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

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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.

 

Posted on December 7, 2016

Posted in Guest Post, User Stories, Why Recap

Excited for the upcoming school year, I decided to start with some new ideas, teaching methods and digital tools. I wanted to continue using some digital tools from last year, but hoped to find different and more creative ways to implement them into the classroom. My motivation for this developed as a combination of time spent over the summer reflecting on the previous year, learning new things at summer conferences and through webinars, and engaging with groups on Voxer. But possibly the most impactful for me, was by obtaining feedback directly from my students. I used Recap over the summer to ask them what they enjoyed in class, what helped or didn’t help, and what they were looking forward to in the new school year. Student voice matters.

A New Experience

The biggest change for my classes this year, was starting PBL (Project Based Learning) with my Spanish 3 and 4 students. When taking on PBL, educators need to have some guidelines set as to how to begin and what the process entails. Students will be taking on a challenging new experience, one which provides opportunities for choices, independent and inquiry based learning. It is a different experience, because the students are in charge of their learning. They are studying something of a personal interest, or a passion to themselves. It is quite liberating and can lead to tremendous, authentic, meaningful learning opportunities, which will be highly beneficial for the students. It can also be a bit scary, because of the amount of independence involved in this method. So there are guidelines and resources available to educators that can help with implementing PBL in the classroom, and guiding students to develop their “Essential Questions.”

Getting Started

There are many great resources available for educators to learn more about and implement PBL (Project based learning) in the classroom. To begin this with my students, I first did some research to prepare myself for this new learning experience. I started with the Bucks Institute for Education (BIE, http://www.bie.org) for guidance before implementing it in my classes. I wanted to be prepared so that I could help to guide the students, even though I knew that I would also need some support along the way.

I carefully read over and took notes from the “8 Essentials for PBL” from BIE and also referred to several publications from ISTE for PBL. Other helpful resources were the weekly blog posts by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy, offering advice focused on #HackingPBL, to be included in their upcoming publication, “Hacking Project Based Learning”, which will be published this month.

Another helpful book was “Dive Into Inquiry” by Trevor MacKenzie, through which I enjoyed hearing his experience and sharing the helpful images of rubrics with my students. During this process, I was also fortunate to have conversations with these educators, and early on, Don Wettrick, author of “Pure Genius”  spoke to my students about PBL and how to get started, giving them great information and asking thought-provoking questions to challenge them. We had a Skype call with Ross Cooper, who listened to and offered advice to several of my students on crafting their Essential Questions. The students even later got to meet Ross and Erin and talk about the Hacking PBL book.

Next Steps

Taking all of this information in, I guided my students through each step in the process, with focus on the beginning stages of PBL. The first step is to decide upon the Essential Question. What is an Essential Question? From my research, I have learned that it is not something that can easily be answered by conducting a quick Google search or with a Yes or a No. An essential question requires more. It leads students to research and critical thinking, problem solving, independent learning, progress checks and reflection along the way. When focusing on the Essential Question, it is not readily apparent what the end result of the student learning experience will be. My students initially struggled with not knowing where their research would lead. An essential question requires more, leads to more student inquiry and should be something that will sustain student interest along the way.

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Using Recap to focus on the Essential Question and PBL

Rather than have students write their Essential Questions, I asked them to think about what they wanted to study and to share their responses through Recap. I found this was beneficial because they could think through and explain their thoughts, and I could provide feedback directly to them. Having the opportunity to see and listen to the students as they shared their interests enabled me to understand the motivation behind their Essential Question. This method was very beneficial for me.

When we started our PBL, we decided to set aside Fridays as their “PBL” day, and they worked on it independently for the first 9 weeks. We had regular check-ins for updates and at the end, each student shared the product of their PBL experience, which could have taken any form, depending on where their research led them.

One very unique way that one of my students decided to share the information was by using Recap. Recap is a great tool for having students respond or reflect and gives them a comfortable method for sharing information with their teacher and also peers if they choose. One particular student suggesting using Recap to record separate videos of the results of her PBL study on Argentina and the tango. Using Recap for this purpose was a really great way for her to not only share her information and the reasoning of how she crafted her Essential Question, but also her thoughts and steps taken along the way.  Using Recap made  it very obvious to the audience how excited and engaged she was as a result of having the choice to pursue learning  about an area of interest and passion. Even without the video component, the audio itself was enough to inform and engage the listeners in her topic. I could tell that she had chosen an Essential Question which led her through a tremendous learning experience,with sustained inquiry and engagement, and had truly gone through the Project Based Learning process. Selecting this as the “public product” was a great idea, and it also provided her with something to reflect upon as well.

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Using Recap to share the results of PBL

Marina: For my recent Spanish PBL project I decided to use Recap! PBL stands for Project Based Learning which means we come up with a topic that we are interested in learning more about. The first step is to state our essential question, the focus of our research and then being to explore and expand our knowledge. Along the way we might have more questions come up that we may not know how to answer, so we keep searching, learning and expanding our knowledge to find answers  to them. At the end of the PBL project we are basically an “expert” and we can share our findings with our class, in any way that we choose.

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For my presentation, I decided to use Recap. Recap is like no other tool we have ever used in our classroom and it is by far one of my favorites. Recap is a tool that allows you to record a two minute long video, to answer a prompt, share information, or anything you want. It allows you, as the student, to answer questions that your teacher or professor sends you and you can record yourself, with as many tries as you want and then send it right to your teacher. As a teacher you can create questions and send them through Recap to your students, allowing them to respond in the comfort of their home or anywhere to answer your questions and have a continuous chat with feedback. Or like I did with my PBL, you can just make videos by yourself,  you don’t even need a question to be sent to you to be able to make one.

I love using Recap because I feel comfortable at my house recording my thoughts and then having them on my account to show and share with my whole class.

For my Spanish PBL product, I used Recap and recorded myself at home. I spent the time studying the Argentine tango and I was able to research my topic and prepare to make a couple of two minute videos to talk about and share what I had learned during our PBL. I didn’t have to worry about having to talk in front of the whole class and forget what I was going to say. With Recap it was stress free to present in front of my class because I pre-recorded it.

My class absolutely loved it because it was so different than just using Powerpoint or some other web tool that they had seen before. So not only did they learn about the Argentine Tango, they saw they could use Recap in a different way.

Recap is an amazing tool that can bring a whole new element to classrooms everywhere, at any time, because it is so simple and easy and not to mention a lot of fun! I really suggest it to students and teachers because trust me, they will love it!


Check out Rachelle’s Pioneer Page

How to Use Blogging with Project Based Learning

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Over the past few years, I have looked for more ways—especially creative ways—to use blogging in my classroom. What initially started as a way to have my students practice their writing skills in a digital format (rather than the traditional “Daily Journal” writing), has taken different forms over the past year.

Blogging brings students’ work into a digital learning space, where they can feel free to share their ideas, to express themselves without so much worry on grammatical accuracy, and build their confidence in the process. It enabled me as the teacher to not only focus on what they were sharing, and assess them as needed, but also to learn about them in the process. It provided me with a way to further personalize my instruction and to be able to give the needed feedback in a more direct way.

I also use student blogs, in addition to my own, as a means to reflect on what I have been doing the classroom. Giving this information to the students affords them an opportunity for that critical reflection as well. So through blogging, many skills are enhanced and many things are possible besides the initial use of writing in response to a prompt.

Blogging with #PBL

Approaching this school year, I had many new ideas in mind, one of which was the implementation of PBL (Project-based learning) in my upper-level Spanish courses. A big part of the undertaking of PBL is for students to have an “essential question,” to think about what they wish to explore further in their studies.  We discuss how it will work, plan to have progress checks throughout, and once they have completed their cycle of research, they prepare to share their information. An important part of PBL is the reflection element.

I chose to use Kidblog as a way for students to take time to reflect on what they have uncovered in their research and to give others an opportunity to learn from them. I can give feedback, and we both have access to that information and refer back to it as often as needed. We can also continue to comment on it moving forward. I can write comments to offer suggestions and provide support. More importantly, a private digital learning space gives students a way to be more independent in their learning. For our PBL, students use their blog as a way to create a guide for themselves during the process. After posting of their initial “Essential Question,” students are reminded of where they started and how far they have come.

All of this valuable information can then be used during the next phase of PBL. It is a great way to track growth, increase communication skills, and collaborate. The use of blogging aids in the building of relationships. It is rewarding to read what students have written, to understand how they worked through their project-based learning experience, and to have that element of reflection as a result of their blogging. For me, it is great to hear directly from students as they share what they have learned, but better to hear them acknowledge how much they have grown.  Being able to review and reflect aids students in planning new goals and continuing their path toward lifelong learning.

 

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As an addition to this, it is helpful as a teacher to reflect on our practices, in what ways can we improve, how is PBL working in our classroom, what are the thoughts of the students.  Using this information can be quite helpful, as well as referring to the many resources available through BIE, and recent books including Hacking Project Based Learning by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy, Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie, and Pure Genius by Don Wettrick.  The #pblchat is also a great place to learn on Twitter.