge” because they are treated with respect and given choices. They are not bored by confining topics of no interest to them. They are given room for their own decisions and creativity. They are able to really develop their right-brain skills as well as the academic left-brain ones. Assessments are open-ended and self-reflective, giving the students a chance to see how they could improve on their work. Which teacher loves their job, is flexible and creative, has parent support, and is successful in preparing students for a globally advancing world? Sarah not only wants these things for her students, but she wants to enjoy her students as real people and offer them fun ways to learn – and ultimately soar on those standardized tests everyone “loves”. I shall end this narrative with a thought: When your house gets hit by a meteor, who would you want to call for help? One of Mr. Scott’s students who were spoon-fed and don’t understand the real world, practical applications, and have not learned how to make their own decisions? Or Ms Thompson’s students who learned how to work together to solve their problems and come up with creative solutions? A kid with no field experience at all, or the one who participated in data gathering trips and conferred with real scientists. The answer seems pretty clear to me!

There were a mass of quality technology education support services available for our perusal. Almost every one of them has value in helping educators teach students the 21st century skills becoming more vital to their futures. For this assignment I will evaluate four from the three platforms: communication, collaborative, and publishing. I will first delve into the evaluative properties of each tool, then describe the details for a project which will incorporate them and foster the needed 21st century skills.

Web 2.0 Applications

(10 Apr 2008)

The National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) has set up specific guidelines to aide educators in developing the 21st century skills necessary for our students to survive and thrive in a globally advancing world. These skills are in many ways more difficult to achieve because they do not deal with the more traditional left-brain skills. 21st century skills deal with the right-brain: creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, and the like. Some schools have not yet bought into the ideas behind NETS because these are not the skills being tested on the state standardized tests. Perhaps the government should update its own standards to incorporate these essential skills.

WiZiQ is an online classroom environment found at http://www.wiziq.com. Though it encourages free classes, there are employment opportunities for experts, like educators. Educators are provided the means through which they may share content and create online evaluations. It supports video conferencing, PowerPoint presentations, audio and video, images, documents and chats. WiZiQ is also supported by Moodle applications. Classes taught by educators can be private or public. Though there are grammatical (and spelling) errors throughout the site, it is very well organized and easy to use. Besides a brief tour which shows only enough to whet our appetites, there are several options for learning its use: blogs, FAQ, forums. Students would benefit from their own teacher-created content as well as tutoring opportunities and online classes, many of which are free. There is a clause in the “Terms of User Agreement” section which states that there are to be no users under the age of 14. However, some of the classes are for students as low as 1st grade, like for mathematics. I tried to view the recording of one of the math sessions, but there was no instruction taking place. This is a caution I would have for teachers: if using the services provided by others, monitor closely. They appear to be almost all foreign in origin and I am not sure of the quality of material for younger students.
Wikispaces is an online collaborative tool located at http://www.wikispaces.com/site/for/teachers, though it has many more applications. They have a “mission” to provide 250,000 more free educator accounts on top of the 100,000 already given away. The educator accounts are at their “plus” level which gives almost all benefits, including being ad-free. Wiki pages are simple to use and can be either public or private. There are several tours whose purpose is to help you create and personalized your wikispace. There are also an abundance of helps available on the internet. It is simple to embed other media into the pages making it a great research drop spot. Students would be able to help with the creation and maintenance of a wikispace page. Because of the embedding and linking capabilities, they could easily create presentations elsewhere and collect them here for showcasing. I found no limitations on the ages of users and see no reason for this site to have restricted use if it is monitored.
Animoto is listed as a publishing tool accessed through http://animoto.com. Using state of the art technology, Animoto analyzes the images you upload along with your music and creates unique videos. Because of the process, each time you use it, even for the same set of images, it will create a different video. Videos created can then be embedded into other platforms. Access is listed as restricted to users over the age of 13, but it gives options for creating accounts for younger children using gmail. This would be an amazing tool to showcase field trips, reports, and photojournaling. You have complete control over text, speed, spotlighting, and more. The images can be uploaded from your computer or anywhere they are stored online. They have a music library which can be used or you can use your own. Educator accounts are given a classroom code under which they may register their students. Animoto changed their interface technologies to allow a whole class to work at one time. Videos are given a URL for access, so all material is kept private and cannot be searched.
TeacherTube is a publishing tool located at http://www.teachertube.com/ which is specifically designed for the uploading and sharing of educational content videos. It is simple to use and because the content is education driven there is a nice variety of material. Many collaborative applications require media to be uploaded somewhere on the internet in order for there to be access to it. I have personally used TeacherTube to house videos I made at the Erie Zoo for use in my Google Earth virtual field trip. I have also uploaded videos of tap dancing because one of my classmates is in Florida. She will be coming up in May to perform in our June recital and needs tutorial help learning the piece. I have seen a variety of video pieces done by students and posted here because it is a safe environment. There are many instructional and tutorial videos, and material can be posted as public or private, depending on your needs. I found no references to age restrictions, though it does mention the protection of information from young children. Though not singularly educationally based, SlideShare (http://www.slideshare.net) is a similar tool for uploading PowerPoints and documents.
The project I have in mind deals with online collaboration with students from another country to create a digital journal. Through research with ePals or Global SchoolNet, I would guide my 6th grade students in locating a comparably aged group from a country they are studying in history class. Working with the collaborating teacher, I would conduct an online workshop for the students of both countries. This workshop would detail the expectations of the project and explain the use of all technologies involved. It would also involve a pretest of information from both countries. The purpose of the pretest is for students to understand what kinds of information are important to learn about their new friends: culture, education, family structures, religion, politics, entertainment, etc. All students involved would then develop online friendships to serve as a base, learning what they can about the cultures and values. Research will be gathered on a WikiSpaces page dedicated to this project and shared by both countries. While the students are collaborating online, the teachers would also be collaborating. They need to work out details of the accounts needed for Animoto use. Using digital cameras, the students on each end would create a photojournal. This photojournal would highlight their own country’s popular landmarks, historical highlights, cultural backgrounds, as well as music, art, and literature specific to the country. The photojournals would be created online using Animoto. Each group would upload their pictures and create an original video which they feel displays the essence of their culture. After exchanging photojournals for perusal, the students would continue email communication to clarify any unclear information. Finally, using the background information provided by the exchange groups, the students would create a new presentation. This new presentation would be about their new friends’ country, not their own. This step would involve a lot of teacher guidance to ensure that no one causes unintentional insult. Their new project would use MovieMaker or PowerPoint to create an instructional presentation showcasing their newly acquired knowledge. Their finished products would be uploaded to TeacherTube (video submissions) or SlideShare (PowerPoint submissions). The available embed codes would be used to display their projects on their collaborative WikiSpaces page. Each group would then engage in constructive evaluation of each project. They would provide suggestions and criticisms for the presentations. All students would then return to the WiZiQ classroom to take a post test set up the same as the pretest. They may then evaluate what they have learned about their friends’ countries and the project process. This project could also be done in a similar manner by 5th grade students using cooperating classrooms in another state.
The online platforms described would promote the development of 21st century skills for our students. In a technologically globalizing world, they will need to understand how to effectively work with people they may never meet. They need to be able to research into their collaborative partners’ cultures (especially politics and religion), not to be snoopy, but to avoid unintentional insult which could result in the breakdown of a working relationship. Projects of this nature also expose students at an early age to a variety of online tools available for communication, collaboration, and the publishing of their finished products.

Meeting NETS-S Guidelines

(written 10 Apr 2008)

Schools need to recognize that these technology skills can be incorporated into the existing left-brain curricula to enhance the needed 21st century skills. By instituting projects like the one I described in my posting entitled “Web 2.0 Applications” we can easily meet both needs: curriculum and NETS. The first NETS guideline references creativity and innovation. Allowing students to create products to show proficiency in their studies will meet this need. Using digital recording devices (cameras and camcorders) to capture images and then using them to creatively construct a story would be just one venue. This will provide the added bonus of motivating our students to take control of their learning and continue it as long as they can.

Communication and collaboration should be the easiest to handle, if the school district allows it. My district has block many online communication and collaboration tools. Any email systems outside the teacher emails are blocked. Most blogs, chats, and discussion boards are also blocked. By the time our students graduate, they will need to be able to effectively work with people who are physically distant. Businesses will be looking for people experienced in online communications to fulfill their own needs. Where will they gain this experience if not in school? Allowing students to collaborate on group projects will develop their cultural tolerances for others, something lacking in many of our students today.

Research and information fluency are easy to deal with. Research is a recognized requirement in every curricular area. PBL sites which incorporate authentic situations work well for examples. GLOBE is a scientifically based research site. Though obviously for older students, it provides the opportunity for students to collect and analyze scientific data and then submit their findings for use by real scientists. Mapping sites such as Mindomo are a great tool for organizing thoughts for research, or anything else. It is very difficult to teach kids how to organize their thoughts prior to beginning any task. They want instant gratification which means no time for planning and thinking things through. Wikis are a wonderful tool to use as a drop spot for research being collected by students.

The essence of challenge is found within the next NETS guideline: critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making. These elements are perhaps the ones most needed for survival in any aspect of our adult lives and yet is the one being least developed. Government-issued educational restrictions are forcing schools to enable children almost to the point where it could be considered a handicap. We are told to adapt and differentiate and spoon-feed. We are not teaching them how to work with others and constructively solve the naturally occurring problems. By allowing students to collaborate online with students from other countries we can help them develop this skill. They would need to carefully research cultural backgrounds to gain an understanding of what is considered important. Then they need to be creative to work out any problems which will arise by the simple nature of online collaboration. They will learn the importance of compromising. Brainstorming is perhaps not given enough credit here. If students are posed with a specific problem, they can collaborate back and forth on a tool such as diigo. Diigo will record their progress so they may refer back to it later.

Digital citizenship is another guideline which is perhaps thought of too lightly. It is also one I feel very strongly about. Our children do not understand the impact words can have on the internet. If they are not careful with their “netiquette” they can cause insult which can lead to a breakdown of communication. They also can endanger their own safety in a world proving itself to be unstable. Kids are too trusting of what they see on the internet. It is written therefore it must be the truth. They do not discover until it is too late that the “14-year-old” buddy who wants to meet them is in reality a 37-year-old pedophile. They can also get themselves in big trouble by not checking validity of website information prior to handing in a research report. Teachers can help students develop healthy online habits by beginning as early as possible in their education.

Technology operations and concepts is the guideline which will develop over time once students have mastered the other skills. Transferring knowledge between curricula is difficult for students. Transferring between mediums may prove to be just as difficult. To allow them to grow in this area, teachers must provide students with exposure from an early age to as many diverse technology tools as practical. They need to be allowed the freedom to experiment and be creative. Allowing flexibility with project-based learning experiences will greatly enhance this as well.

NETS has carefully considered and analyzed all aspects of technology required by our globally advancing world. Through these six guidelines they have pinpointed the skills our children will all need to be proficient in before they enter the “real” world after graduation. The world we grew up in does not exist anymore. We as educators have a lot of work to do as we hone our own 21st century skills so that we may provide our students what they will need to become productive members of our future.

PBL Organization and Management

(written 17 Apr 2008)

Effective organization and management is vital to ensure the success of any Project-Based Learning experience. Though the nature of these projects involves self-involvement by the students, the teacher must stay involved and alert. Initially, the teacher needs to instruct on the driving question which will guide the project’s direction. For the purpose of this assignment, I will illustrate an online collaborative project using Alice, a 3-D animation tool which can be downloaded free from http://www.alice.org. The target group will be fifth or sixth grade library skills classes.

For stage one, groups will be comprised of three to four students from each of two participating countries (or states). They will draw numbers to receive required jobs. Needed jobs are leader, recorder, and organizer/reporter. If there is a fourth member reporter would be separated from organizer. Students would be instructed in the use of Alice as an introductory lesson. As a group, students will complete a “know/need to know” list to help with their organizational direction. This may include things about the tools to be used, about the project, and about their collaborating teams. During this process, students would be communicating online via email or Diigo to develop a working friendship. Chats would be discouraged until students are accustomed to using caution with their words so as not to deliver unintended insults. Students will also be given guidelines on project length and access to a Google calendar with deadlines on it. The goal of the project is to create a story which will be illustrated, though the illustrations will not initially be shared. The stories must be non-violent in nature and display some aspect of our culture. Stories will be written into a Google document which is not initially shared with the collaborating group. Illustrations may be done in any format agreeable to the students based on brainstorming sessions. These may include drawings to be scanned, digitally created images, staged photographs, or any other media at their disposal.

Once completed, the stories will be shared for exchange and the beginning of stage two. During this stage there will be no collaboration between countries. Each group will begin creating storyboards (PowerPoint) and graphic organizers (Mindomo) to organize the stories they’ve been given. They will create an Alice animated presentation using their cooperating group’s story. During stages one and two of the process, each work session will begin with the groups discussing and reporting their progress to the class. Once a week the groups will split for a brief “job-specific” meeting. During this meeting, each member will report on their group’s progress and any concerns they may have. This will be a brainstorming session to aide students in problem-solving any issues. On a different day weekly, students will complete surveys. These surveys will include a progress checklist created by the teacher with required benchmarks to be completed by the group. It will also include an individual component for self-reflection and to address any concerns left unresolved after job meetings. The teacher will be sitting in on group work sessions regularly. These “sit-in” sessions will be for completion of the group observation checklist. All checklists and surveys will be collected for review by the teacher. Feedback will be given on the sheets or orally with the group as needed.

Once the presentations are complete, stage three will commence. Alice presentations will then be exchanged for constructive evaluation. The groups will view the presentations noting any differences. They will have two separate evaluations to complete. The first includes their reflections on what was done.  What differences are there between their “intent” for the story and how it was interpreted? How could these differences have occurred? Are there language or culture issues, or perhaps we were unclear in a description? What did we learn? What could we improve? What was the quality of our work? What did we do well? These would be shared. The second is an constructive evaluation for their cooperating group. This would include compliments, suggestions, and original intentions. When the evaluations are shared, so will the illustrations. The students would then be permitted to resume communications with their online partners. They will be encouraged to share what they learned and how it affected them.

For PBL projects to be effective, the teacher must remain in constant communication with all groups. Teacher contact will include constant feedback, guidance, and any redirection or additional instruction needed. The students must be kept aware of their deadlines and guidelines. This will add security for them so they may proceed with confidence. The PBL experience is one that needs to be started early in a child’s education so they may contribute productively to all aspects of their educational experiences.

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