EDTECH 542 Course Reflection

August 3, 2013 Leave a comment

It’s been 8 short weeks, and I can truly say that I have learned enough in the course to change my view of PBL.  I started out skeptical about project learning because of personal experience with lackluster or poorly designed projects.  I now know that project-based learning requires a high level of design and thought prior to implementation.  Teachers need to think about the outcomes, the presentations, and the purpose of students doing a project.  What I understand best about PBL is that it requires purposeful design built around a carefully-crafted and open-ended driving question.  The part I understand least or the part I am least comfortable with is relinquishing class time and control to the project.  I believe this stems from a desire to ensure that we don’t waste time; successfully completing a project should alleviate this issue.

I am not sure what I expected to learn in class as I began skeptical of PBL.  I guess I expected long discussions about constructivist theory and cooperative learning.  What I actually learned is that PBL is not throwing a project into my lesson plans so that I don’t have to teach that day.  PBL requires thought, deliberate action, constant monitoring and reflection, frequent feedback opportunities, and teacher-student engagement.  I learned that every project done in a class is not PBL, even if the project has merit.

I plan to teach this project in my honors classes this year.  I built my project around a book that we already read and a line of inquiry that we already pursue.  The project will take that inquiry much further than we have in the past and should also be fun and engaging for the students.

All-in-all, I have had a great experience in this class.  I feel that my eyes have been opened to benefits of true project work, and I am excited to incorporate PBL into my teaching.

Here is the link to my project.


PBL Reflections

July 26, 2013 Leave a comment

How can I effectively debrief and reflect upon the project as a whole?

I think the first step is to complete my own self-reflection of the project.  As a teacher, I will complete the same reflection as my students do at the end of the project.  It’s important that the students look back on the project and their performance in order for them to see how far they’ve come and how much they’ve learned during the course.  I plan to review these reflections personally to solicit information on the project itself and ways to improve it in subsequent years.  Also, we will have a full class debriefing on the project where I will draw questions and comments anonymously from the reflections.Pictures

Once this process is complete, I will also complete the BIE teacher review of the project.  The review and reflections are meant to help me see the effectiveness of both the overall project and the pieces that comprise the project.  I plan to have concluding discussions with the Law teacher and the History day judges to garner their thoughts on the project and determine if changes need to be made.  These people are all teachers and can offer professional advice and support for the project.

The process of reflection should be done throughout the project.  It’s not just a one time assessment of what happened.  I plan to keep a project journal throughout that details the process and effectiveness of the project.  It’s possible that students only need 3 days of research or maybe they need 5?  Perhaps there are examples and documents that will assist them or we could have students showcase their work more throughout for examples and evaluations?  My journal will reflect these types of suggestions and culminate in the self-reflection and teacher review (both found on the BIE website).

The process of reflection is vital to the project as it allows for a final review of all the materials and activities.  Good teachers should work formative assessment and reflection into every project or assignment as these are the tools for improvement.  I don’t think I will ever be done reflecting on my course materials as there is always something I can add, remove, or change to make the experience better for the students and for me.

Photo Credit

Me as the PBL Facilitator

July 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Do I think it will be difficult for me as a teacher to move from teaching to facilitating during the PBL process?  For me, the answer is not really.  I routinely conduct student-led Socratic discussions where I rarely if ever speak during the discussion.  These are led by students and evolve into literary discussions that students want to have about books.  I act as the facilitator at times to encourage new questions to move on from discussions that have grown stale or to remind students about the rules for proper discussion behavior.  This teaching method will help me to work into the role of PBL facilitator where I don’t provide the information to students; I merely provide guidance.PBL_BIE

Effective facilitation starts with the word facilitate.  This word means to make easier or to bring about.  This word does not mean lecture or do it for the students.  A good facilitator provides the expectations of a project up front.  Offers tools and suggestions for students to complete projects effectively.  A facilitator should also be aware of when project goals or expectations are NOT working for students and provide clarification and support.  Facilitators need to be present at all times to “make things easier” and help “bring about” effective solutions to the project questions and problems.

In the process of working through the project, students will develop skills and competencies they need for college and beyond.  Students will be required to foster effective communication with each other and for the final presentation.  They will work with technology tools that can be used for personal or academic projects in the future providing great transference of project skills and tools.  Most importantly, the project will and should help students to synthesize information and think critically about big ideas and global solutions as well as to react to literary texts.

For me to be an effective facilitator, I need to make sure that I give the students time to work.  I tend to want to discuss things over and over to ensure that everyone understands.  I will need to keep the discussion short at the beginning of each class and allow the groups to work through their project.  I also need to make sure to provide a timeline so that students don’t fall behind on creating their presentations.  I need to remember that I can answer questions throughout the class period to individual groups and offer feedback on their progress without involving the entire class each time.

PBL is new for me as I am a more traditional style teacher.  I didn’t have great personal success with projects as a student, so I tend to shy away from them in my teaching.  I know now that my teachers didn’t employ PBL processes to ensure a successful project.  So, I need to make sure that I keep an open mind and a positive attitude about the project.  Starting with a strong driving question will help me to focus the project efforts and keep the students on track.

Integrated Curriculum

July 14, 2013 Leave a comment

My students have an alarming tendency to compartmentalize their classes.  They aren’t prepared to discuss science in English class or math in history class.  Some of them are quite uncomfortable when asked to do so.  I think this is partly because teachers don’t integrate curriculum so students are out of practice with it.  Also, they walk in to English with a set of expectations that do not include being graded for math.  So, educators do need to break down some barriers and stereotypes to get the students on board.  It doesn’Jigsaw Geographyt usually take me long to get them to understand how English and history are related.  But why is this important?  Because life is not compartmentalized.  If school is about teaching the skills students need for life, then they should expect to use those skills in ways they would in life.  This means that educators need to teach students how to recall prior knowledge regardless of discipline when the knowledge is needed.

Integrating curriculum seems so important and, yet, is so rarely done on purpose.  Why is that?  Maybe because I have Aug-May to teach skills that will master a set of standards, and I could easily take twice that time.  Also, I am unsure how math or physics is going to enhance the English curriculum to meet those standards.  So, I am a bit gun shy about turning over my time to another discipline.  That being said, I have always thought that integrating curriculum was a must.  I cannot teach English without engaging with history and language.  Perhaps some teachers can do this, but I feel that we need to have a solid idea of the time in which literature is set and when it was written.  Authors are a product of their environment like everyone else, so we should know what that environment was like.  It’s fairly easy to integrate English and history.  The harder part is to integrate other subjects that don’t seem as involved, science and math come to mind.  However, when I think about it, the scholars and writers of the past were also the philosophers and the scientists.  They knew how to write and speak multiple languages.  So perhaps the disciplines are more closely tied than I first thought.

I think the biggest challenge of integration is to get an entire group of teachers and administrators to see the benefits of interdisciplinary projects.  There is much at stake if the project fails and students can’t perform on standardized tests because the curriculum failed them.  I dislike using the standardized test as the benchmark of success, but that’s what’s done whether I see the value or not.  So, the challenge is to get the teachers to discuss and find value in an interdisciplinary project and then propose an integrated project to administration.  This means that much work has to be done before going to admin.  However, this is a crucial step to ensure that all the teachers are on board with a project and plan to contribute and work through it in their own classes.  If even one teacher drops the ball, the project could die.  I am currently working on an integrated curriculum project with the AP history teacher.  I see where I can and should do more, which means that I need to make some plans and add some activities to enhance the project.  It takes planning!  I think that’s the issue.  Teachers are all so busy that no one wants to add to the amount of planning we all do daily.  Using some success stories as inspiration should help everyone see that the planning is worth it.  The way to get the interdisciplinary project started at my school is to start it!

PBL Assessments

July 6, 2013 Leave a comment

I have to say that writing assessments is my least favorite part about teaching.  I like the process of learning, discovery, and discussion, although, I do find as an English teacher, that essays are a great way to check student understanding.  I am including a final essay for my PBL project, but there are many more steps along the way.  I h800px-Abacus_2adn’t considered how many steps I would need until I started breaking the project into pieces and considering the formative assessments.  For some reason, my mind tends to fixate more on the summative.  I really like the formative process of project-based learning because it informs the project from start to finish.  The formative assessments help the students to focus their efforts and guide them through the learning process.

I have decided upon 3 formative and 3 summative assessments.  In planning my assessments, I have learned that this project should take much longer than I had planned for it to be successful.  The assessment process is helping to see that I need to build in more stops and checks for understanding and student discovery.  I may need to add one more formative assessment to my plan, but so far, I think I am on the right track.  I like the mix of assessment that seems to go with PBL.  I have a rubric for a research journal, peer evaluations for essay content mapping, assessment by an outside expert, and the final essay that students turn in to me.  The assessment that I am considering adding is a self assessment of the student’s own performance as I think a little reflection might be a good thing.

Here is the link to my PBL assessment page.  I think it is coming along nicely!

My PBL Site and plan

June 30, 2013 Leave a comment

Well, this week was really busy!  We had quite a bit of work to do to get our project-based learning ideas started and planned.  (Here’ the link to my PBL site).  I decided to call mine:  Guilty as Charged?  While not entirely original, it does spark a little interest about the justice served up in The Merchant of Venice.  I am having a hard time coming up with the presentation part of the project.  My idea for a mock-trial is more of an activity than a PBL deliverable.  So, I am thinking about having students find a current event that deals with injustice in some way.  Students will have to apply what they’ve learned about justice from their research about the play to propose a just solution for the current event.  Also, students will need to create a presentation that compares Shakespearean justice with modern justice.  It’s still a work in progress.

We’ve been asked to consider this question:  Is it still PBL without an authentic audience?

Based on my research about PBL, I say that no, it isn’t truly PBL without an authentic audience.  The authentic audience raises the stakes for everyone involved in the project and allows for authentic feedback.  That being said, I am having a hard time finding another audience for my project.  I just don’t know who would be a good choice of audience for a literature project.  My first inclination is to use real lawyers or judges for the mock-trial, but the PBL deliverable is going to be at the History Fair.  So, this is still something I am working on…

I have found some great tools that I think will help students with their presentations.  I really like Wordle for definitions of justice.  I also like the idea of video and infographics for the final history deliverable.  I like WeVideo for video and Visual.y for infographics.  I plan to keep adding resources to my PBL site as I continue to develop the project.  These are currently listed under Instructor Resources>>Tools & Resources.

I am looking forward to developing this project more thoroughly.

Project-Based Learning in my Lit Class

June 22, 2013 Leave a comment

This week I did quite a bit of research to locate examples of PBL in the literature classroom.  I have a very traditional teaching style towards literature in that we read and discuss.  I would really like to make the experience more meaningful to my students.  I found several good projects on Shakespeare plays.  One teacher did a monologue project surrounding the play Othello.  Another teacher did a great study of colonialism and The Tempest, which is what I do with my AP Literature students.  We study The Tempest and Heart of Darkness together.  The project that I find most applicable to my classroom was one having to do with Romeo and Juliet.  The teacher based her leading question on a report about future work skills, incorporating a decidedly non-English framework that was interesting for the students. They worked from a great leading question that really supported all their activity.

I like to think that I am open to PBL in my teaching, but I am actually a bit apprehensive.  I learn more each year about how I can be a better teacher.  I want to make sure that I cover all the bases in creating a project so that the students aren’t left wondering what happened.  At the same time, I see how a well-executed project could really motivate students and engage them in the literature.

I think I would like to start with a leading question like:  What is justice?  Subsequent questions will help students to narrow their focus and help them to use their research to support or refute the justice present in the play.  I haven’t decided on examples for students to help them articulate their answers, but I think video, an editorial, or a re-staging of the trial might be directions that I pursue.

One important aspect that I found in my research on PBL is that the initial question is everything.  So, I am planning to start there and move forward.