My Project Based Learning Site: My Dream Playground
- What do you now understand best about Project Based Learning? What do you understand least?
By completing this course I now understand that Project Based Learning is framed around a meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer. When this course began, I had never heard of a driving question and how it frames the entire project. I also learned that Project Based Learning is different from completing a regular project because it involves a real world context for the students and there is a public element to the project. I think the students will find it more meaningful when they actually have to present their work to someone besides their classmates and teacher. I was also amazed at how much voice and choice the students have throughout the project. I find that when I give assignments, I pretty much expect it to be accomplished one way. I think students will appreciate having more of a voice through Project Based Learning.
The area where I still need a little work is reflection. I have performed self -reflection on my own lessons, but I have not regularly had my students complete their own reflections. I am still working on that and finding ways to make reflection more meaningful for the students. I find that they have difficulty providing quality feedback to their classmates and really taking the time to reflect on their own work.
- What did you expect to learn in this course?
I expected to learn what Project Based Learning is and how it can be implemented in the classroom.
- What did you actually learn? More, less, and why?
I learned what I expected to learn from the course and more. I am so happy that we were able to create our own project and put together the site for our project. This helped me breakdown and understand the elements of project design in a more meaningful way. Switching to a Project Based Learning mindset seems like a huge undertaking and it will cause me to be way more organized and have more foresight. The BIE website was a great resource and will be helpful to use for future projects.
- What will you do with what you have learned?
I teach in a small private school and none of the teachers at my school have attempted Project Based Learning or have even talked about it. I know that it is becoming more popular in the public school district we are in so the topic will most likely come up at our school. I feel confident that I can explain what Project Based Learning is to my colleagues. I will also be able to show them the website I have created and show them how they can incorporate PBL in their classroom. I’d like to work with some of the teachers in my school and help them create a project and work with them on the project in upcoming school years. It’s my goal to start small and help incorporate PBL in our school.
When students complete their projects in my computer lab, the most often form of assessment they receive is a summative assessment that I provide. This is usually in the form of a rubric that lists components of the project and a description of the levels of quality from excellent to poor. I feel that these rubrics are helpful to students because they provide a guide for what is expected of them as they work through their project, but what I have found is that many times we look over the rubric at the beginning of the project and many of the students cast them aside and fail to look at them again. While my rubric is an important tool for summative assessment, I also feel that a peer and/or self assessment can also be equally effective.
A peer assessment can help students internalize the characteristics of quality work. I believe that when a student knows that someone at their level will also be evaluating their work, they may pay more attention to detail and quality. I also think they will find the feedback from their peers to be more relevant. Peer evaluation also encourages more student involvement. For example, my fourth grade students are working on a PowerPoint presentation on famous inventors. Typically I would be the only one reviewing the students work and presentations, but by incorporating peer evaluation, the students watching the presentations will be more engaged and get more out of each presentation. This will also develop the students’ judgment skills. By becoming more adept at peer evaluation, students will in turn be able to critically evaluate their own projects before they are submitted. Another way to use peer feedback is to incorporate it into student group work. My seventh grade students are working on group projects where they are learning how to use a web communication tool, figuring out ways to incorporate that tool in their core subjects, and presenting their tool to the rest of the class. Peer evaluation allows the students to reflect on their role and the contributions they made to the group. It provides accountability for all group members so that students will not “free load” off their group members since their contribution will be graded by their peers.
Self assessment also encourages students to take greater responsibility for their learning. Through self assessment, students can learn from their mistakes, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and become more active in their learning. My eighth grade students are developing their own websites. By adding a self assessment to the project, it will encourage the students to become more involved and responsible for their final product. It will encourage the students to reflect on how focused they were on the creation of their website. Like peer evaluation, it will also help the students focus on their judgment skills and develop their ability to critique the quality of their work before it is submitted. My seventh grade students can also perform a self assessment of their role as group member during the creation of their web communication tool presentations. This will help them critically analyze their contribution to the project and their group.
Many of my students have had little exposure to peer and self assessment; therefore, they lack the skills and judgment to effectively complete these forms of evaluation at this time. As their teacher, it will be my role to fully prepare the students for these types of evaluation by introducing them to these concepts and my expectations when the project is in its early stages. While this may be time consuming, it is a valuable process as the students develop their 21st century learning skills.
Now that the culminating event is over, the projects have been presented, the groups and individuals have been evaluated, and reflection journals have been turned in, it is now time for the teacher to reflect on the entire project experience. There are three main groups that I would involve in this process. They are the students, myself, and any colleagues who were involved with the project.
Students will be asked to share their insights on the strengths and weaknesses of the project. This reminds the students that they play an active part in their PBL journey even after the project ends. Encouraging student feedback shows that I value their opinions and stress the importance of them having a voice in the classroom. For the project I created, I included a student self reflection. In this self-reflection, the students were able to think about what they did throughout the project and comment on what went well and what might not have gone well. One could also consider using a survey, holding class discussions, or interviewing students as well. Boss (2012) offers some great questions to ask the students including:
- What did they think of the project focus, workload, or value of specific assignments?
- What will you remember about this project?
- How would you suggest improving it next time around?
- What would you tell next year’s students to get ready for this project?
Boss (2012) also advises teachers to make blogging a habit as projects unfold. Journal entries added throughout the project experience will help teachers look back as they complete their final reflection. A teacher who blogs makes his or her learning public and models what it means to be a reflective teacher who welcomes constructive comments and suggestions from others. As part of my project, I also created a teacher reflection to be completed at the end of the project. Each major portion of the project was broken down into a spreadsheet. From there, the teacher would be able to fill in what went well, what didn’t work, and changes for the next year.
Finally, reflecting with colleagues can be highly beneficial. Teacher reflective collaboration on a project allows them to examine strengths in student work, discuss opportunities for growth, and discuss any changes that might be made. This helps projects get better each time they are executed with a class. Because my project involved the help of many teachers within the school, it would only make sense that they completed a teacher reflection of their own so that we could meet and discuss the project when it was completed.
Reflecting on a project is never a one-time assessment. Students, classes, and circumstances are different from year to year, so I feel it is important to reflect on the project experience each time it takes place.