8 Things I Learned My First Year Of Teaching With Project-Based Learning

8 Things I Learned My First Year Of Teaching With Project-Based Learning

 3.5k

8 Things I Learned My First Year Of Teaching With Project-Based Learning

by Rachelle Dene Poth

My first year of teaching with project-based learning provided as much learning for me as it did my students.

Each year when I head back to my classroom in the fall, I have many ideas of new methods, new tools, and some changes that I want to make in my classes. These changes and ideas are the result of attending summer conferences, reading new books, and maybe the most helpful, student feedback that I review over the summer.

The biggest change I wanted to make this year was to have my students really engage in Project-Based Learning.

Interested in PBL support? Contact TeachThought Professional Development today! 

1. It’s not ‘doing projects.”

My students have completed many projects over the years, and I honestly thought they were doing “PBL”, but after the summer I finally realized that it was not authentic PBL. I was simply having students learn by completing projects. Coming to this realization allowed me to find resources to learn how to implement authentic PBL into my classroom.

If you are feeling the same as I did, don’t worry. There are the resources, tools, and shifts in thinking that can help you on your way.

See also: The Difference Between Projects And Project-Based Learning

2. Students–and parents–need to understand the process.

To get started, I sought out resources that I had learned about over the summer.

I learned that there are several different methods of doing PBL. The theme can be something created by the teacher, independently chosen by the students, or a combination of something in between. Because I had decided to implement PBL with my Spanish 3 and 4, I decided to follow an independent method, enabling students to pursue something of personal interest. The opportunity for students to have choices through more independent learning, leads to a more meaningful experience, a few of the great benefits of PBL.

The opportunity for students to have choices through more independent learning, leads to a more meaningful experience,  a few of the great benefits of PBL. This is difficult without students–and parents!–understanding how PBL works so they can buy-in, support, and believe in this ‘long-tail’ approach to learning.

3. The right technology can make all the difference.

I started by explaining the purpose of doing PBL, what I hoped would be the benefits of doing this in Spanish 3 and 4, and using the resources I found, shared the PBL elements with the students. I wanted to make sure they understood the process, as much as possible, from the start. I knew it would be a learning experience for all of us, requiring ongoing reflection and feedback.

In our classes, we use a few digital tools which help open up opportunities for communication and collaboration. We use Edmodo for our classroom website, messaging apps (Celly and Voxer), and have also used tools such as Kidblog for blogging and writing reflections, and Recap and Flipgrid for video responses.

4. Developing quality Essential Questions takes practice.

I did my best to explain how to create an Essential Question (what TeachThought Professional Development calls ‘Driving Questions’), referring to resources I had found, as well as some books and educators for advice. I had struggled with crafting my own “Essential questions” in the past during curriculum writing and I knew this was an area that I also needed to work on.

What I learned is that Essential Questions are not answered with a yes or no, and answers are not easily found through a Google search. Essential questions will help students to become more curious, to seek more information, and in the process, develop their skills for problem-solving and critical thinking.

Essential questions drive the learning.

Last summer, I had read the book Pure Genius, by Don Wettrick, and had the opportunity to meet him during the Summer Spark Conference in Milwaukee. I also read a few other PBL books including  Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide, by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss, and Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie.

Once we started, the students had many questions, and I answered as best as I could. However, because this was a new experience for me as well, I sought additional help.  Don Wettrick spoke to my students through a Skype call and later in the fall, Ross Cooper spoke with my students about crafting their Essential questions. Another great resource I consulted over was  Hacking Project-Based Learning book by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy.

See also: Using The QFT To Drive Inquiry In Project-Based Learning

5. Project-based learning is a team-effort.

We have gone through this twice so far this year, and are now focused on one final PBL theme. It has been a tremendous learning experience for my students and I have learned so much from them. We have covered many new topics related to culture, language, sports, family and traditions.

The students enjoy having the chance to be in the lead, to drive their own learning, and have become more reflective on their work and on this PBL process. I did make mistakes and continue to work on improving each time we do this. The availability of these PBL resources to guide teachers and students and other educators who offer support along the way has made all of the difference.

The most powerful part of this has been the feedback from my students. I asked for the positives, the negatives, what could be different, how could I help more, and they were honest and offered such great information.

6. Project-based learning empowers students.

What I have learned is that it really does benefit students and the teachers to offer these project-based learning experiences for students, to find out about their passions and interests. We learn more about them and from them through their PBL. Having students take over the classroom and present their information opened up so many new learning opportunities for everyone. This is truly a great way to see students empowered in their learning.

Overall, the students are pleased about the work they have done, the progress they have taken and are excited about this next phase. We reviewed the feedback, did a little bit more research, and had some planning conversations.

7. Project-based learning forces students to see learning differently.

We need to create opportunities for students to pursue their interests when they learn. In order to prepare them for the real world, we should provide learning opportunities which connect them with other people, perspectives, and experiences.

The most difficult part for my students at the start of this was thinking about how they were going to present their information, and I kept telling them to work through the research part, gather their information first. I reminded them often to focus on the “what and why” part, and that the final product form would become more apparent as they progressed.

8. Patience is key.

I am pleased with having started PBL this year and I encourage other educators to consider implementing PBL in their classrooms. Yes, there can implementation dip. And without communication with students and parents and even our own colleagues, progress can be slow.

PBL is, however, a different approach to learning. It acknowledges that the school year is a marathon, not a series of sprints. It allows students to design and create and publish and reflect on and revise ideas, and this all takes time. Patience, then, is a critical characteristic of any successful–and sane!–project-based learning teacher! Given time, you’ll eventually help the students see the impact it has had on their learning.

 

Social Media: Oh goodness…Voxer: Did somebody just say 10-4?

This is the next post in my series about Social Media and the different tools available for learning and connecting. I was wrong about Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn….and now Voxer. WOW!

I think that this might be one of my favorites, even though it is difficult for me to make any kind of decision when given more than 1 option. But the thing about Voxer is that it enables live communication between anyone and anywhere. It absolutely fascinates me and I am wowed each day by the many ways it can be used.

Why am I such a fan? Well honestly, maybe a part of this is because I had a real set of walkie talkies and was amazed that you could talk into it and somebody, somewhere else could hear and answer you right back.  When I was 13, I remember trying out the set in my parents’ car and talking to someone that ended up living a few streets away.  Michele and I became great friends and it amazes me to this day that I met someone by using the Walkie-Talkie,way back then in 1984. Who knew what the possibilities would be for today, using Voxer, is amazing.

I remember having a set of them sometime in the late 1990’s and using them at the mall, thinking it was the coolest thing ever. (I know, there were probably cell phones, I did not have one yet, they were still in the big bags or attached in cars).

Learning about Voxer

But my first experience with Voxer was becoming involved in a group preparing for ISTE in Denver last summer. How did I find out about this? Ironic moment. You might laugh but it was through a Facebook group. An interesting series of events. Sometimes we question what if? What if I had made a different choice? What if I didn’t go in that direction  and in this case what if I had never created a Facebook account? Still can’t believe that I am asking myself that question.

There are still many things between then and now that would be so different. I would have found less classmates for high school reunions, I wouldn’t know about friends who’ve moved away from or back into the area. Connecting with family and friends, seeing pictures and sharing news would happen a lot less often. So the crazy thing is that the one account I was so hesitant to get, led me to become involved with all of these different social media platforms and build my connections even more. So very wrong I was. 

Adding on Voxer: There was a Facebook group for people attending ISTE 2016, and someone (Rodney Turner, @techyturner) started a Voxer group. I had no clue what it was but I joined it and at the time I was on a basic account, but upgraded to the PRO account, which is nice because if you send a message and you want to recall it, you can. How many times do you wish you could say something over?  Once again, it did not take too long to see the tremendous value in this form of communication as well. Being able to ask a question and have someone answer you immediately, a person who may be on the other side of the world and talking to you live is tremendous. Seeing the green light up that indicates they are talking live is amazing.

Now people might think “well it’s not that much different than talking to somebody on the phone.”  And that is partially true, you are having a conversation or could have a conversation just as you would on the phone, however the difference is if you have a question and you make that phone call, that person may not answer right away, if at all. Being part of a Voxer group, there are many people available to answer instantly while we pose the question. Unlike a phone call, it goes out to many people, leading to many responses and perspectives immediately. 

Some uses

Voxer has been a great platform for leading and participating in a book study, which might sound a little bit different when you think about how traditional book studies occur. It is a great way to connect with others for a book talk. I have been able to connect with so many more educators through Voxer which  has led to more connecting on those other social media platforms, yes Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn. The ability to listen and learn anywhere at anytime is unbelievable.

With my students, it has been a tremendous way to listen to their PBL ideas and help them brainstorm, for them to ask questions when needed and for them to form their own groups.  They love the capabilities of using Voxer for education and fun!

If you don’t yet have Voxer, try it out. There are so many groups full of conversation, inspiration and motivation and definitely fun! If you want some ideas, let me know.  There are groups for connecting Educators, learning about Snapchat!, Breakouts, LeadupChat and so many more.  Connect with me on Voxer, I am @rdene915

 

Thanks for reading!voxer

Social media: Wrong about the learning potential

This is the third part of a series on how I learned the value of social media platforms for becoming connected and professional development.  I was wrong.

LinkedIn

I have not been on the job search. I did not have an account with LinkedIn. If I were  seeking employment, I would go directly to classified ads or employment websites. As for LinkedIn, I had heard of it, but I had never used it. Last year I had several people ask me why I did not have an account, and honestly I really didn’t want another account with more notifications. I had not considered using it since I thought it was simply for people who were actively looking for employment or who were recruiters.

While all that is true and it is a platform and a means for people looking for and posting employment information. It is really quite a professional community similar to the other platforms for people to share information, to learn, grow and connect with one another. I think that depending on who you are, what you do and what you need, you could decide to have accounts with each of these platforms I have mentioned, or simply choose one of them and try it out for a period of time. You might really be surprised at what it adds to your personal and professional life. Constant stream of information available, learning potential and power for becoming more connected.

LinkedIn differs from the others in that even if you are not actively looking for employment, it is a way to display your professional appearance/ persona and show people what it is that you do, share your interests, highlight your skills, for a few uses. But beyond these “postings”, it is also a way for people to support you because they endorse you for these skills. I have been in conversations with mixed viewpoints on these features, but I guess the thing to remember is that not everyone will find the same value, benefit for these, the important thing is that there are choices available for people to make their own decisions about what works best for them .

To create an account or not….

Now some people have accounts with all three of these and the way they interact with each of them varies, depending on role/profession in society, you may be very active and share your information freely. Or you may be more private and use each one of these in a different manner. It’s just about choice and preferences. But what I like is that with any of these you can share with others who you are and what you are about. And maybe more importantly, you are available for supporting and adding to conversations, communities and more.

I enjoy having options available as a professional, finding the right balance between all of these can be tricky, but better to have choices than not. 🙂

 

Next up…Walkie Talkie??

voxer

Rachelle Dene Poth