Course Reflection on Project Based Learning

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.

 

Peer/Self Assessment

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.

Post Project Reflection in PBL

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.  

Boss, S. (2012, November 28). PBL Teachers Need Time to Reflect, Too. Retrieved April 09, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/project-learning-teacher-reflection-suzie-boss

 

The Role of the Facilitator in PBL

One of the greatest challenges for an instructor in a PBL unit is to adapt to the role of facilitator. As a facilitator, my role in the teaching/learning process will change and I will need to let go of the traditional notions for a classroom and learning.  No longer will I spend most of my day in the front of the classroom teaching.  My role as a facilitator is essential for the effectiveness of the learning experience for my students.  As a facilitator I will develop a project for the class, oversee and assist students throughout the project, help students become more independent as learners, and assess and evaluate the success of the project as well as the students’ performance.    

An effective facilitator defines desired outcomes for the project.  The outcomes are discussed with the students early in the project and are a point of reference throughout.  A facilitator provides the focus of the project and the path towards the desired outcome.  An effective facilitator recognizes the group dynamics and behavioral styles.  They also ensure that everyone is heard and included.  An effective facilitator is confident.  He or she is always prepared and commands the attention of the room.  An effective facilitator asks good questions that can move a group forward, facilitate conversations and provide results.  He or she helps a group think outside the box and determine a course of action.  An effective facilitator knows how to handle a group and works with them to resolve conflict and be able to work together (Rickenbach, 2014).  

With project based learning, students will develop the competencies and skills needed to be successful including the necessary 21st century skills of critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity.    Students will still learn the academic content they need through PBL and they will probably remember it better.  Project based learning helps students learn time management and become more organized.  Students will learn how to work together much like they will need to do as they enter the workforce.  By taking part in public presentations, students will develop their communication skills and their project results may actually make a difference in the community.  Project based learning is more engaging for students and allows students to take responsibility for their learning.  

In order to become an effective facilitator, I will need to make a few changes to my teaching style and they way I run my classroom.  One area that I will need to improve on is observation.  I will need to do a better job of examining student interactions and group them appropriately so that they will be most successful in their learning.  I will also need to develop a better way to facilitate groups when they have conflict.  Finally, I will need to become more adept at helping students think out of the box and look at tasks with different perspectives.  

 

Rickenbach, R. (2014, November 05). Are You an Effective Facilitator? Retrieved March 19, 2017, from https://www.td.org/Publications/Blogs/L-and-D-Blog/2014/11/Are-You-An-Effective-Facilitator

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.   

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/

 

 

What is Project Based Learning?

 

Project Based Learning is an instructional method where students actively work for an extended period of time to investigate and solve a real-world question, problem, or challenge in order to obtain knowledge and skills.  Students work with a partner or small group to perform research, present the material they have learned in the form of a project, and obtain feedback for their learning (BIE, n.d.).  

Project based learning and problem based learning have many similarities, but also some subtle differences.  Larmer (2015) identifies these differences between project based learning and problem based learning:

  • Project based learning often incorporates many subjects. Problem based learning most often applies to one subject.
  • Project based learning may take weeks or months.  Problem based learning tends to be shorter.
  • Project based learning has many steps.  Problem based learning has specific steps.
  • Project based learning includes the creation of a product in some form.  The final product in problem based learning can be a product or a proposed solution in written form or as a presentation.
  • Project based learning uses real world scenarios and tasks.  Problem based learning uses case studies or fictitious scenarios for investigation.   

Teachers should consider incorporating project based learning into the classroom because it moves students away from using rote memorization of information to pass a test.  After memorizing information for the test, students tend to forget what they have learned.  The hands on approach of project based learning capitalizes on student interest and provides real-world scenarios in order for them to obtain skills and knowledge.  Project based learning prepares students for the real world beyond their education.  It teaches students how to think critically, collaborate with others, and effectively communicate what they have learned to a larger audience.     

The Buck Institute for Education (n.d.) includes these essential components as part of project based learning:

  • The project should be focused on student learning based on content standards and skills including critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.   
  • The project should be focused on addressing the answer to a problem, question, or challenge.
  • Students should seek answers to questions through inquiry, research, and application.
  • The projects should have real world applications.
  • Students should have a voice in the project.  They can choose how they work and what they create.  
  • Students and teachers should reflect on learning including the effectiveness of the inquiry, the project activities, the quality of work, obstacles that were encountered and how they were overcome.
  • Students should give, receive, and use feedback to improve their process or products.
  • Students should publicly display or present their project to people outside of the classroom.

 

Larmer, J. (2015, July 13). Project-based learning vs. problem-based learning vs. x-bl. In edutopia. Retrieved January 21, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/pbl-vs-pbl-vs-xbl-john-larmer

What is project based learning (PBL)?. (n.d.). In BIE. Retrieved January 21, 2017, from http://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl