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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

#ISTE16 Part 2: Highlights & Takeaways

By Rachelle Dene Poth

This post is part two of #ISTE16 reflections from Rachelle. Click here to read part 1: Let’s Talk About Relationships.

Where does one start to describe the highlights from a conference experience like ISTE? The tremendous number and types of events offered during this experience make it a real challenge to focus on only a few here. There are so many wonderful things that you could highlight about the conference. With numerous concurrent events, pulling you in so many directions and with all of the choices, how can you possibly decide on a schedule? It definitely is not an easy task, but it does not have to be difficult either. You just need a little focus.

So how do you focus? Talk to people about some of the “must” events, but also think about what your personal focus might be. What are you hoping to gain from attending ISTE? So many choices. I believe that no matter which option you choose, you can’t be wrong because of the endless opportunities available at a conference of this magnitude.

Planning with #ISTE15 in Mind

Even though I had attended ISTE last year, and had a pretty good idea of what to expect, I don’t know that I was any more prepared. It seems to me, that each day had one event people considered to be a “must attend.” Aside from having this one focal point, the rest of the days were filled quickly with a combination of time spent at the poster sessions, playgrounds, Keynotes, Ignites, and 1 in 3 sessions. Every day was also filled with networking and connecting everywhere: stopping in the Expo hall to grab some swag; hanging out in the Bloggers Cafe and the PLN Lounge; enjoying ice cream and shopping for ISTE wear and books at ISTE Central; and so much more.

With so much to do, I think sometimes it’s better off to not put too much thought into having the “master plan/schedule” because you don’t know who you might meet, what you might find or where you will end up once you enter the convention center. It is so easy to be pulled in so many different directions, so it is always a good idea to have a flexible “plan” of where to start but keep your options open because there’s a whole lot going on out there in the world of ISTE

My #ISTE Highlights

A lot of people come in for the pre-conference events starting on Saturday with Hack Education’s ISTE Unplugged and the Mobile Learning Network’s Mobile Megashare. Both of these offered opportunities for people to meet up with their Twitter friends or “tweeps”, make new connections and do a lot of learning and networking. The great thing about these two events on Saturday is that there are so many diverse topics for discussion and so many people to share and brainstorm ideas with. And nobody says you have to stay at either one for the whole time. Just like the EdCamp “law of two feet”, you can go back and forth whenever you want, because you are in charge of your learning. This is your personalized PD. Enjoy the time to CHOOSE what you what to learn about.

For the Mobile Megashare, there were 24 tables each with a presenter or presenters facilitating a discussion about a topic. Attendees were able to choose a table to join in and could come and go as they wanted, or just move about the room and listen in and participate in a bunch of different conversations, moving around from table to table and idea to idea. .

There were two unconference events attached to ISTE, #HackEd and Teachmeet. #HackEd was much like a traditional Edcamp, and with TeachMeet, you can submit an idea to present on a topic for either a 2, 7 or 20-minute time period. It’s another place to connect and make new friends, and really build up the excitement for the rest of the conference.

Sunday night kicked off officially with the Keynote speech by Dr. Michio Kaku, who questioned whether we are “equipping students for the 1950’s or cultivating future ready learners.” The Balco Theater was packed, and more people gathered in the Bloggers Cafe to spend some time collaborating and to listen in to the Keynote. In the first two days alone there were many opportunities for personalized professional development and learning.

More Highlights

New #ISTE Student Standard: One of the highlights this year was the launch of the newISTE Standards for Students. The updated version was released and includes 7 standards of student statements, with focus on empowering student learners and giving students a voice through technology. There was a lot of excitement and discussion of these new standards and the focus toward student-centered learning.

Keynotes:
The two other inspirational and motivating keynotes were given by Dr. Ruha Benjamin and Michelle Cordy. Both shared experiences and messages that called upon educators to take action to provide opportunities and digital equity for all learners.

#CoffeeEDU: If you’re not an early riser, then get up early and go to #CoffeeEdu. Join in the conversations, get a great start to the day, talk with Alice Keeler and make some new connections.

Parties!: If you don’t normally stay out late, then make sure you get to the Gaggle party or EdTech Karaoke. The Gaggle Party was held at the Denver Athletic Club, multiple levels of nothing but fun and ETK was at the City Hall Events Center. Both of these events are a lot of fun and well attended, so you need to at least make some time to stop in for a bit to find out what the buzz is all about and why so many people are so quick to get those badges and passes to attend.

Hanging at Gaggle: Sean Farnum, Melanie Broder, Bryan Miller, Edward Sun, Katrina Keene & Michael Jaber
Sean Gaillard, Fran Siracusa, Mandy Froehlich and Kahoot!

At #ISTE16, the opportunities for learning came from all directions. Everything and everyone is always moving. Doors opening to sessions, lines crowding the hall, students excitedly sharing their work, drawing you into their poster sessions, and all of the different tables and topics that each of the playgrounds offered. It is hard to pass any one of these opportunities up. And it’s even harder to decide when to stop and when to keep going. It’s variety and connecting that made this learning special.

Planning Ahead: #ISTE17

Now is the time to plan your schedule for #ISTE2017. The location for next year is San Antonio, TX from June 25-28, and now is the time to start planning ahead. Not deciding on where or how you want to spend your time while there, but planning to be there to experience the awesomeness of ISTE and the Connected World. See you in San Antonio!

What are your takways and highlights from #ISTE16? Share in the comments or on Twitter with #TheEduCal!