Final Reflection about my PBL journey

What do you know understand best about Project Based Learning? What do you understand least?
I understand that what students learn through the project must be of significant importance and a real-world problem for the students to remain engaged. I also know that students are more motivated to learn when they feel like they are making a difference and sharing their work with an authentic audience. In addition, something that most teachers allow little time for in their classrooms is the reflection component. Students can almost learn as much from looking back and reflecting on the process and their learning, which is something I myself often forgot about.

Something that I at first felt lost about was finding expert partners. However, once I did find the right people in our community I found it very beneficial because they were able to answer any of their questions that they could not find anywhere else directly from someone in the field. Something else that I still need to continue to get better at is being okay with messy thinking and unorganized steps (as long as they are all headed in the right path). I need to learn to be okay with a less rigid calendar because my students really showed me that they know the in and outs of the endangered species of Idaho.

What did you expect to learn in this course? What did you actually learn? More, less, and why?
Honestly, I simply wanted to know what PBL really was. A colleague of mine (who used to teach Spanish at BSU) kept talking about PBL but I never truly understood what it all entailed. I thought that it was all about working in the community since she was working with prisoners and having her students do some community service. I understand now the importance of the community component but also all of the other components that a teacher must take into account to make a PBL project successful in her classroom for her actual students.

Thanks to this class, I have learned to use the standards I am responsible for teaching in second grade in a more meaningful way thanks to the PBL Model. I feel like I have a good foundational understanding on how to develop instructional units that tie to the standards and I can make it more authentic for my students which I used to find challenging at times because I teach all subject matters in Spanish. I understand the value of having an authentic driving question and an authentic audience. And I feel like I can create web-based PBL units without as much guidance and scaffolding on my own from now on.

What will you do with what you have learned?My plan for this summer is to turn our quarterly summative assessment that either combine science and language arts or social studies and language arts into PBL projects. At the moments I feel like I have many of the same components but students were not as in charge of their own learning and it was much more individualized. I really hope that I can encourage students to use technology to design solutions to the proposed problems, give them a voice, ask them to dig deeper and provide opportunities to become engaged citizens.

You can find my PBL project at: https://sites.google.com/a/u.boisestate.edu/saving-caribou-technology-supported-project-based-learning/home

Peer Review in the Classroom

Peer reviewing could become a very strong tool in your classroom. When you set a “culture of critique” from the beginning of the school year, students will be used to be constantly thinking about improvement. We are all a work in progress. As years go by we continue to get better (for the most part). When we teach and provide students with the tools to self and peer assess others, they are thinking of how they can improve their own projects and help others create their best work. This creates trust and makes students more accountable for their own learning.

In my classroom, after I explain the goals that we have for a culminating project, I present a rubric. Usually, I have my second-grade students assess themselves with my help when they complete the assignment. We meet, discuss and mark the boxes they think that their work is representative of. Other times, we assess other student’s final work (after they present it) by using the rubric and sharing why we think that it was exemplary or needed more work in each area. In order to do this, the students usually use the projector to present their final work and then we go down the items of the rubric and mark with a check plus, check or check minus (the other students show thumbs up or down for this). I have found that students are a lot harder on themselves than on their peers.

As my students continue to get better about reflecting on their work and other students’ work I think I could ask students to use their current Seesaw interactive journals and post their work with their filled out rubric there so that others can add comments. Instead filling out the rubric, at times, students could simply write a narrative about what they learned, went well or should do differently next time.

For this project, for example, students had to conduct research on the country of Peru and write a paragraph with a topic sentence and conclusion, plus 6 details accompanied by images. Here is an example of a blank rubric students used for this which we filled out together as a class to provide feedback for the student.

 

How and why to debrief your PBL experience

According to Cody (2018), while we are working to continue to project moving forward, there are so many things happening that “sometimes in the mad rush, we do not take the time to look back at where we started, and how far we have come” (para 1). However, looking back and comparing to where we started and where we are today is as important as the tasks of the project were themselves. We learn so much from taking time to reflect on an experience, why would you skip this part?

Haven’t you ever planned big day or project? Maybe a wedding, an important party, a house improvement project, etc. If so, once you have lived the moment or completed the project do you not look back? Most of us do and in fact, most of us like to think of what went well and what went wrong. What could be done differently next time or what was wonderful and should stay? It is in our nature as humans to reflect. Therefore, I believe that we should go through this process with our students as well.

If possible, I would involve everyone that has been part of the project, the guest speaker, the aids, the parents who have helped in any way, the community members who have helped us, and even the people who came to the fair. We would use the already filled out self-assessment rubrics and think back on some of the positives and things that we could still improve on and share at least two first in small groups and then as the teacher walks around she/he can share the ones she/he hears that are in common with most students. Then, if it applies to the next PBL project, the community or the class as a whole, we would make a plan for how to fix what needs improvement and how to ensure we keep what worked. Finally, although I think that this extensive reflection should happen at the end of each PBL project, students could continue to reflect in their journals and when self-assessing themselves and their groups. It doesn’t need to only happen once and at the end.

Here are some of the questions you could ask:

  • Reflect on your work today (or in this project). What were you most proud of?
  • Where did you struggle? How did you deal with that?
  • What about your thinking or work brought you the most satisfaction?
  • What was frustrating? How will you deal with that next time around?
  • What made you curious today?
  • How did you help others? How did you hinder?

Note: The questions were taken from Anthony Cody’s Making Time for Reflection in Our Projects article. Visit the article to read it in full here.

Learning to be a Facilitator

If I have learned something very well so far is that implementing a PBL unit doesn’t mean that the teacher quits teaching. You need to be prepared for those mini-lessons that might be needed, you need to be prepared for difficult questions, resources must be ready just in case, you have to have purpose and a good plan for the guided reading time, you must always be available, you must dedicate time outside of class to be ready for the next session, etc. Managing the process of learning is a difficult task. Students will acquire learning at different stages, therefore as teachers, we must be ready to provide the support needed at each different stage. I see the teacher as a leader but not as a boss. I think I will need to ensure that I am not telling students exactly what to do, instead I am supporting their decisions and providing guidance. A quote that stuck with me from the readings this week was: “If I try to control the learning environment too much the students lose ownership of the learning. It becomes too much like “school,” where students spend the majority of the time listening to the teacher.” (Stevenson, 2014, para 1). Students need to actually do the work so that the information sticks to them and not only sticks until they take the test and then they could care less about that unit.

 

In order to be an effective facilitator, you must check in to ensure that no one is drowning or feeling overwhelmed. She/he can demonstrate models of past work or help brainstorm ideas but yet leave room for new innovative ideas. This person would only provide students with what they need and no more than that but yet hold students accountable for moving forward. The facilitator must have clear expectations for students so that students know what they are working towards and know what is not acceptable, which provides students with a sense of responsibility. This is where the Project Wall comes in handy. Another quality of this role is to ask students to do their best work, their most “beautiful” work as  Ron Berger of Expeditionary Learning would state. The facilitator must emphasize the quality of the project and not be too controlling of how students get there but at the same time don’t let someone or a group of students struggle to the point that they feel like they lose the need to know because it seems too difficult to find the answer.

Students will learn important life skills like knowing how to collaborate, help solve real-life problems, set goals and break down those goals to manageable tasks, be a team player and a leader if needed, speak in front of public audiences, create high quality products, learn to revise and rehearse and finally learn to take criticism. When you think of these skills, you think of skills that you need to possess, therefore, I believe that students will develop the competencies and skills needed to be successful in life.

Stevenson, I. (2014, March 21). Buck Institute for Education. Retrieved March 14, 2018, from http://www.bie.org/blog/project_management_the_devil_is_in_the_differentiation

The Importance of Scaffolding in Project Based Learning

I would agree with the author of the article, Jamie McKenzie and say that as a teacher if you would like to see a successful outcome, you cannot simply send students off with little structure or guidance and assume that they have the skills needed to be successful. If we all did that, then who would actually be teaching them the skills they need? They would simply get passed down from grade to grade without knowing how to be successful. Although scaffolding can be difficult to plan for, it is necessary if you would like all students to gain success.

In my project, I intend to provide students with a roadmap of where they should head with their project and check on their planned tasks so that I am guiding the students but not telling them exactly what they need to be doing at each step. Students are responsible for their own work. I, the teacher won’t be doing it for them. However, I have already thought of possible skills that students may be lacking and have a mini-lesson ready in case they need it. The mini-lessons can be used in their entirety or only give students what they need to move forward. At the same time I am not giving students all the answer, instead, I am giving them the tools that I foresee them needing. If they don’t need them then don’t even take the time to force it the group of students.

From year to year, we teachers know that this is true. Some groups need more scaffolding in certain subject matters and some groups need little but as long as we are prepared for how we can possibly help them then we will see success with any PBL project. Some things I think that repeat from year to year that helps students, specially in an immersion program like mine, is going over the vocabulary to ensure that everyone is one the same page and assessing what students already know about the topic or how much information they lack about it. This is specially true in a low income school. You cannot assume that students have already had opportunities to do the things you assume they would have like using a tablet.

How the Assessments Meet the Key Principles of Effective Assessments

For my PBL unit about caribou, I intend to have formative and summative assessments. All of these assessments meet the requirements of effective assessments because they are exclusively created with my students in mind and for this particular unit.

The Assessment is for the Students:
The topic is relevant for my students who care about animals and will be able to help animals in our state. Plus they are creating products (letters, fundraising artifacts, reports, flyers, etc.) that they will share what they have discovered with the community. Students will be able to plan how they will tackle their final products and which one exactly they will be contributing to, giving them ownership of the process.

Assessment is faithful to the work students actually do:
Students will be assessed on any work they do towards their final project. Throughout the project, students can present their preliminary artifacts, demonstrate that they are on track with their own plan they have created as a group on Nozbe (or paper outline), storyboards, mind maps, do practice presentations, small reflections, etc. Students will be assessed based on the rubrics linked to the summative assessment which are general yet specific to the project. Therefore, students won’t be assessed on what they do not know about the project or did not get to research further about.

Assessment is public:
The products students will be creating are not indented only for the teacher. Instead, they are indented for subject experts and the community. The rubrics will be accessible from the beginning for anyone to assess their current work at any time and see where they are at and where they need to still work towards fulfilling.

Assessment promotes ongoing self-reflection and critical inquiry
This is the area that I think could be strengthened. I will make sure to stop and model how I would reflect if the work so far demonstrates good qualities and if not, what could be improved so that students can do the same on their own group work.
I will like to also allow time each day for students to stop and reflect on their work that day and ensure that they know they can change and revise as many times as needed. This will also allow the teacher to adjust anything that may arise.

The Characteristics of a Great Driving Question

Teachers no longer follow an old boring textbook and state facts to the students for them to memorize and repeat back. For that.. we know have Google, don’t we?

We must find ways for students to apply the knowledge that we teach them by finding ways to increase participation and retention while deepening their thinking. This is when a Project Based Learning project would come in handy because they are created around a driving question that if students are able to solve they will not only have gained the concepts they needed but also the skills to apply their newly acquired knowledge in a meaningful way that usually impacts their community.

But how can you write this driving question? – you may ask.

Well, it is not an easy task. It is a rather difficult task. Think about this question as being what all learning will revolve around. Therefore, driving questions must be:

  • Open-ended enough to allow multiple unique answers but at least a correct answer
  • Engaging and provocative
  • Linked to the content (standards) although it doesn’t need to state the learning goals exactly
  • Complex – Cannot be answered with a simple Google search
  • Authentic
  • Directed to both teacher and students

In addition, there are different types of driving questions, You may be posing a philosophical question, a problem solving situation or a design challenge but what all of these have in common are the characteristics shared above.

Open-ended questions require students to actually look deeper and investigate before responding. “Though not all open-ended questions will help focus a project, any question that does focus a project needs to be open-ended.” (Drake, n.d). In other words, the driving question must be open-ended and focused on the project, while the sub-questions may be direct questions that lead to a better informed answer or solution to the driving question.

If you think about life’s biggest questions, they seem almost like there are so many smaller questions you must answer first and the compilation of all of these answer will lead you to a good answer to the big question you were contemplating initially. Well, the same occurs with the driving question. One great question makes you think of the other little questions you must answer to arrive at a conclusion or a solution to that first big question.  According to RJ Drake’s eportfolio, “By asking a combination of open-ended questions and directed questions, we can effectively draw out deeper thinking in our students while teaching them key facts”. I like the upside down pyramid from RJ Drake’s portfolio because it visually represents the amount of smaller questions we must answer in order to find an answer to the driving question.

directed questions

Another resource I have found very helpful this week before finalizing my driving questions was this website in which you can quiz yourself in deciding if a question is a good or mediocre driving question. Try it here and test yourself!

Finally, when you get to writing your very own driving question, try to not sound like a teacher wrote by, align it to the content you must cover, move it from a general question to a local/community context and seek help from subject matter experts!
Drake, R. (n.d.). Driving Questions. Retrieved from http://www.jetspost.com/eportfolio/pbl/driving_questions.htm

Larmer, John, and Gina Olabuenaga (2013). “Driving Questions.” YouTube, Buck Institute for Education. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/7PhVEoAeWbk

 

 

How does PBL fit in my classroom?

As I embark on this journey of planning a meaningful PBL project for my students I have found that is a lot harder than I thought. According to Land (2000), I am not alone, “given the general lack of experience most teachers have with open-ended teaching strategies, novice PBL instructors tend to encounter difficulties during all aspects of the process: planning, implementing, and assessing. Furthermore, when technology plays an integral role in the implementation of the PBL unit, initial challenges may be exacerbated or new challenges encountered.” I think that after working on my MET and being in my last semester I feel okay about troubleshooting any of the challenges that technology may pose. However, the planning, implementing and assessing seems more difficult.

Because the resources that teachers have at hand are not the perfect fit with the PBL approach (Ertmer et al., 2009). This forces teachers to find or create all of the materials themselves. I feel like  I already have to do this because I teach all subject matters in Spanish and what the district provides is usually in English, so I have to translate or create my own materials which I often do so that it fits my teaching style and the needs of my students better. So this wouldn’t be any different in the amount of work I put into it.

Although the planning, implementing and assessing may be difficult at first the BIE provides lots of tools from rubrics to tips on how to get started. Nevertheless, the rubrics available would help the teachers be aware of the 4 C’s that must be present in a PBL project. I personally loved the rubrics.. However, you will need to keep in mind that the rubrics are only meant to assess the 4 C’s and not content area standard. The teacher will need a separate rubric for this or add more rows to this template (Larmer, 2013).

As I was navigating through all of the resources this week, some of the ideas that came to mind were:

  • A project based on teaching the rest of the students in our school how to take better care of the items since our pile of lost and found keeps getting higher.
  • Design how our new playground in the new building should be keeping in mind all of the needs of our students.
  • Curation of a museum of rocks since we get to learn about rocks and erosion for science
  • Work with the food bank to help feed the students in our school who may need it
  • Work with the state of Idaho to find out how to keep the almost extinct Caribou safe in their own habitats since we learn about habitats in second grade

The last idea listed was actually the first idea I thought of since we will be moving into our habitat unit and I had not planned a culminating project for that unit yet. As I move forward with my planning I know that I will need to present some minilessons, create lots of resources (including websites with relevant links), have daily check-ins and provide guidance. My students haven’t had that much experience with science until this year (second grade) so I am excited to cover life science with them and do it in a meaningful way that they can connect with and feel like it is valuable.

Finally, something I am looking forward to is to give students more control. Some teachers find it hard to give up control. But I actually enjoy that aspect. I realize how much more students are capable of and realize that sometimes they have better ideas than myself and I find myself wondering… “Why didn’t I think about that?”….How smart are you kiddos!? You should be teaching us about that topic… And the PBL approach will allow more room for opportunities like this!

Ertmer, P., Glazewski, K., Jones, D., Goktas, Y., Collins, K., & Kocaman, A., (2009). Facilitating Technology-Enhanced Problem-based Learning (PBL) in the Middle School Classroom: An Examination of How and Why Teachers Adapt. Jl. of Interactive Learning Research, 20(1), 35-54.

Land, S. M. (2000). Cognitive requirements for learning with open-ended learning environments. Educational Technology Research & Development, 48(3), 61-78.

Larmer, J., (2013). PBL Blog. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from http://www.bie.org/blog/how_to_use_the_4cs_rubrics

What is PBL?

This second week of my 542 class about Project Based Learning I learned what PBL was and how it compares to problem-based learning, its essential components, and benefits and ideas for implementing it in my classroom.

If you didn’t know, Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students are posed with a real-world problem with a driving question that pushes students to set goals, research, problem solve, collaborate, design and manage their learning, all connected to the key standards students must master that school year.

What I liked about it is that it ties to any subject matter and grade level. You start with the end in mind and choose what the essential or key concepts students must explore and learn and dedicate more time to those instead of “covering” every single standard for your grade level or subject area one by one. Think of it as replacing conventional instruction for a portion of your course truly delving deeper into what you would like students to get out of it. Similar to what a teacher does when he/she “unpacks” the standards. This means that the teacher must  make “…a deliberate decision about topics that you [the teacher] wants to teach in-depth versus topics that can be simply ‘covered’.” (p.7). The teacher would have to decide what required direct instruction, what would be better learned through the application?

Another thing that stuck with me is how PBL is different from other “similar” approaches I had researched and thought about implementing in the past. I realized that although PBL shares some characteristics with inquiry-based or experiential learning. PBL focuses more on integrating it to standards and being applicable to the community and something I didn’t know it focuses on ASSESSMENT! The assessment, the final project, drives the instruction.

It is important to remember that the teacher acts as a facilitator, who goes back and forth between two roles, being the leader and being the manager, just as it usually happens in balanced classrooms. The teacher cannot always be the driver and must provide opportunities for students to apply their knowledge. In this special case, students have more say about their path on how to get there, although it is difficult to plan and may seem chaotic  I think will pay off in how much students will be able to retain what was learned!

Final Reflection

Part One: Reflection
Every semester feels like I end up loving one class more than the other. This class was definitely my favorite this semester. I felt like I was given the opportunity and the encouragement to try to implement technology tools I was learning about and taking the time to research, directly into my classroom. I feel like my students have benefited from me taking this course! All of the projects that I had planned for the last two quarters have been enhanced thanks to the ideas I have gained from this class.

I have enjoyed how closely related the textbook readings were to the weekly assignments. Being able to read about the theories behind each topic before applying it to the projects allowed me to think about the topic, conduct in-depth research about it and demonstrate full understanding through the creation of my projects for this course. Now I am well aware of the implications that learning theories have when using technology in the classroom. I truly believe that when teachers use a variety of strategies it is much easier to reach all learners’ multiple intelligences. I know that I will continue to keep in mind and use all three phases of the Technology Integration Planning Model for teachers in my planning.

The coursework demonstrated mastery of the AECT standards extremely well since we were asked to design, develop, use, manage and evaluate instructional technology projects. The weekly assignments pushed me to create projects based on principles learned in class while keeping the learners in mind. I have also either already used the created projects in my classroom or I am planning to use in the near future. Through the blogs, we were also able to reflect on what we learned or had tried implementing.

I had started my M.E.T program with the hopes of learning how to enrich my teaching and reach all students through technology and I believe this class has not only fulfilled that but it has pushed me to find the relative advantage of using technology in the classroom in each of the subject areas I teach. I have grown as a teacher and professional because now I go out of my way to find technology tools that will help my students and not just try to make the technologies I was comfortable using the ones they had to use to demonstrate learning or help my students with disabilities do better in class for example. This class was truly all I was hoping for when I selected this elective. I was able to successfully integrate technology in all of the classroom curricula and not just for the subject area I chose to do my projects for. Technology is currently being used in all components of our school day and students are thriving. I will continue to stay up to date with new technologies and instead of teaching students how to use a certain technology tool, I will teach them how to use any technology they would like to help them learn.

Part 2: Blog Performance
Blogging was the part of the course that scared me the most at first. I wouldn’t say I am a good writer (well, at least not in English) but I value the power of reflecting through writing. However, towards the end of the semester blogging was the part I looked forward to. I was able to put my ideas out in writing and dig deep and make connections while learning from what others were sharing.

I completed all of the readings as soon as I could so that I could get to the blog post immediately. I always kept the blog grading rubric in mind and I strived to provide insightful and thought-provoking connections to my experiences. I always used the readings as the “bones” of my posts but I also went out to find more research to back up my statements. I often replied to those who visited and commented on my posts after I reflected on their questions and comments. Finally, I made sure to respond to two other classmates providing meaningful feedback, asking questions when relevant and found connections.

Here is how I would grade myself:
Content: 70/70
Readings & Resources: 19/20
Timeliness: 20/20
Responses to Other Students: 30/30
Overall: 139/140