Assessment & Project Based Learning

Student achievement is measured in a variety of ways in Project Based Learning.  Of course the end product is the most important, but we cannot solely focus on it.  We must acknowledge that meaningful learning takes place throughout the project.  In PBL students learn more than just content.  They learn how to work with others, solve problems, clearly present ideas, and learn from mistakes.  Assessment in PBL acknowledges not only what the student has learned, but also how they learned it so that they can use it again in the future.  

The first step in effective assessment is to establish clear performance targets.  In my project, My Dream Playground, students are presented with a driving question or problem to solve from the beginning.  I have also outlined the subject area content standards that will be addressed in the project and created summative assessment rubrics that list my expectations for the final project model and presentation.  Throughout the project, students collaborate with their group members as they complete pieces of the project and they reflect on their work as they complete their group project checklist and learning logs.  Weekly feedback will be provided to the individual students and groups to help them stay on track, and improve their work so that they can be successful with the final product.  

Each group’s final playground model and presentation will be there own.  They will be given criteria for what makes a good project, discuss the qualities of good work with their classmates and me, and be provided with examples of exemplary projects.  However, in the end, they will use their own ideas and work together to create their model and presentation and no two projects will be exactly the same.

In order to meet the math standards for this project, the students will be taught how to measure, and find area and perimeter in a hands on way. We will do this by using the math worksheets I created and going out to the playground location to answer the questions.  Formative assessments of these worksheets and weekly quizzes will help me figure out who is understanding the concepts and who needs more help as the project progresses.    

When this project is finished, we will all reflect on its successes.  I will fill out an evaluation for how I felt the project went.  My students will also complete a self evaluation and peer evaluation and also reflect on the project as a whole–what they liked, what they didn’t like, what they learned, etc.   

My students have not had a whole lot of experience with self and peer evaluation.  I will need to spend time teaching my students how to take ownership of their own learning and take pride in their work.  We will also need to discuss constructive criticism and how to offer suggestions to others as they work on their projects and presentations.  I created a rubric for the peer evaluation of the practice presentations, but I would rather use that rubric as a teaching point with the students and have them help me edit it to make it their own once we have completed lessons on self and peer evaluation.   

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Is it still PBL without an Authentic Audience?

In order for learning to be considered project based learning it has to engage students with hands-on, real-life learning and experiences (Everette, 2015).  Part of a real world experience is being able to share what you have learned with a larger audience.  For this reason, I believe that in order for a project to be considered PBL, it has to involve presentation to an authentic audience.  When a student completes a project in the classroom, it basically just has to be good enough to meet the project requirements and teacher’s approval for grading.  On the contrary, with project based learning, a presentation to an authentic audience raises the bar for student work (Everette, 2015). When a student knows that they will have to present their work to an outside, meaningful audience, there is a relevance behind the project tasks and students might be more inclined to work harder and put forth their best effort.  A public audience opens the project up for more questions and the students have to be prepared to defend their work.  This requires the students to be able to apply what they have learned in order to meet the needs of their audience (Reese, 2015).   It helps prepare students for the real world beyond the classroom.  

The type of authentic audience should be determined based on what makes sense for the project.  It does not always have to be an enormous presentation.  There are a variety of ways to present a project to an authentic audience. The presentation could be an online presentation such as a video that could be accessed by a larger audience, it could be a presentation to school families or the administration, or it could be work posted or presented for the community affected by the project.  As part of the PBL experience, the students should have input on determining the best way to present their work to each other and a broader audience (Everette, 2015).

Students engage in deeper learning when they present to an authentic audience.  It requires students to think strategically, communicate effectively, and apply what they have learned in a meaningful way (Reese, 2015).

 

Everette, M. (2015, March 11). 8 essential elements of project based learning. In Scholastic. Retrieved February 11, 2017, from https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/blog-posts/meghan-everette/8-essential-elements-project-based-learning/
Reese, D. (2015, September 26). The importance of audience in authentic teaching and learning. In linkedin. Retrieved February 11, 2017, from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/importance-audience-authentic-teaching-learning-dave-reese

 

Differentiation through Project Based Learning

Transforming one’s classroom from a traditional setting to the implementation of project based learning can be an intimidating task.  One of the questions that can arise is how educators can differentiate learning in a project based setting.  McCarthy (2016) points out five key areas that can be differentiated in order to meet the learning needs of all students.  They are:

  • Authentic Purpose
  • Entry Event
  • Need to Know protocol
  • Checkpoints
  • Student Voice

Students who are at risk or struggle with learning in a traditional setting might become less motivated to learn or really cannot understand that what they are learning applies to the real world.  Through project based learning, students have a wider audience and they apply what they are learning to real-world activities.  They are not just answering to their teacher.  When they see that their projects make an impact on the wider community, they might be more motivated to work.  No longer can students say, “When am I ever going to use this?”

Likewise, a strong entry event sets the tone for the project.  It gets students engaged in the project and develops a purpose for what they are going to learn.  A strong entry event connects students interests with the curriculum.  Like the authentic purpose, an effective entry event shows students how the curriculum relates to their world outside of the school walls (McCarthy, 2016).

It is important to check for content understanding throughout the entire project.   McCarthy (2016) calls this the Need to Know protocol.  It is similar to the K-W-L  strategy except the questions are revisited throughout the entire project until all the questions are answered.  Because the Need to Know protocol is frequently run throughout the project, new questions may arise.  When the instructor reviews the answers with the students, the students vote whether the question was fully addressed.  If there are students who do not feel the answers were addressed, then the instructor must give additional support to those students who feel they need it.  The students help determine whether they feel their academic needs were met rather than the instructor deciding whether the content was covered.

Weekly or bi-weekly checkpoints should also occur along with daily formative assessments.  Students who pass the checkpoint move onto the next skill level; however, students who do not pass the checkpoint will receive differentiated support to meet their needs.  Checkpoints are useful to the instructor and student because they help identify any problems or misconceptions before they get too far into the project (McCarthy, 2016).

Finally, one of the biggest ways to differentiate learning in PBL is to allow for student voice.  Students might be able to design the topic focus, make choices on the end product, and/or design their own plan of action (McCarthy, 2016). This aspect may be hard for instructors who are very used to leading the show, but it is very important for students to be able to help lead their learning.

The two areas that excite me about project based learning are the authentic purpose and student voice.  I think when anyone with any type of ability feels like what they are doing has meaning and when they have a choice with regards to completing the task, learning will undoubtedly take place.  As I read about the Need to Know protocol and the checkpoints, they seemed very familiar and logically take place even in a traditional educational setting.  Formative assessments take place daily in both settings; however, I feel that the checkpoints discussed in PBL are more planned and probably take place more frequently in a PBL setting.  It seems that when carried out effectively, PBL feels more planned and more attention is paid to detail and whether all the students are understanding the material rather than just covering the content.

McCarthy, J. (2016, November 15). How do I differentiate through project-based learning?. In teachthought. Retrieved February 5, 2017, from http://wegrowteachers.com/differentiation-in-a-project-based-learning-unit/