EdTech 542- Project Based Learning

This space will allow me to reflect on my exploration of Project Based Learning through EdTech 542: Technology Supported Project Based Learning. Each week,I will reflect on my learning and post my reflection below. Please read on & follow the links below to peruse my learning journey.

Week One:

This week provided me an introduction to PBL. I watched this video to gain an introduction to Project Based Learning and its basic tenets. I also registered with the Buck Institute of Education’s PBL website, which was so interesting to explore. The site provided an excellent overview of PBL and the key elements of PBL environments. From my research and my exploration of PBL, I recognized a couple of things:

  1. I have already begun creating PBL experiences in my classroom. I love creating authentic ways for my students to engage with our content. Through this course, I look forward to acquiring more ways to engage with my students in hands-on, inquiry-based, real-world Project Based Learning.
  2. There is a lot more evidence and support for PBL than I expected– especially when I consider how much push-back this type of innovation receives from most schools and how few schools implement this model on a large-scale. My research and class discussions made me quite interested in school and district level PBL transformations and what it takes for teachers, students, families, administrators, and community members to get on board with this successful model.

Check out my post about What is PBL? to read more about my musings and learnings from the week. I have lots of potential project ideas bouncing around in my head– I look forward to fleshing them into real-life learning opportunities for my students!

Week Two: 

During this week, I really established my project idea. At school, we have a 3D printer and I have really been itching to come up with a project that would allow my students to use this interesting technology. We are finishing the school year with a structure and function science unit, so I decided to use this PBL project as a way to further develop that unit and bring out the 3D printer. For my project, students will first be learning about animal adaptations and habitats. Then, they will use what they learned to create a new animal that is well suited to a specific environment. Finally, they will 3D print a model of their animal in order to showcase its structural adaptations.

I developed the overview for my project and outlined the learning targets I hope to hit with this unit. You can view the Overview here. I also started working on the website that will present and share my project with other teachers. You can view this work in progress here.

Week Three: 

This week, I spent most of my time researching what makes a great driving question. This is the question that drives the project forward, so it is really important to the PBL process. Lots of articles I read cited the creation of this project as the most challenging aspect of PBL for teachers. This tutorial really helped me understand how to create a question that focuses my project and engages my students. You can read more about my thoughts about the important aspects of a driving question and read my driving question and sub questions here.

After creating my driving question and sub-questions, I spent some time thinking about the scope of my project as a whole. I developed an outline of the main lessons of the project and created a visual organizer to outline the learning targets and goals of each lesson.

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Week Four:

This week was focused on the development of the bulk of my PBL site and project components. I developed Student Learning Guide, Project Timeline, Entry Event, and added to the Tools and Resources page. I also spent time planning the assessments for this unit- both formative and summative.

My main takeaway from this week’s work is that planning a comprehensive and fully developed PBL unit is a time intensive process. Earlier this semester, we had a forum discussion about the challenges of implementing PBL, even with all of the research supporting it. To me, as I have been planning this unit, the challenge of teacher time has become apparent. Ultimately, I think schools and districts that want to make PBL a reality need to provide teachers time to collaborate and plan together. With this time, these units could be developed with great depth and purpose.

Week Five:

This week, my learning was focused on wrapping up my PBL site and reflecting on the PBL process. I have updated the following pages on my site:

Products & Performances and Reflection Methods: https://sites.google.com/a/u.boisestate.edu/smithsciencepbl/products-performances

Differentiated Instruction in the Teaching and Learning Guide: https://sites.google.com/a/u.boisestate.edu/smithsciencepbl/teaching-learning

Technology Support/Resources Needed: https://sites.google.com/a/u.boisestate.edu/smithsciencepbl/resources-needed

At this point in the PBL process, I have been thinking a lot about how to sell PBL and specifically this project to parents, administrators, and colleagues. Potential criticisms they might have is that the project will take a lot of time away from tested content areas like reading and math. I would counter that criticism by explaining that through this project, students will be reading and engaging in critical thinking about high level texts. In order to be successful, they will need to read a variety of sources and texts about a subject matter. As such, even though it is not a direct reading lesson, students will be getting reading practice.

Another criticism I might receive is that it allows for a lot of student directed time and exploration, which is difficult to measure success and maintain teacher control. To this, I would counter that in a PBL environment, students are definitely in the driver’s seat of their learning, but that does not need to be a bad or scary thing. Instead, we can change the culture of classrooms to support teachers as they relinquish control and support students as they explore and try new things. I think supporting colleagues and creating a culture of teachers in my building who are willing to collaborate about how PBL looks and works would be an important step towards helping other teachers and administration jump on board with PBL.

A final criticism that I might receive is that this project is too “fun” or too hands-on, are students even getting the content knowledge they need? In response to this, I could show naysayers my CCSS and NGSS aligned standards and detailed plans that match grade level content standards. As PBL becomes more of a prevalent classroom philosophy and style, hopefully this conversation will fall to the wayside because parents, colleagues, and administration will recognize that within these types of units the learning students are doing real-world, hands-on, experiential learning that prepares them for their future lives and careers.

Week Six:

Here is the link to my final project: https://sites.google.com/a/u.boisestate.edu/smithsciencepbl/home

Here is the link to my self-evaluation of my final project: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rRRcDmZzl82VnUIB-8qnnjy9Rmk23UFulBhsyKUlWaE/edit?usp=sharing

This course has been a great introduction to Project Based Learning. I came into this class having a very basic understanding of PBL as an opportunity for students to work on a real-world project in order to master grade level content. I expected to deepen my understanding of what PBL is and hoped to come away with a useable unit and the understanding of how to create future PBL learning experiences for my class. At the close of this class, I can confidently say that I came away with a much deeper understanding of PBL, specifically all of the working parts and steps that go into creating a PBL unit. That being said, I also met my other goal for this class because I have a teachable unit – I taught part of it to my current fourth graders and plan to use the entire unit next year. In addition, I now feel much more confident using what I learned to create future PBL units for my students.

I think I best understand why PBL is important and effective because throughout this course I found myself wondering how to best convince my colleagues, administrators, and parents that this was an effective teaching model. As such, my enthusiasm for PBL caused me to delve into additional research and thought surrounding the justification of PBL. I think I also best understand the idea of the driving question, but at the same time, I think this is the skill that I will continue to develop the most. To me, it is the trickiest part of PBL unit development because it is so all-encompassing. I think another aspect that I understand the least is the facilitation of a PBL unit. I feel confident in my understanding of how PBL works, is developed, and how it can benefit students, but as I am still new to actually facilitating units in my own classroom, this is a large area of future growth for me, especially when I think about coordinating with community and school experts.

With what I have learned this semester, I am excited to continue developing PBL units for my students and collaborating with other teachers at my school or in other communities surrounding this work. I think PBL has such transformative teaching implications. I am enthusiastic about the ways in which what I have learned will play a role in my classroom as soon as the start of next year!