Instructional Media or “What’s an Overhead?”

Entries Tagged as 'Project Based Learning'

PBL- Managing for Success: Goals, Checkpoints and Reflection on the way to New France

October 9th, 2009 · No Comments

Old Quebec City- Lower Town

Old Quebec City- Lower Town

Imagine a research project for Grade Seven students called “The Governor’s Banquet,” which is intended to focus on life in New France in the 17th and 18th centuries. Canada and the United States did not yet exist, and much of North America was, in fact, French territory, ruled by the Governor appointed by the King of France.
Each group of students must research an aspect of life in New France, and, at a project end celebration, present to the class what they have learned about the culture, clothing, food, daily life, work, education, religion and government of the time. Of course, a celebration is not complete without food, and each group must bring one type of food that would have been popular during the time period.
The Buck Institute for Education sets out some excellent planning, implementation, completion, reflection and assessment tools on its website. Critical to the project planning are setting the goal, project checkpoints and project reflection.
Students need to understand that the goal is not the party at the end, but rather, the rich learning that comes from the research and collaboration that takes place. Students will need some tools to get them on track and organized. Using a Google document as a resource for communicating the project benchmarks, and as a shared research tool would be an excellent start for students of this age who are not yet familiar with more advanced tools, such as Wikis. Having a Google calendar as a timeline for the project, where each work period is mapped out in advance, will inform students of the checkpoints and the workplace (classroom, library, computer lab, as examples).
When goal setting, groups need to decide on the product, or artifact, they will present. Will it be a fashion show for presenting the clothing, a play which shows the role of religion or government, a model of a village in New France, a dance of the time period or a skit showing life for a child in school at the time? Checkpoints must include the appropriate markers- a script for a play, a design for a model, or a layout for a fashion show. There must also be time to pause and address group challenges as well as assess, both formally and informally the progress of the group and its individuals. The teacher could prepare a Google Form that would gather feedback from students about their own, as well as their peers’ success and areas needing improvement.
During the celebration, groups must contribute to the menu, both the planning of the making of the food but also the collaborative production of the menu on a Google Document. The day of the celebration is anticipated, as students share their food (with careful attention to food allergies and restrictions of course), and each presentation.
Finally, a final assessment and reflection of the Governor’s Banquet must be carefully and thoroughly completed, using a number of the excellent tools on the Buck Institute’s website. Having enlisted a small group to record the event in still photos or video will assist students in their own reflections of their performances.
To top it all off, near the end of the school year, students travel to Quebec City, the only walled city in North America, to experience life in French Canada in the present, as well as the past. Even today, the city is much like it was when it was founded in 1608. Because of this, it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If only the trip could be done during the preparations for the Banquet, the learning that results would be even richer.
Making the learning of History an engaging, rich and productive learning experience through the use of Project Based Learning can and will make History come alive!

Tags: Project Based Learning

Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Concepts – Web 2.0 is Speaking the Language

October 4th, 2009 · 2 Comments

As Web 2.0 gathers a huge amount of momentum amongst K-12 teachers and when students convince their teachers that their assignments can almost always be digital, more and more Web 2.0 tools will be utilized by students to demonstrate their learning. The question remains whether the use of the tools can not only demonstrate academic learning but also develop and refine 21st century technology skills that students can apply to other learning environments and in the workplace later in life.
The rapid developments that are occurring in the Web 2.0 sphere suggest that students who are not exposed to them now, will not be able to quickly adapt to the world of learning and work of the 21st century either. Web 2.0 and the 21st century learner are intricately linked, and are a cycle of learning and creating:

– A student who is creative can use Digital Storytelling to communicate a powerful message, perhaps created in a unique way, to persuade an audience. The images may have been edited online using Picnic and presented to a wider audience using Slideshare.
– A student who communicates well can collaborate with others to create new ideas or products, perhaps using Voicethread, Wikis or Nings.
– A student who is able to gather, organize, analyse and evaluate information can research 21st century issues, and present their findings using a Glogster poster.
– A student who can think critically about digital media and make decisions can use Web 2.0 tools to help solve the problems of the 21st century by using shared documents, such as Google Docs to gather and organize the information required to act on these critical problems.
– A student who recognizes the value of other’s intellectual property, and honours others’ work by attributing sources, perhaps using Bibme or another Web 2.0 bibliographic tool, is a student who views the internet as a place that can used for the public good, creating useful and meaningful content with integrity and at the same time, in a safe manner.
– A student who understands the basics of technology and its role in society today, and into the future, is ready to adapt to the constantly changing world of the 21st century, recognizing that Web 2.0 tools have their limitations today, and will need to be improved to meet the needs of the next generation.

The Web 2.0 world is a parallel metaphor for the skills and knowledge of learning in the 21st century. But more than that, they are the tools that create the learning in this new millennium. It’s not too late to join in the adventure.

Tags: Project Based Learning

Communication, Collaboration, Publishing- Web 2.0 hits the Classroom, but are teachers ready?

October 3rd, 2009 · 1 Comment



– The beauty of microblogging in a safe secure class environment

Edmodo is unique in that teachers create an account, then set up groups (“classes”) for which they receive a code, which is then shared with the students in the class. Students create their own account, with no email address required. Then, when all students have registered, the teacher can change the code to avoid intruders. The result is that the messages to/from the teacher and students are limited to the class. This provides a closed and scure environment for classes to share information- links, feeds, messages, assignments. There’s even an internal poll utility.
What was curiously missing was any mention of age/consent i.e. COPPA requirements. It would be be the responsibility (not to mention common sense) of the teacher to request parent permission. It might also be wise to invite the parents to the Group, if the main purpose of your group is homework announcements and sharing.
The hallmark of Edmodo is its simplicity- share a document, a short reminder, a calendar, an assignment and have students hand it back in. It’s not much more than that at a superficial glance, although the style is very student friendly, trendy if you will, and has the potential to engage students. The Help Wiki provides sufficient support to get started, and there is a Blog too, for further ideas, and even some testimonials. I liked this one about a student who began to engage in his schoolwork through the teacher’s Edmodo site.
Initially, the site could be used for an academic subject such as English or Social Science as a teacher-peer-peer homework help site, where students could receive their assignments in digital form, ask questions of the teacher and peers, and finally complete and submit the assignments. The possibilities are wide open, however. The teacher could groups students to work collaboratively on projects and monitor their interactions and dialogue through Edmodo. The capability of embedding video or RSS feeds also could be implemented while doing project work.
I like Edmodo! There are pitfalls to every Web 2.0 app and Edmodo has them. But it is far more secure than Twitter, has the openness of the Internet but the closed structure that teachers seek when first stepping into the Web 2.0 world with students. It would be prudent for teachers to keep their administrators and parents fully informed of the ways you are using Edmodo, but the way it’s used is only limited by ones’ creativity.


Google Docs

– Share and share alike!

I am a recent Google Docs convert. Just this week, when my school’s Technology Committee was supposed to meet, and could not, I conducted a virtual meeting using Google Docs. Gone are the days when a document was created in MS Office, sent as an attachment, edited by the recipients and sent back to the creator, who then edited the edits of the collaborators. Now, documents are edited in real time by all collaborators! This video from Google explains that this was the primary reason why Google Docs were created, I quickly learned. The example given at the beginning of the video of how outdated collaboration methods using the old paradigm are so counter productive that perhaps Google Docs will lay them to rest.

A full series of support pages which answer almost every question a user might have about Google Docs is available, and teachers would be wise to scan through them. School-wide collaboration is now completely within the realm of even the smallest school, as email, documents and calendars are integrated through Google education services.

As for using Google in the classroom- where does one begin? I’m no longer a PE teacher but this Blog caught my attention ! Imagine streamlining your Physical Education class’ fitness results collection, equipment inventories, activity choices, event registrations and even evaluation tasks? It can be done using Google Forms, which allow the input of data directly to a spreadsheet. Formative testing can even be conducted this way! Real student collaboration is now an easy task, and the learning curve for doing so, even with younger students, is not that steep. However, there are risks, and students need to be reminded that shared documents are exactly that, shared and viewed by a variety of people, including their teachers. The best netiquette must be taught and used at all times. Schools can create their own Gmail domain and create their own accounts for students to create a higher level of security for students, as well as minimize liability of the school. But like all similar endeavours, parent awareness and consent needs to be obtained.


Glogster for Education– put an end to Powerpoint boredom!

Not since bristol board entered schools in the mid 20th century has the poster seen competition like this! The ability to create virtual posters with text, photos, audio and video (and more) in a secure, teacher moderated environment is a move into the real world of 21st century learning, where students become thinkers, creators, and evaluators of their peers’ and their own digital media. Teachers set up classes and moderate student activity. There is a huge selection of resources and ideas that teachers can tap into on the Glogster educational site too.

Tags: Project Based Learning

Murray’s Corollary to Kranzberg’s First Law of Technology – Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.

September 24th, 2009 · No Comments

“It doesn’t just make learning relevant; it makes teaching relevant as well,” says Susan Thompson in the ISTE’s Learning and Leading with Technology Journal, writing about Global Project Based Learning (GPBL). The counterpoint, by Kevin Scott, is the argument that GPBL is not a panacea for motivating all students, is so challenging to implement that it fails struggling students and does not always help them achieve mandated standards. If it’s so great, and the risks large, and the technology frequently prone to failure, it begs the question- why do teachers do Project Based Learning, let alone with a global focus?! Murray’s Corollary says that if technology can mess something up, it will, only faster!
There are often more obstacles than rewards and the learning curve is noticeably steep in GPBL. Technology, time, time zones, misconceptions, cultural awareness, cultural in-sensitivities, language barriers, collaboration skills, to name a few, seem almost insurmountable. With proper training of teachers (it’s appropriate at this moment to drop a shameless pitch for Wilkes University and this course at this point!), as well as proper preparation and anticipation of the challenges, GPBL can, and will be successful for our students. There are, after-all, huge rewards, as Thompson suggests, for both students and teachers.
The rewards of seeing students develop understandings about people and places and things that could not be otherwise learned is paramount. Developing an awareness of communities beyond one’s own locality is perhaps one of the greatest challenges to human existence. Solving climate, energy, economic, environmental and social problems without a global perspective will be near impossible as globalisation levels all playing fields. Our students deserve this kind of education. It’s their destiny. It may well be our destiny to provide it, and, as Thompson points out, make teaching relevant at the same time.


ED Teacher’s Guide to International Collaboration on the Internet– Pg 12. (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2009, from

Melvin, K. (1986). Technology and History: Kranzberg’s Laws. Technology and Culture, 27(3), 544-560.

Thompson, S., & Scott, K. (n.d.). Is PBL Practical?. Retrieved September 24, 2009, from

Tags: Project Based Learning

It’s not about the technology redux (but it sure helps!)

September 10th, 2009 · No Comments

The justification for using project-based learning is simply this- that the learning is applied to authentic situations and can then be transferred to others situations, because it is now embedded in the learner. This then, is real learning and is supported by various research studies. Mathematics was better understood especially in analytical applications in a British study. An SRI study showed project-based students using technology significantly out-performed non-technology students in the areas of “communication skills, teamwork, and problem solving” (PBL Research Summary, 2009). The Vanderbilt study in 1992 showed improved academic skills in a variety areas. Other studies support these ones. Studies suggest that project-based learners, in the case of school laptop based programs, achieved higher state test scores, became better self-directed learners, demonstrated greater engagement, higher-order thinking skills and analytical thinking.

What is also clear (and this may seem to oppose my previous post comment about technology) is that technology played an important role in these studies and that although PBL can be successful with minimal technology to support it, PBL is significantly more successful when there is a variety of technologies in place. What I meant in my previous posting is that PBL is not “about” the technology. We don’t choose the technology first and then decide what focus our PBL will take. Rather, the technology is just a tool to achieve the goals of the PBL.


PBL Research Summary: Studies Validate Project-Based Learning | Edutopia. (n.d.). Retrieved September 10, 2009, from

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (n.d.). Educational Leadership:Reshaping High Schools:Put Understanding First. Retrieved September 10, 2009, from

Tags: Project Based Learning

From worms to butterflies to mathematics- Project Based Learning in the Real World

August 31st, 2009 · 3 Comments

The first commonality between these 3 exemplars of Project Based Learning (PBL) is the questioning that guides inquiry. In order for relevant learning to follow, students must be guided by their teachers to pose narrow, focussed questions that can only be answered by searching through vast amounts of information, or by collecting and comparing data in experiments. For example, students in the primary classroom studying worms became focused on particular aspects of worm biology as a result of being encouraged to link their inquiry to ideas already considered in the classroom.

The second common thread is the use of technology to search, gather, organize, synthesise and create a final product. Technology is not the be all and end all (See “It’s not about the technology”), however it does improve the ease of finding, gathering and organizing the information. The Internet has made information ubiquitous, however, it’s not completely necessary. Using technology as another tool in the PBL process is important, but not compulsory, as I pointed out in a Moodle posting recently. The PBL work my classes did in the mid-nineties, with minimal technology for the most part, substantiates the idea that good PBL can be done without technology. But the fact that the final products can be more engaging using technology is enough to take proper advantage of it.

The final prevalent feature of these examples of PBL is the authenticity of the projects. The learning that results must have a practical application, must be related to the real world and must be useful information in the pursuit of solutions to real world problems. The citizen science that is conducted in the Journey North Project, whereby the data collected and submitted by participating classes is used by scientists in their research affirms the work of the children. The fact that their work is available for others around the world to see, as were the contributions from my classes for Journey North. This peer judgement certainly raises the level of student productivity. In the case of the Geometry project, both peers and outside experts were used to determine the quality of work, and the students felt a huge sense of accomplishment as a result of the scrutiny of the architects who judged the projects.

The students in these PBL examples weren’t just passive learners, occasionally listening to their teachers’ lessons. They became active planners and participants in the learning, an act that reinforces the learning outcomes. The 21st century skills that group collaboration develops in projects such as these are transferable to other pursuits and it is the teachers’ role to make sure these skills are learned and practised. The content is not the teacher’s sole responsibility anymore, but rather, the facilitation of learning skills, learning outcomes, meeting provincial learning expectations, and assessment are the teacher’s main responsibilities in PBL.

The long term learning that results, besides the content that the individual inquiry uncovers, are the skills of research, collaboration and information sharing. The 21st century learner is no longer focused on the memorization of facts, but the gathering and sifting of information to create new ideas and products. Each of the three examples presented resulted in lasting and satisfying learning experiences that met the needs of the students, and the mandated curricula. Research has been done that substantiates the significant benefits to learning as a result of PBL (see Edutopia).

Tags: Project Based Learning