February 8

‘twixt and ‘tween childhood and adulthood (and how #PBL builds maturity), Part 2

A few moments after the agonizingly drawn-out note-writing experience I describe here, I witnessed (not for the first time!) the mercurial shift of these teens into almost-adults.

Each year, the history students in my #Meliora project-based learning (#PBL) practice create a project to submit to the National History Day (NHD) competition. This year, a group of five students is collaborating on creating a video documentary. The deadline to submit their work for the first round of competitions is eight days away. They have a lot of work to do, as is the case every year about this time, when students realize they are down to the wire.

This afternoon, I sat in on a revision process of the voice-over narrative the students are going to use. The objective of the narrative is to argue their thesis. The quality of their thesis and supporting evidence is what will allow them to advance to the next level of competition. Or not.

The assignment I gave them was to have one student read the narrative aloud while the other students listened. The listeners could stop the narrator at any point and jump in with suggested revisions. My observations:

  1. One student started reading the narrative, and was having difficulty staying focused enough to read smoothly. Another student stepped in to take over the task. The “hand-off” was done with a friendly, positive attitude by both students.
  2. Students were listening intently to the narrative flow.
  3. When students heard something they felt was lacking/incomplete/repetitive, they spoke up immediately and the whole group worked to find a solution.
  4. There was no defensive or argumentative behavior and they came to consensus efficiently.

These are the moments that inspire me to continue challenging students using PBL. In this one activity, which lasted for about 45 minutes, the students hit all of the touchstones of High Quality Project Based Learning:

  1. Intellectual challenge and accomplishment. At the beginning of the semester, they spent weeks researching and defining their thesis. Once established, my persistent question to them has been “how does this narrative support your thesis?” That was a question they returned to throughout their review today.
  2. Authenticity. They had complete choice over their topic, the two constraints being that it relate to Illinois history and that it fit the NHD theme, which this year is “Triumph & Tragedy in History.” This is a requirement of the Chicago History Fair organization, the regional level of entry into National History Fair. Due to this freedom of choice, they have remained highly engaged in conducting research and creating a convincing argument.
  3. Public product. The students will be presenting their work to a panel of judges in a public forum, which raises the stakes and their desire to create a high-quality product. The stakes (the intensity of competition) will continue to raise as they advance levels.
  4. Collaboration. Today’s task was completely collaborative. Throughout the project, they have worked both individually and collaboratively toward a common objective, which is  persuasively arguing their thesis.
  5. Project management. They students have been using Trello throughout the project process to identify, assign, and track progress on tasks. Finalizing the narrative is a task they must  complete before they can assemble the video documentary, so they understand the criticality.
  6. Reflection. They were actively and openly reflecting on the narrative composition that had been done to-date. Throughout the project development process, they are required to reflect on how the items they are researching, the books, images, video clips, newspaper articles, etc. contribute to their argument. They assigned team roles and responsibilities early in the project, and have continued to modify them over time, based on the interests and skills of each team member.

I have every confidence a week from now these engaged, enthusiastic students will have a well-argued, well-edited documentary to submit for competition. Because they care.

February 4

PBL = Good Business

The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AACU) recently published survey results collected from business executives (profit and nonprofit sectors) and hiring managers. In the executive summary, they state, “The college learning outcomes that both audiences rate as most important include oral communication, critical thinking, ethical judgment, working effectively in teams, written communication, and the real-world application of skills and knowledge.” [emphasis added] Furthermore, “[b]usiness executives and hiring managers indicate that participation in applied and project-based learning experiences—particularly internships or apprenticeships—gives recent college graduates an edge.”

The college learning outcomes that both audiences rate as most important include oral communication, critical thinking, ethical judgment, working effectively in teams, written communication, and the real-world application of skills and knowledge.

The “4Cs,” (critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication) have been embedded in high-quality project-based learning for many years. As students tackle “a challenging problem, an intriguing question, or multi-sided issue,” they engage in critical thinking, looking at the question/problem from many angles and conducting research. Defining possible solution(s) requires creativity; thinking outside the box, prototyping, learning from failure. Students collaborate with others, often peers in a team, as well as with subject-matter experts. As a final step in the process, they showcase their evidence of learning by presenting (communicating) their work to a public audience.

The best projects address real-world problems, and the solutions the students create are presented to real-world stakeholders. These are just some of the ways project-based learning helps prepare our learners for success in their adult lives.

January 24

“There’s a whole lot of talking he’s not doing”

“There’s a whole lot of talking he’s not doing.” This line comes from The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom. A character named Belle is quizzing another character, named Will, about a third character, Lavinia, whom Will has recently visited. Belle is asking what happened during his visit, and she correctly discerns that his responses express only a fraction of the whole truth.

Although there is ongoing debate about exactly how much influence each single component of communication has, it is universally accepted that non-verbal communication is more potent than the words we use. Landmark studies conducted by Albert Mehrabian in 1967 concluded that only 7% of our communication is related to the words we use. Mehrabian asserted the vast majority of what an interlocuteur “hears” is based on intonation and facial cues.

There are many criticisms of the exact percentages, and what exactly Mehrabian measured. However, even the most skeptic critic would acknowledge that nonverbal cues are more important than the words in a message. This particularly complicates communication in the digital world, where much of our communication is through text modes. How exactly should I interpret the “tone” of an email? But I digress.

Educators are typically in face-to-face communication with their students. So what, exactly, are we communicating to our students with our nonverbal cues? What are our facial expressions communicating? What does our body stance say? When the words are positive in nature, is our tone supporting that message?

Just as importantly, are we truly “listening” to our students? When Ashlee says “I don’t care,” what is her body language saying? When Jayden is unable to make eye contact, what is really going on? Are we taking the time to truly understand our students?

In a high quality project, students make their work public by sharing it not only with the teacher but also with each other, experts, and other people beyond the classroom. This occurs both during a project, as part of the product development and formative assessment process and at its conclusion, when the product is shared and discussed with an audience. ~ from A framework for high quality Project Based Learning.

And, what are we doing to help our students build their communication skills? Long identified as one of the 21st Century skills, and also identified by Tony Wagner as one of the 7 Survival Skills, it is imperative we help our students develop their ability to communicate clearly and effectively.

The high quality Project Based Learning framework (#HQPBL) recognizes this necessity, so communication is woven into projects. As students develop their projects, they are called on to communicate with each other, with subject-matter experts, a public audience, and with themselves through reflection. Another reason #PBL rocks!

January 11

Why I do #PBL

Sheri Edwards recently posted about how working on hobbies helps instill a desire for #lifelonglearning and a willingness to #struggle. She pointed to #GeniusHour as one way to incorporate student-centered hobbies during the school day.

Absolutely! In my #PBL practice, I put a lot of thinking, planning/designing and #reflection into finding ways to make the academic work the teens do as compelling as possible. I apply the High-Quality PBL framework to my designs. As part of that framework, I offer students a lot of #VoiceAndChoice in how they develop their projects and in how they present their evidence of learning.

I commit to implementing projects that challenge, engage, and support students as described by the six #HQPBL criteria.

Notwithstanding, there are times I get frustrated with what I perceive as a lack of enthusiasm, or a lack of devotion to their work. It is in these moments that feedback from an outside audience reminds me of how capable these students are.

At our student showcase in December, a group was presenting a video documentary. They encountered some technical difficulties related to projecting from a laptop to a large screen. With no apparent anxiety, they persevered in their troubleshooting and soon the video was smoothly rolling for the audience to enjoy.

At the end of the showcase, one of the audience members came up to me and said, “Wow, it’s amazing that they knew how to fix the problem! I would have had no idea where to even start!”

It is true that my students, through regular practice, develop a variety of technology skills. Since they use #realworld tools and apps, and sometimes know more about the technologies they are working with than I do, they become adept at figuring things out. When they encounter #failure, or a product works differently than they expect, they momentarily retreat. Then, they consult among themselves, look at YouTube videos, “ask Google,” and occasionally even ask me.

In other words, they are #problemsolving, one of the “Seven Survival Skills” identified by Tony Wagner in his work on transforming education. It is moments like these that cause me to recommit to the chaotic, messy, exhilarating process called project-based learning.

April 27

#PBL as Professional Development (Part 5 of 6)

Previous posts in this series: Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4.

Testing

The testing step is where the rubber meets the road! Each team presents their proposed solution to a large public audience, which may include outside experts, administrative decision makers (who may have already participated in the process), and other community members. The audience participates in assessing the solution, providing formal feedback to the team. This feedback serves as further formative assessment.

กลุ่ม ทีมงาน ข้อเสนอแนะ ยืนยัน sprechblasen เมฆ by Pixabay shared under a CC0 1.0 license.

Based on feedback, the team may need to return to the implementation step to further revise their solution. Testing is therefore another iterative step and time must be allocated for at least one revision cycle.

During project testing, a minimum of these HQPBL principles are being practiced: intellectual challenge and accomplishment; authenticity; public product; and collaboration.

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April 19

#PBL as Professional Development (Part 4 of 6)

Previous posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Implementation

The Implementation phase is the lengthiest portion of any project, where much of the action takes place. Our #PBL professional development is no exception.

During project implementation, all of the HQPBL principles are being practiced: intellectual challenge and accomplishment; authenticity; public product; collaboration; project management; reflection.

To manage the project development, each team develops a project plan, identifying roles, responsibilities, tasks, constraints and project timeline.

Plan” by Alpha Stock Images shared under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

Once this infrastructure is determined, the teams develop solution(s) to their driving question. Required tasks typically include research, consultation with subject-matter experts, prototyping, and collaboration with others, sometimes outside of the team and/or outside of the school.

In order to monitor the robustness of solution development, peer reviews are scheduled on a periodic basis. Critical Friends protocols, such as The Charette provide a structured environment for others to offer constructive feedback to the team. These reviews serve as formative assessments and often lead to modifications to the solution development.

Board Font Problem” by Pixabay shared under a CC0 1.0 license.

Reflection is another essential component of implementation that is conducted on a regular basis. Reflection can be done as frequently as daily, and at a minimum formal reflection should be done at each project milestone. Team members reflect on the project progress, their contributions, and the contributions of the other team members. The reflection process is also useful for the team to examine how well their solution is responding to the driving question. If needed, the team corrects their course.

Reflection Sunset Mirror” by Pixabay shared under a CC0 1.0 license.

Once a (draft) solution is completed, the project team presents it to the whole professional development group for critical review. Ideally, outside experts are also included in the review. The process is the same or similar as in prior peer reviews, a structured session where the audience provides formal feedback to the team.

Based on the audience feedback, each team revises their solution(s). In some cases, this requires a return to the design step, an alteration to the design. An example of this would be where a solution requires different resources than originally identified. The team would need to return to the design and modify accordingly.

As we can see, revision is a frequent and ongoing characteristic of the implementation phase. Implementation is highly iterative, and time must be built into the project schedule to allow for multiple revisions.

Next, we discuss testing our solutions!

April 12

#PBL as Professional Development (Part 3 of 6)

If you missed them, Part 1 and Part 2.

Design

We now move into the Design step of our professional development #PBL process. Based upon the analysis work done in the previous step, each team creates a framework for their project by developing a driving question. To be effective, it needs to be open-ended (“What can we…,” “How can we…”) and identify the desired change(s) or outcome(s). An example is “How can we create a learning environment that prepares our students for adult life?”

“What can we…” “How can we…”

One of the most difficult aspects of creating an ideal driving question is sizing it such that it is neither too large/broad nor too small/narrow. As the teams develop their project plan (in the Implementation step, our next topic), they may need to revise the driving question to fit within the project constraints.

Once the driving question is derived and agreed upon, each team creates a Need to Know (NTK) list. The purpose of this list is to document all the information to be gathered and research to be conducted in order to be able to create solution(s) to the driving question.

Each team also identifies resources they require to develop the project. Examples include technology tools, access to subject-matter experts (SME), and statistical data.

All of these parameters may require modification as the teams delve deeper into their topic.

Project design requires practice in two of the HQPBL principles: authenticity, collaboration

Next, we will discuss Implementation.

 

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April 6

#PBL as Professional Development (Part 2 of 6)

If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.

Analysis

We now discuss the Analysis step of using a #PBL process for professional development. 

Ideally, the professional develop group of learners includes participants from both the teaching and administrative staff, in order to develop a cohesive understanding of PBL concepts, and to jointly create solutions.

We begin by using improv games to break the ice and start team building. To further create a positive environment, we develop group norms to guide our interactions. One of my personal favorites is “assume positive intent.”

Yes Letters Tablets” by geralt shared under a CC0 1.0 license.

We then examine the survey results, and ask the participants to identify the highest priority items. The number of topics selected from the list is dependent on the number of participants, with one topic per each 3-4 people. The participants then group themselves into 3-4 person teams based on their highest level of interest.

Each team then identifies the desired outcomes. What do we want the solution to the problem/question/situation to look like? Why? During this step, we do not consider the “how,”; that comes later.

Problem, Analysis, Solution” by geralt shared under a CC0 1.0 license.

And finally, in teams and as a whole group, we discuss the requirements for successful team collaboration. What logistical and strategic components must be in place for the teams to thrive? This is a critical element of overall success!

These analysis activities provide teachers with practice in two of the Framework for High Quality Project Based Learning principles: authenticity, collaboration.

Analysis provides practice in two of the HQPBL principles: authenticity, collaboration

Next up – Design step!

April 5

#PBL as Professional Development (Part 1 of 6)

Just as we ask our students to make a leap of faith to engage in a project-based learning (PBL) environment, we should boldly ask the same of teachers and administrators. An ideal way for educators to develop familiarity and confidence with PBL is to experience it!

I propose to launch educators’ exploration into project-based learning using the Framework for High Quality Project Based Learning (HQPBL), combined with P21 Exemplars to guide their work. First, we ask them to develop familiarity with the framework and with the characteristics of exemplar schools. Participants then respond to a survey which assesses the HQPBL factors and/or exemplar teaching and learning characteristics they think are lacking in the existing school environment.

Then, we guide them through a series of professional development sessions based on the PBL process.

Next post – Analysis step!

HQPBL Framework

  1. Intellectual challenge and accomplishment – Students learn deeply, think critically, and strive for excellence.
  2. Authenticity – Students work on projects that are meaningful and relevant to their
    culture, their lives, and their future.
  3. Public product – Students’ work is publicly displayed, discussed, and critiqued.
  4. Collaboration – Students collaborate with other students in person or online and/or
    receive guidance from adult mentors and experts.
  5. Project management – Students use a project management process that enables them to
    proceed effectively from project initiation to completion.
  6. Reflection – Students reflect on their work and their learning throughout the project.