Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Assessing Project Based Learning

Often teachers struggle with assessment when it comes to incorporating project based learning into their curriculum. Here are a few resources with my favorite assessments!

Apple's Distinguished Educator's Ideas

  • Peer presentations 
    • Introduce this using a TED talk as an example
    • Assess knowledge, skill
    • Public forum encourages content mastery
    • Quick way to determine student progress and provide support
  • Reflection booth
    • Great video showing this
    • Assess progress and steps being used
    • Provides powerful baseline assessments

Buck Institute for Education's Ideas

Edutopia's Ideas

See how one teacher is incorporating Core Content Standards into his project that merges WikiSeats and American Literature!

Closing Thoughts
Product v. Process
Assessments FOR learning v. Assessments OF learning

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pay Attention Critique

A Video that Inspires or Offends?

One of the major criticisms I have of "Pay Attention" is that it creates a painful binary. As we know, binaries are incapable of being traversed (this OR that), and inherently contain a heirarchy. The video sets out to challenge teachers, but in many ways, especially to those who are digital immigrants or digital avoiders, it serves to further polarize them.

When thinking about this as a video--opposed to an essay--we need to use our visual literacy in order to interpret additional clues. The use of black and white (an archetypal binary) font color serves to evoke a stark contrast between the background and the text in the foreground. Although not all teachers are progressive, creative and fostering critical thinking skills, to imply that our classrooms without technology are black, devoid of any light is extremely offensive. As with anything, technology will not automatically bring color, especially if it is being used inappropriately or as an online version of meaningless tasks.

Furthermore, the use of the color red is extremely offensive, due to its inextricable link with violence. As a teacher who does use various forms of digital media in my classroom, I am offended by the color choice. I cannot imagine how much someone who doesn’t use (or have access to) these tools would feel. Red is the color of blood and horror; therefore, it evokes a mood of aggression. The last thing that we want to do to teachers would be to assail them into compliance. This would be completely antithetical to the empowerment which using technology can and should provide to both teachers and students.

Finally, the simple use of technology still does not address the issues of meaning. If students say that they feel as if their content has nothing to do with their lives and will not relate to the real world, simply placing this same information onto a podcast does not alleviate these problems.  Knowing that “teachers will lead the struggle to make sure technology use promotes, rather than conflicts with, the goals of a democratic society" (Roblyer & Doering, 2013), we must focus more on the ways technology can enhance powerful teaching practices instead of the fact that it is turned on.  

If I were to create a video, or find a new one, I would want a scaffolded version of technology integration. Instead of frightening teachers into an unknown--and often foreboding landscape--I would look for information that builds upon what many teachers are already doing. Instead of throwing a word like “blog” at a teacher who is uncomfortable with technology, providing a more relevant visual would be more effective. For example:

journal     blog    reflection/voice/empowerment

A visual like this one would serve to show that both a journal and blog move students towards similar goals: reflection, voice and empowerment. The use of a larger visual for blog is purposefully selected to show that blogging may take the initial idea, journaling, to the next level. In order to show its additional capabilities another line with words like collaboration/editing/publishing could appear below the initial desired outcomes. This would allow teachers to feel as if they already have stock in this form of technology. Also, the nature of a life-long learner pushes many teachers towards that next step when they realize that their goals can be maximized with just one shift.

Finally, when dealing with visual literacy, one must be extremely prudent in decisions regarding font, color and other forms of visual information. This information needs to be exciting, bold and powerful. A color like turquoise or teal naturally evokes serenity (blue is the color of the sky and sea which often are found to be calming) yet can be vibrant and motivating. Additionally, our classrooms without tech are not completely black. They do have pops of colors, even if these colors may be dull or slightly outdated. Using colors that are pastel or colors that were popular in past decades (pea soup green, rust orange) may be an interesting visual contrast that also provides a plethora of visual information. These colors serve to remind us that some things we loved at the time become dull and in need of an update. They can also remind us that we are not completely throwing out color or changing everything.

These conversations need to be used to inspire. Teachers are continually bombarded with pressures and rising stakes. If improperly framed and supported these ideas place “a special burden on already overworked teachers to continue learning new resources and changing their teaching methods” (Roblyer & Doering, 2013). Our colleagues need to feel safe as learners in order to make the move. By creating a scaffold instead of a binary, we can begin to engage hesitant teachers and bridge the gaps in many of our schools.

Roblyer, M.D., & Doering, A.H. (2013). Integrating Educational Technology Into Teaching. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Project Based Learning

Recently, a few of my colleagues have asked for some insight about PBLs. Although I am no expert in this area, I have been able to compile a few helpful resources to help.

Here are my Top 10 PBL Insights

10. Community Based
I always wanted to travel the world and make a difference. I wanted to set up schools in developing nations, go save the rain forests, even care for children affected by HIV/AID internationally. Although I still believe that these are powerful pursuits--which I hope to someday get to--my grandmother always reminded me: You don't need to look past your own backyard to make a difference. Although global change is extremely exciting, don't get ahead of yourself. There are so many issues and projects that our own communities and families can benefit from! Reach out to local agencies or even the families in your school, and see what they need. Chances are: your message will be more powerful, you will build meaningful relationships between your school and the community, and you will change the lives of families at your own school if not your own students!

9. "Curators of Content" 
At the NJECC conference that I just attended, the Keynote Speaker, Dirk DeLo, said that he considers his teachers "curators of content". They are expected to collect as many pieces of their content from various sources in order to develop a curriculum for their students.
In a PBL there is the same expectation. It is your responsibility as the teacher to incorporate as much content as you can in each project. The real challenge is to do this in an organic way. For example, instead of having students write an essay at the end of the PBL about their findings, have them continually post information to a class website. Students will still be articulating their findings; they will still be demonstrating the ability to develop complex ideas, but it will be embedded in the project, allowing for better understanding and most likely a stronger project. At the end, students may even want to change initial findings--allowing them to reflect on their own learning and growth in a way that a final paper may overlook.

8. Get Down with the Mess
I am a very organized person. I separate my closet based on color; I have spaces for each and every type of bill I receive; I have a brilliant system of desktop folders. However, if you ever saw my living room when I am in the middle of a craft project, you would think that I am a complete disaster. As I have gone through a few PBLs, I have realized that this type of learning functions in a similar way. The  setup must be organized, but the execution will be sloppy.
What should you think about before?
      -How much time will this take?
      -How will students know what their objectives are?
      -How will I save work to allow for continual progress?
Types of areas to create:
Types of ares to expect:

7. The Discover Process
PBLs come with several challenges. Out of all these challenges there are two main issues: you are not an expert in every field, and you may not have a resource to help with every challenge that arises. In order to lessen anxiety around these two complications, our school uses the iDiscover model. This model encourages students to think about places where they can locate information. It also allows for experts outside the classroom to become an intergal part of any project. I think about it as eliminating the middle man; so often I have tried to become an expert in a field that I have no prior knowledge about in order to convey my attempted understandings to my students. It seems much more efficient and accurate to have someone who has devoted years to the study of a specific idea discuss it with my students.

6. Choices and Challenges
Recently, I overheard a clip from a professional development class for physical therapists where the expert stated that it is the therapists role to know the choices that could be used to treat a specific problem and be able to provide a set of challenges to a given patient. As a teacher using PBLs in your classroom, you are doing the same thing. Your responsibility is to provide choices for different ways to address specific issues. You are also there to provide challenges for students as they advance through their projects.

5. Give Them the Words
It is impossible to have a conversation without the foundational jargon of a given field. As teachers, how could we talk about learning without specific, agreed-upon words that enable us to discuss our classrooms, students and theories. In a PBL, this is imperative. We cannot expect students to discuss projects in areas they may never have been introduced to without the fundamental words for that field.
If you have an expert come into class to discuss a specific topic, have him or her list and define a few key terms that are common and intergal to the project at hand. Then, create a space--in the physical classroom or an online extension--where students can continually access these words, their definitions and any attached resources.

4. Who Gives the Grade?
Although the phrase "because I said so" seemed to work in my household growing up, it doesn't fly in the classroom. Provided a meaningful project, where the grade is given based on the real-time effectiveness of the project is a much more powerful motivation to students than any teacher-imposed edict. So, let the community help judge the success of the project. This can be done through evaluations, goals or even expert evaluations.

3. Character Ed through PBL
One challenge of PBLs is assessment. Check out the KIPP Character Report Card as a possible authentic, continual assessment. When how hard someone works is directly connected with how much another person's life is improved, the stakes become high and valuable.

2. High Tech High School
Any time that I am struggling putting together a PBL, I watch this video for inspiration! CHECK IT OUT.

1.  What Moves YOU?
As educators we know that students perform most when they are self-directing. The same goes for you. Pick a project that you love! Collect info! Make it happen!

What are other PBL insights that you can share? Feel free to comment below!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

BrainBased Learning & Connectivism

Why does playing video games for hours improve your ability to play well? Why does practicing kicking your soccer ball over and over improve your ability to perform? Why do you read 20 pages each night for LA homework? Each of these skills requires specific nerve pathways to complete. So, why does practicing improve them, and how does this relate to our project?

In his article, "'Connectivism' and Connective Knowledge", Stephen Downes explains: "At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks. Knowledge, therefore, is not acquired, as though it were a thing. It is not transmitted, as though it were some type of communication." He continues to explain that "What we learn, what we know -- these are literally the connections we form between neurons as a result of experience." 1

In order to really understand this, we need to know a little science.

Here's a picture from the Mayo Clinic of a nerve:

How the Nerve Works:

The neuron is the e-mail of your body. It sends and receives messages.

The nucleus sends an electric signal through the axon.

The axon often branches into several places, commonly referred to as the axon transmitters.

The axon transmitters transfer this electrical signal to a particular cell.

Depending on the pathway of the nerve, the signal is interpreted in order to complete the cell's specific function.

Why We Need to Make Use of Pathways: 

The more often an axon is used, the more the myelin sheath wraps around it.

The more myelin there is, the more ensheathed the axon is.

The more ensheathed the axon, the more efficiently the message is sent.

Therefore, cell performance is improved.

Not all neurons have myelin around them. They send messages 100 times SLOWER than those with myelin!!

So, now we must ask, how does this relate to our projects, connectivism and video games?

The more we practice our skills, the more our nerves use their axons, the more efficiently we work. This is why when you are playing video games all night long, you are actually improving your ability to play. Your pathways are becoming more myelinated and are, therefore, becoming more efficient.

This is also why when you learn, the more you can connect to pathways you already have strengthened, the more efficiently you can learn new information. So, if you relate you use the mythology you learned in social studies to enhance your language arts piece, you are taking advantage of pathways that you have already made strong!

The theory of Connectivism draws upon these scientific concepts. It reminds us that in order to learn, we must take advantage of the pathways that we have in our minds. As such, the more information can relate to something we know, the stronger our pathway becomes and the deeper the learning is.


Create a website in order to encourage connectivist learning. By creating separate pages with different information, you and your students will be encouraged to explore the learnings of peers and take advantage of whatever helps your endeavor. For example, you may see 5 articles on a specific page, but only one seems to relate to your individual project. Read that one, use whatever parts of it that you can, and try to make as many connections as you can to it.

Works Cited

Downes, Stephen. "'Connectivism' and Connective Knowledge." The Huffington Post. 5 January 2011. 26 January 2013<>.

"Myelin." The Encyclopedia of Science. 8 February 2013 <>.

"Nerve Cell (Neruron)." Mayo Clinic. 8 February 2013 <>.

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