Welcome!

Welcome to my digital learning log for my master’s degree program through Boise State University!  On this site, I will post projects, assignments, artifacts, work samples, reflections, and other evidence of what I learn as I progress through the program.

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Post-PBL

This week I finalized my PBL website, which essentially means that the project is ready to go.  I could teach this with students in real life.  It took a lot of careful, intentional planning but I believe it’s as complete as it can be.  One of the final components I worked on when completing the website was the reflection piece and how it will be used with students throughout and at the conclusion of the project for them.  This is obviously a vital piece of any good project, but it’s important to remember that it doesn’t only apply to the students.  Once the project is over, the teacher needs to spend some dedicated time reflecting on the overall process as well.

For an effective debrief of the PBL experience, teachers should first reflect with students, taking in their feedback on the project.  Then teachers should plan a time to debrief with the other adults who had been a part of the project – support teachers, the PTC, etc.  A reflective conversation would be valuable for shaping the way that PBL projects in the future will look.  Rarely is anything ever perfect no matter how carefully it was planned; there’s always going to be room to make improvements and tweak things to make the project even better next time.  Though there may be one dedicated meeting time for this reflection, it will likely be an ongoing conversation as the teacher moves forward and tries out other PBL projects – we can continue to refer back to past PBL experiences when planning future ones.

 

Teachers as Facilitators

One of the greatest challenges for an instructor in a PBL unit is to adapt to the role of facilitator. Traditionally, teachers are used to being what’s often referred to as “the sage on the stage” – the disseminator of knowledge who stands at the front of the room and teaches.  In a PBL experience, that environment simply doesn’t work.  The role of the instructor will change to be more of a facilitator, helping guide students through their own inquiries, discoveries, and learning. During a PBL project, there may be a couple of times that require direct, whole-group instruction by the teacher, but that should not be the norm.  Generally, students should be working in groups on their various approaches to solving the problem presented in the Driving Question.  The teacher should continually monitor the progress of each group (and student), offering suggestions and guidance to keep them on track, focused on the task at hand, and scaffolding as appropriate to make sure that everyone has access to the information necessary to complete all parts of the project.

As an effective facilitator, the teacher must help to motivate a group, build consensus, manage any issues that come up within groups, maintain focus, generate ownership, and inspire action.  These skills apply not only to teachers in a facilitator role, but really are skills that an effective teacher should have in any teaching capacity.  The difference is mainly in the mindset the teacher must adopt, and it may take some time for a teacher to become completely comfortable and break the old teaching habits and routines they’re used to. One of the major differences that may be challenging is the amount of preparation that must go into this type of learning experience – the teacher must have prepared various types of learning materials, aides, and resources to be available to students because they’ll all be able to tackle problems in a way of their own choosing and the teacher must have planned ahead for that.  The students will need some structure and it may take time for them to get used to this new sort of learning environment as well, and the teacher should keep that in mind.  It may be very disconcerting and even confusing for some students who are used to a direct-instruction model and are now expected to take far more responsibility for their own learning. The benefits that both the students and teachers will reap will make this all worthwhile as students develop the competencies and skills to be successful in this type of learning environment.

PBL – Planning & Preparing

This week I focused on the planning and preparing sections of my PBL project.  Creating a driving question and corresponding subquestions was tricky in terms of working out the wording to be just right, keeping it focused yet broad enough to cover all the standards I wanted to, all while making sure it was clear to students.  Once I got that worked out (though I’m still not 100% satisfied), I moved on to the actual logistics of planning out the project.  I started by defining the major tasks that students would produce, examining what role I would have in giving them resources, information, and direct instruction.  Working with a calendar template was very helpful to then take that plan and create a timeline.  This will be helpful both to students because it will keep them on track and to the teacher because s/he can make sure that instruction happens at the appropriate time.  Having taught for many years, I’ve definitely gotten better at timing and planning things out, but I’ve also learned that most project plans that span several weeks do not go exactly according to that plan.  I’ve tried to build some flexibility and “catch up” days into the plan to allow for this.  I will actually be using this project with my students, so I look forward to being able to reflect on how it plays out in reality and modify the plan going forward.

Assessing PBL

Now that I’ve selected a project topic, it’s time to turn my attention to assessments. There are two types of assessments – formative assessments occur during and throughout the project, and summative assessments that take place at the end.  Both types are essential to the success of the project because they are valuable measures of students’ growth, progress, and learning.  For my specific project, I’ve developed the following list of assessments:

Formative Assessments  – Throughout the project, students will be assessed in the following ways:

Summative Assessments  – At the conclusion of the project, students will be assessed with the following:

These assessments will help not only the students, but the teacher monitor and track progress and identify areas that might need greater support.  Gaining feedback from the formative assessments as the project progresses will highlight areas where the teacher needs to provide additional resources, more time, or more instruction regarding certain components of the project.  For instance, if the teacher notices that many area struggling with creating a budget spreadsheet, s/he might find examples of various types of budget spreadsheets to share with students.  Also, having students reflect and respond to their project via a journal will allow teachers to gauge their level of interest and engagement, as well as to identify frustrations and areas of need.  Students should feel that their input is valuable as evaluators and assessors as well, and I think that the first time I did this project with a class I would ask students for their input on the evaluation process so that I can modify for the future.

Developing a PBL Project

I’ve spent some time researching Project Based Learning (PBL) and have started developing a project idea.  I teach sixth grade and each year the PTC (Parent-Teacher Club) plans a sixth grade dance to celebrate the end of elementary school for the kids. This year, my students have voiced their desire to be more involved in the party planning, so this got me thinking about how I could turn this into a PBL project.  Here’s my idea so far:

Your group is now in charge of planning the sixth grade dance.  You have a budget of $1000 that was generously provided by the PTC.  You will need to create a party proposal that includes a written description of the party theme and activities, a budget spreadsheet (food, decorations, music/DJ, etc.), a map of the room drawn to scale (you’ll be transforming the multipurpose room), and a persuasive oral presentation to convince us that your party plan is the best.

This project is focusing mainly on math standards, but includes some writing and speaking as well.  I would like to try to also include some persuasive writing/speaking by having the groups each pitch their proposals (maybe even to the actual PTC) and then have a vote to see which proposals wins.

Incorporating PBL into the Classroom

Describe qualities of a successful project.

According to the BIE website, Project Based Learning (PBL) is “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge”. In order for a project to be successful, it must include the following qualities: standards-based content and 21st century skills, a challenging driving problem or question, sustained inquiry, authenticity or real-world context, student voice/choice within the project, reflection of the process and end result, a period of critique and revision, and a final product that is shared publically.

What issues must a teacher consider that are specific to PBL instructional strategies?

A PBL environment is unlike conventional educational learning environments in that it requires a high degree of collaboration among students (a skill which must be taught to them!), and also redefines the role of the teacher. The new role of the teacher in a PBL environment is defined by Frank, Lavy, and Elata (2003) as when “… lecturing to passive students is replaced by encouraging motivation, tutoring, providing resources, and helping learners to construct their own knowledge” (p. 280). The traditional idea of teacher-led instruction doesn’t apply anymore; this can require teachers to rethink his/her role in the classroom which can be challenging. Teachers must also be carefully trained in order to properly implement PBL and often times the necessary professional development and support are lacking.

 

What types of students will be successful in PBL environments?

Research shows that PBL has resulted in high levels of student engagement for both the lowest and highest level students (Belland, et al., 2006). In addition to boosting achievement, PBL benefits students by increasing their motivation and engagement. Bell (2010) claims that all students can “flourish under this child driven, motivating approach to learning and gain valuable skills that will build a strong foundation for their future in our global economy. Of course, the overall success for any student depends on the quality of the project design and the support provided throughout the project which places a great deal of responsibility on the teacher.

References:

Bell, S. (2010). Project-based learning for the 21st century: Skills for the future. Clearing House, 83(2), 39-43. doi:10.1080/00098650903505415

Belland, B. R., Ertmer, P. A., & Simons, K. D. (2006). Perceptions of the value of problem-based learning among students with special needs and their teachers. The Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 1(2), 1-18.

Buck Institute for Education. (2016). Retrieved from http://bie.org/

Frank, M., Lavy, I. & Elata, D. (2003). Implementing the project-based learning approach in an academic engineering course. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 13, 273–288.

 

Course Reflection

What have you learned?

I have learned so much throughout EdTech 541 Integrating Technology into the Classroom Curriculum course about how to research and choose pedagogically sound, proven technologies to integrate into lessons and by doing so, to increase the effectiveness of those lessons.  I learned about a wide variety of technologies, ranging from the basic suite to multimedia to gamification to video-based and everything in between.  I found some amazing new sites and software applications that I hadn’t been exposed to before and am excited to use them in my class and share them with others.

How have you have grown professionally?

This course has encouraged me to think about my role not only as a classroom teacher, but as an educational technologist or technology coach in that I’m thinking about creating resources that I could use myself, but that would also be easily shared with others to encourage them to integrate technology.  I’m hoping to move into the formal role of technology coach in the near future, so this helped shift my thinking in being able to clearly provide rationales for my choices of research-based technology integration.

How has your own teaching practice or thoughts about teaching been impacted by what you have learned or accomplished in this course?

I have been encouraged to think about my own teaching practice in terms of really working to integrate a variety of technologies into my classroom in order to reach all types of learners.  The best example of this would be the game-based learning module during which I researched the theory behind game-based learning and then explored some sites to try out.  I realized that while it’s not my personal favorite thing, it could be a highly effective teaching platform and that sit was something I should explore with my students.  I enjoyed learning about and being pushed to try new technologies throughout this course.

How theory guided development of the projects and assignments you created?

One of the unexpected benefits of this course came from the time spent reading about and examining the theory behind the technologies we are using.  There are so many technologies available and it’s often difficult to sort the good from the bad (not to mention all the in-between), and having a strong understanding of theory gives me a stronger base for determining the most effective tools to choose.

How the coursework demonstrates mastery of the AECT standards.

My work for this course closely aligns with the AECT Standards.  Standard 1 (Content Knowledge) was met through the readings, research, and discussions throughout this course and was the foundation for the projects listed on my course website.  Standard 2 (Content Pedagogy) is demonstrated in the projects and learning activities that were designed for specific content areas.  Standard 3 (Learning Environments) is shown in the careful selection of resources for student use and the design of the projects involving those resources.  Standard 4 (Professional Knowledge and Skills) was met with my website that is public and can be shared with other educators for use in their own classrooms.  Standard 5 (Research) was met because all of the projects, resources, and writings are based on sound educational research.