Project Based Learning: Why?

PBL is another of the many buzzwords in education. I have been a fan of pbl since I have learned about it and I really believe many educators were doing this type of work before there was a label. As the pressure builds for teachers to perform to standardized tests while trying to balance the gut instinct of knowing what students need most pbl can help make sense of trying to accomplish both things at the same time.

As I think about how quickly the world has changed from the days of the 90’s where we were told stranger danger and to avoid cars at all costs to today where I voluntarily pay money to ride in a car with strangers via Uber I realize it is time to improve education. I see methods and hear from people all the time that just make me cringe a bit to know that the same things I did as a kid are still being done. It is not so much that these are necessarily bad, but the world has evolved. The way society operates has shifted. The way in which we do many things are not the same as 20 years ago and who knows what the next five will hold for all of us.

The economy is changing. There are more jobs than we ever imagined possible. Not all are high wage and game changers, but they are jobs nonetheless. What are we doing to prepare kids for an economy that will need people in a variety of different jobs? What are doing to help students find areas of learning that are engaging to them? I see more and more students coming to school no interested, not engaged, and not really knowing what excites them. We can get angry, punish, offer detentions, and point the finger at the kid, the family, the work ethic, etc. However, does that really solve the problem or are these methods just a quick patch to avoid the real issues – school is not an exciting place to be?

The way we have operated our schools and education were designed to help a system that is slowly going away whether we like it or not. We are shifting to a society of “Show Me!” where people are looking for employees that can do the job and are not as concerned about what hoops a person has jumped through to find out they are not equipped. Time and money are of the essence. I was just talking with someone about how they have open positions in their business and cannot fill them. They are willing to train them. They are willing to pay for their school while they work. It cannot get much better than this for someone looking to get started in employment.

The world needs more problem finders. The world needs more people who are willing to use their knowledge and skills over extended periods of time to respond the challenges of the world. This is project based learning.

How many of you reading this do some sort of freelance work whether full time, part time, or as a way to earn a bit of cash on the side? How many have shifted several jobs? The average American holds a dozen jobs in their lifetime. The world continues to build out and develop more projects and gigs. It is hard to sustain a living, but this market continues to grow. Technology and the pace of growth has changed everything. The days of our parents working one job and staying in one community are few and far between.

PBL can help. It can help students learn how to prepare for real world work by giving them real world problems. PBL provides feedback constantly which is something we can all work on dealing with and processing. Learning to work on a team and to develop our communication skills. Last, helping us figure out what are expertise areas are so we can use them to our advantage.

As schools explore PBL and PLC there is a happy medium, a common element that they both strive to have that the world knows works. The common element is group norms. Google has discovered this truth when they launched Aristotle(a study exploring over a hundred teams for a year). Even more important was developing psychologically safe environments. How important is this? How obvious does this sound? So why is it that they don’t exist in our classrooms? Why is it they don’t exist as employees? Why is it that we have surface level signs and documents that mask the real truth that norms and safe environments are not as prevalent as we like to convince ourselves. I think the key ingredient to allowing high level learning whether in the workplace, classroom, home, or other locations is making sure people feel safe to take risks and push their learning and understanding that the norms is how everyone will behave. So simple and yet often ignored.

What happens is that we create classrooms where the majority of work is individual. This happens because we often work in silos and our classrooms mimic this mentality. It is safer to be alone. The trust has been broken. The culture does not allow teamwork to really grow. We wonder why kids struggle so much with teamwork while we sit in denial over how poorly we might actually be as employees. Where you find great work, great projects, and great things happening you often find great teamwork, great culture, and great norms. I see these examples and non examples happen all the time with my robotics teams, in my engineering challenges after school, coaching youth sports, being a parent of children involved in various activities. When there is a true sense of teamwork everything just feels different.

When we look at the essential elements to a high quality project one cannot argue that this is not only what is needed for learning to occur, but also exactly what employers are looking for when they hire. If you look at BIE essential project elements that covers most ideas about pbl out there you see: key knowledge, key skills, challenging problems, a high level of sustained inquiry, authentic learning, student voice and choice, reflection, critique and feedback, and a public product.

The reason that these are sometimes not covered in the classroom is because of the wrong mindset. It is not on purpose. What happens is that we(educators) begin to believe that our job is to prepare students for the next grade. How often have we said, “you need to know how to do this because in high school…….”? The goal of school is not to develop and create “students” but to develop adults that are self sufficient enough to be a positive contributing member in society. When we frame the goal as the latter, then students are no longer able to game the system as many have already done.

I am not going to lie. It is easy to blog about these ideas, but to teach them is something altogether different. It is hard. It is difficult. It is stressful. However, nothing of high quality is easy. We must ask ourselves, “Are we in this job to benefit students or ourselves?”

 

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

032: Quad Cities Ghost Hunters

I am really excited to share some amazing work of 7th grade students. One of our incredible educators from Bettendorf Middle School launched a project in her language arts class where students went on field trips to a variety of locations in the Quad Cities to explore whether or not these places are indeed haunted.

Students conducted field research and came back to work and develop a podcast to showcase and highlight their experiences.

 

What you are about to listen to are the top recordings of each location to give you the best listening experience.

Sit back, listen, and enjoy the podcast. The students welcome any feedback, comments, ideas, and most importantly if you have any stories from these locations or other locations.

In a future episode we will record a podcast with the students and teachers about the actual project and how to implement in your classroom.

But for now, we hope you don’t get too scared and maybe check out some of these locations for yourself.

Follow and Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes

Follow and Subscribe on Stitcher so please follow here if you use Stitcher

Here are the posters for the other four locations(fifth location posted above) also created by students in case you want to learn more

macie-canva

vanessa

carter-m-canva kate-m-canva

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

031: Math Masterpiece PBL

Project based learning is hard. Anyone who tells you differently has not done a high quality projects that leads to deeper learning. The reason in implementing project based learning so difficult is that the mindset has to change. There is a massive upfront preparation phase of mapping out the project with all the necessary elements, determining the authentic audience, how to weave in experts, and figuring out the final place for the project to reside. This all requires an invested time and energy focus months ahead of time. It requires the teacher(s) to do the the project, map things out, and have all bases covered knowing things will change and adapt based on the development of the students.

However, I have yet to meet an educator or student who has been part of a quality project that has not been changed for the good after completing and being part of a quality project.

As we explore projects I think many people would agree that math is probably one of the most difficult to create a high quality learning project, let alone integrating it with other subjects.

Recently, my wife who teaches 8th grade algebra and pre-algebra completed a project that was a pivotal moment for her, the students, and the school where she teaches. I know this seems quite dramatic, but it is true. Let’s cut into the project(pun intended).


 

Follow and Subscribe to my podcast on iTunes

Follow and Subscribe on Stitcher so please follow here if you use Stitcher


 

She was trying to find a way to enhance her math instruction and learning. Her department is already doing some great work to get to this point. They don’t use a textbook and essentially have created their own curriculum from scratch and other resources to enhance instruction. They also have a powerful PLC established where the teachers and instructional coaches have some high quality conversations about data, instruction, and how to constantly improve.

The general challenge of this project was to create art using the Desmos website by creating vertical and horizontal lines and lines with positive and negative slopes as well as multiple other functions that allowed students to create their desired masterpiece. This may not seem like much, but have you ever tried to create a minion or logo of your favorite team or coffee using nothing but math? I thought so!

Students were also given the parameter of a minimum of 75 lines. As students began to brainstorm and come up with their designs they had to have approval of their plans from the teacher. Once they were good they were given time to write their “code” to bring their art to life.

Students had to think. They had to teach one another, brainstorm, and do additional research as their ideas developed. How do I stop the line from going on endlessly? How do I create a curved line? What if I want to do this? or that? Many things were left open for them to explore and solve on their own. This is where the power in learning took place.

As they began to finish their designs the prints were then formatted to be cut in a vinyl cutter. Students would email the teacher their Desmos graph. From there the grids and all backgrounds would be removed within the software.

Art with all grids

Art with all grids

Remove all grids and lines from background

Remove all grids and lines from background

 

Clean background

Clean background

Choose the "Image" option

Choose the “Image” option

Save this file and load to your vinyl cutter

Save this file and load to your vinyl cutter

We use the Silhouette Cameo to do all of our cuts. It is a very easy to use vinyl cutter that makes great cuts and is very easy to learn.

For the sake of costs(vinyl is not the cheapest) students images were printed within a 5 x 5 in square so we could get 4-6 prints per 12 x 12 inch vinyl sheet. This was also large enough to see all details and small enough to add to computers, cars, and more.

Once they were all printed, students were given a day or two to pick all the pieces out. We had them do this part because it is their design and they understand what they want to be removed. Keep in mind that allowing students to do this will lead to mistakes. We had to cut several more than once. Students had a hard time understanding what to pick and what to leave. I would suggest having examples to show them so they can understand negative space.

In the end all students were able to take their designs home. However, this was the not the end. She decided to host her own exhibition during the day. We went back and cut out  about 40 of them again for a display. We placed colored cardstock that matched the vinyl behind it.

881925445_5b05223ee11c3f7c

We also made a poster of every single design(even the ones partially completed) using collage.com because we needed a site that would allow us to upload over 100 images. After several various exhibit design layouts(some were amazing) time got the best of us and she ended up with this very nice looking display at the front of the building.

 

(If you are interested in other layouts reach out to me)

The next step was to have the students own the learning. This is something that they have not had to do before. She invited staff to her room for a showcase day. She also emailed a letter to all parents inviting them to the school. For her exhibition day, staff and parents came during the class period. The students took on the role of the teacher and taught the adult how to write math equations and formulas to make simple shapes. This allowed them to showcase how difficult their own art was to create, gave them a sense of pride by how the adults struggled and really gave everyone a chance to bond over math. So often parents see kids doing work, but have no concept of what they are doing or how to engage with the content. My wife teared up several times watching the kids and parent interact.

 

This Sway has a massive amount of images to help you understand what was all created.

Despite the kids and teacher being super nervous, it turned out to be a glorious day. Since this project has ended(just a few weeks ago) she has already developed and launched a bigger and more massive project and is already sketching out plans for another project.

Just when you think you cannot do a project or thinking that pbl does not fit your curriculum, I challenge you to think again. It can be done. It is simply a matter of putting in the time, effort, and planning. It is finding people who can help you. It is removing the mental barriers you have placed on yourself as well as the limitations you have placed on students by deciding what they can and can’t do.

Nothing is impossible once you decide it is not.

All documents for the project can be found here

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (2)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

31 Days of Deeper Learning & PBL Blog Series | 2: What is DL and PBL?

In my first post of this series I launched the reasons for why I need to discuss at length the topic of Deeper Learning and PBL. I want to move from this stage to a basic understanding of what exactly I will be using as my cornerstone to all future conversations and posts in this series.

A major problem when it comes to project based learning is how loosely the term is used. I have clicked on many links referencing project based learning to see a misguided attempt at what a true project based learning opportunity really is and should be. Often times I read about fun, playful ACTIVITIES(which there is nothing wrong with these types of learning moments), but I don’t want these to be confused with what I am after in my train of thought. Additionally, I have also seen a lot of project oriented units where teachers front load everything and then they give a project. Well, if you have spoon-fed everything to the student, then what is the point of the project at the end? It is just a cutesy way of showing their learning and becomes a time filler in the classroom(sorry, just being honest and YES I have done this type of activity many times as an educator so I don’t have a halo on my head).

So, let us take one step back and define Deeper Learning first before we dive into PBL. Deeper Learning is the framework for what we are after in education and learning for learners.** Once we give a very brief overview of the Deeper Learning I will provide a short context for Project Based Learning because in order to achieve Deeper Learning you must utilize project based learning in some capacity.

In my next post I will cover the problems with education, but I think it is safe to say that we still have things to work out in the bigger context of public education. People are working hard, but the powers that be really make the job tough. Because we can all agree for the sake of this post that there are issues to be resolved there is a need to put together a vision for what is needed for learners to learn. This is where Deeper Learning comes in to play. It is not a packaged curriculum, there is not specific step by step model(there are resources to help you find your school needs like the Planning Guide), but this is not a cookie cutter approach. I want to make that very clear. I oppose all cookie cutter methods because they don’t work. They do put money in the pockets of people in power, but once you dig past the surface you find yourself moving from one mess to another. Guides like the one mentioned above are a tool that can help guide and facilitate conversation among educators and admin which is much different than a cookie cutter model of change.

Deeper Learning can be defined as the following according to the book Deeper Learning by Monica Martinez

Deeper learning is the process of preparing and empowering students to master essential academic content, think critically and solve complex problems, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, have an academic mindset, and be self-directed in their education.

You can see from this definition that these all seem like DUH! This is what we need. The problem lies in the fact that we are missing some or all of these elements in schools and classrooms. How can we make this work in classroom? This is what this series will hopefully help with.

In the 21st century all students no matter your school conditions, visions, programs, materials, etc. should be able to ensure that learners can(the six main ideas of Deeper Learning)

  • master core academic content
  • think critically and solve complex problems
  • work collaboratively
  • communicate effectively
  • learn how to learn
  • develop academic mindsets(Camille Farrington will be referenced quite a bit in the future!)

This list is simple in understanding but complex in moving into action. This is a big day of learning. This is a big year of development and throughout the course of 13 years of schooling schools should be able to help learners accomplish these skills. The goals of deeper learning are to develop self directed learners that can problem solve and come up with solutions to various situations and dilemmas whether in school, after school, or when they grow up to face the wonderful world of being an adult.

Unfortunately, many of these things are not really being executed and developed properly as schools are being pressured to get kids ready to pass standardized tests that focus on rote memorization, how to take a test, and how to learn what is needed for the tests.(problems to be discussed in future post)

One way to develop these skills is through the use of project based learning. Let me very clear here as well. Project Based Learning is nothing new. The idea has been around forever and incorporated in multiple schools settings, education networks, and classrooms around the world. The key here is to make sure we identify what PBL is and components to deliver a high quality project.

Project Based Learning can be defined as the following according to BIE(an powerful resource for PBL)

Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge.

Successful Projects require the following elements(this is a mix from various resources and several years developing projects at the school where I work)

  • Arise from a meaningful question
  • Take time
  • Require investigation
  • Are semi-structured, requiring substantial student input
  • Follow a timeline with articulated milestones to be reached along the way
  • Require a tangible end product
  • Include presentation for a real audience
  • Include moments of reflection
  • Blur subject area boundaries?
  • Emphasize issues, skills, concepts
  • Blur line between slow and fast learners
  • Create a culture of accomplishment
  • Connect students with adult mentors
  • Conceive of teachers as coaches/facilitators and students as colleagues

You can see how PBL can help develop opportunities for learners to have deeper learning moments in the classroom. PBL is not the only way and is not the end all be all, but it is one required tool among others to develop these education opportunities to radically shift public education to be an environment to transform learners to be ready for whatever their future holds.


 

This is very brief intro into both Deeper Learning and PBL. Now that we have a baseline established I will be digging into specific issues, topics, and methods to figure out ways to make it happen. I hope this post gives you a sense for wrapping your brain around these terms.

Like the first post I want to remind everyone that I do not have THE answers. These are just ideas from my reading, research, and experience with developing these ideas in the school where I work. Please leave a comment or reach out to me on social media about your ideas you have based on this post, questions you have, things I should have included, resources, etc. I want these posts to inspire thought and conversation.

In my next post I will be taking a look at the problems with education and how these elements can be the catalyst for proper change.

Last, I have created a Google + Community for us to have private conversations. This is where I will post all blog posts and we can start to share our own ideas, blogs, resources, and more. I hope you will join and make this a powerful group of learning.

I look forward to hearing from you and making this an incredible journey into exploring education.

Until the next post…..

 


 

**From here on out I want to make a conscious effort to label kids as learners, not students after reading the book Make Learning Personal where they state that “all of us our learners” I LOVE this mindset because we were all born curious and ready to learn the moment we came out alive and kicking. “We were not born students – we were born learners.” When you use the word students the emphasis of responsibility becomes centered on the teacher instead of thinking in terms of a learner where the focus becomes on them.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (3)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (1)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

Project Based Learning: It’s More Than Projects!

This is a video I put together to show some of the latest things developing in our school. This is a small snapshot of so many great things happening. This video is intended to be showcased to our school board so they can see all the hard work teachers and students are doing in the classroom.

Five minutes is not enough time to share all the other great projects not mentioned so I guess a part two will have to be made to give proper credit to so many awesome educators and students in our building.

Enjoy and would love your feedback and thoughts.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (4)
  • Interesting (1)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

Child’s Play: A STEM Language Arts PBL Unit

Last week I had the amazing pleasure to step into the classroom of one of our sixth grade language arts teachers. Stephanie Maxwell has developed a project connecting project based learning with a bit of STEM, toddler development, and language arts.

Before I share all the nuts and bolts of this project I have to tell you how excited I am to see this project unfold because we have teachers like Maxwell working very hard to merge the various subjects and topics to make high quality learning experiences.

At Bettendorf Middle School teachers undergo a series of steps in order to properly launch and execute their projects.

Teachers have to develop an idea that meets their standards. Some start with standards and others fit the standards to their ideas. Once an idea is constructed they will fill out a project planning form to sort their ideas and make sure they have all the components of a high quality project figured out.

From there they will then do a project tuning(see a video recording of one here) where they work with other teachers to fine tune and help with any questions or ideas that they might need help with in order to roll out the project. The tuning is a protocol and system that works.

At this point, teachers clean things up and then launch the project. For this project, Child’s Play, I was asked to come in and teach a STEM lesson for them to experience what the toddler’s will go through. I had them create Puff Mobiles. After one period of building and testing, students had to write and discuss how they could take this project and modify it to meet the needs of 2-5 year olds.

The students will be doing a ton of work to get ready for this project. This project has built in audience, the kids, that will be using their work to learn. The students will be building, designing, and researching what interactive learning station focused on STEM that they will create for the local Family Museum.

I think this is a great project with so much learning taking place as students work through the public, museum experts, and more to design a proper and safe learning station. Students are engaged in the content because they want to do a nice job. Their audience is more than just their peers and parents. Anytime you can blend science, history, and writing together you have a winner.

I look forward to watching this project unfold more as they are still in the early stages of work, but in the meantime feel free to check out all the hard work and things developed to make this project work.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (2)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

Few Bad Apples: Student Social Experiment Part 5/5

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 5.13.07 AM

Today we drop the final  part in our five part series showcasing student voice in an 8th grade language arts project.

Please check them out, leave some feedback, comments, questions, etc.

We will be sure the students check it out. They are excited to have their voices heard and to learn from others.

We will be sharing every project as it is not fair to only show what we consider high quality. Every voice deserves to be heard.

We have decided to release the projects in small batches so you take time to view them and provide them with your reactions. As much as we want them to share their voice it is just as important for you to share your voice.

Enjoy!

Part 1: Project Overview, Resources, and Explanation

Part 2: First Batch of Student Work

Part 3: Second Batch of Student Work

Part 4: Third Batch of Student Work

Here is the final batch

All Teens Are Different Link to Project
Don’t Treat Us The Same Link to Project
Not Everyone Is The Same Link to Project
Vimeo Video Link to Project
First Impression Video Link to Project
What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

Few Bad Apples: Student Social Experiment Part 4/5

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 6.02.15 AM

Today we drop the fourth  part in our five part series showcasing student voice in an 8th grade language arts project.

Please check them out, leave some feedback, comments, questions, etc.

We will be sure the students check it out. They are excited to have their voices heard and to learn from others.

We will be sharing every project as it is not fair to only show what we consider high quality. Every voice deserves to be heard.

We have decided to release the projects in small batches so you take time to view them and provide them with your reactions. As much as we want them to share their voice it is just as important for you to share your voice.

Enjoy!

Part 1: Project Overview, Resources, and Explanation

Part 2: First Batch of Student Work

Part 3: Second Batch of Student Work

Here is the next batch of work

Stop Judging Teens T-Shirt Link to Project
Teens Can Prove Adults Wrong Link to Project
It Is Not Talking Back Link to Project
Student Voice Twitter Link to Project
Stop Judging Teens Link to Project
Poster Link to Project
Your Voice Can Make The World Better Link to Project
What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

Few Bad Apples: Student Social Experiment Part 3/5

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 6.11.29 AM

Today we drop the third part in our five part series showcasing student voice in an 8th grade language arts project.

Please check them out, leave some feedback, comments, questions, etc.

We will be sure the students check it out. They are excited to have their voices heard and to learn from others.

We will be sharing every project as it is not fair to only show what we consider high quality. Every voice deserves to be heard.

We have decided to release the projects in small batches so you take time to view them and provide them with your reactions. As much as we want them to share their voice it is just as important for you to share your voice.

Enjoy!

Part 1: Project Overview, Resources, and Explanation

Part 2: First Batch of Student Work

Here is the next batch of work

Teens Can Be Judged Link to Project
You Are Enough Mural Link to Project
Choose Your Destination Link to Project
Don’t Trust Society’s View of Teens Powtoon Link to Project
Can You Trust Teens? Link to Project
No One Person is to Blame for the Stereotypes blog Link to Project
My personal connection about getting judges Link to Project
What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

Few Bad Apples: Student Social Experiment Part 2/5

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 6.22.31 AM

Yesterday we launched the first part in this five part series showcasing student voice for the A Few Bad Apples project created by Lisa Barnes.

Today we bring you the first batch of projects created by students. Please check them out, leave some feedback, comments, questions, etc.

We will be sure the students check it out. They are excited to have their voices heard and to learn from others.

We will be sharing every project as it is not fair to only show what we consider high quality. Every voice deserves to be heard.

We have decided to release the projects in small batches so you take time to view them and provide them with your reactions. As much as we want them to share their voice it is just as important for you to share your voice.

Enjoy!

Generation Z Link to Project
It’s Society Not The Teens Link to Project
Stereotypes Are Real Link to Project
Don’t Judge Us Until You Know Us Link to Project
Teens Chance To Volunteer Instagram Link to Project
A Few Bad Apples – PowToon Link to Project
Are Parents and Kids The Same? Link to Project

 

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)