Instructional Media or “What’s an Overhead?”

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

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