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Tips for Managing Project-Based Learning

Posted by on Nov 5, 2014 in ASCD, Blog | 0 comments

 

This post originally appeared on ASCD Express, a regular ASCD Publication focused on critical topics in education. This article appeared in Vol 10. Issue 4, the focus topic being managing messy learning. View Original >

 


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Project-based learning (PBL) can be messy by nature, but, then again, isn’t all learning? PBL is a student-centered practice. Because it allows for voice and choice for students in not only what they produce but also how they spend their time, the learning is not as structured as many educators are comfortable with. However, PBL can still be focused if educators pair content standards with a menu of choices for demonstrating understanding of those standards, rather than allowing students to do projects on whatever they find interesting.
Even when students are given a menu of choices, though, teachers must closely consider and anticipate PBL management to ensure that students are engaged in learning important content and skills. As you plan projects, consider what students need to know to be successful with the project; how you will help them develop the skills to self-manage and collaborate throughout the project; how you will use formative assessments and benchmarks to check student progress throughout the project; and finally, how you will provide ongoing feedback and opportunities for students to reflect on their progress throughout the project.

Need-to-Know List
When teachers first launch a project, they should ask students what they need to know to successfully complete the project. The students should then collectively compile a list of the questions they will ultimately need to answer throughout the project. These questions might be closely aligned to content—for example, “What are the important beliefs of Islam?”—or they might be process based—for example, “When are experts coming in to see our work?” This list of questions not only helps guide students in their learning but also helps the teacher plan appropriate scaffolds and lessons to make sure students are getting what they need to complete the project. Because this list may not initially be comprehensive, it is imperative that the teacher returns to the list throughout the project to allow students the opportunity to reflect on what they have learned and ask new questions. The need-to-know list can help focus the inquiry and turn the inquiry process over to students.

Tools for Scaffolding Self-Management and Collaboration
Two skills—self-management and collaboration—play key roles in successful PBL. Students must learn to both self-manage (independently manage their time and tasks) and collaborate (work cooperatively with others). Teachers can use a variety of tools to help students learn to acquire both of these skills. Physical tools, such as time-management logs and task lists, which are cocreated with students, can help break down the project’s process so that students can learn to manage their workloads on their own. Other physical tools, such as learning logs and team contracts, can be used to foster collaboration among students and teach them how to communicate with one another and hold one another accountable for various responsibilities. Rubrics can also be used to articulate the quality indicators of effective collaboration (the Buck Institute for Education has some sample rubrics for K–12 collaboration).

In addition to providing students with these physical tools, teachers need to explain the concepts of self-management and collaboration and encourage students to work toward acquiring these skills. When it comes to self-management and collaboration, we can’t expect all students to come to us with the necessary skills to work effectively independently and in teams. If we implement scaffolding techniques to teach and encourage these important skills, we set the stage for a great project and build classroom culture along the way.

Formative Assessments and Benchmarks
One PBL myth is that students are given complete control of their learning. On the contrary, it is crucial that teachers are very aware of exactly where students are in the learning process. Formative assessments and benchmarks are key in PBL to not only ensure that students are held accountable but also to ensure that we, as educators, know what students know or don’t know and are able to adjust instruction as needed. Educators should create and implement formative assessments that are aligned with content and skills learning and the product-creation process. Checking for Understanding by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey is a great book to help you think about a variety of ways to formatively assess.

Be prepared to give students timely, specific feedback on formative assessments and benchmarks and teach them how to self-assess and give feedback to peers. The Educational Leadership article “Feedback That Fits,” by Sue Brookhart, discusses high-quality feedback and offers guidance for determining the appropriate timing, amount, and mode of delivery.

Get Out of the Way
PBL is powerful because it empowers students to be self-directed, lifelong learners. Giving students space can be quite challenging for many educators. I remember when engagement and on-task time looked like students sitting in rows being silent. We know that this is not the case for PBL. During this “messy middle” of PBL, teachers need to gauge whether or not they need to intervene in the collaboration and learning process. If we want our students to be problem solvers, then they need to have the space to solve those problems. These skills can be built with a balance of both hands-on and hands-off approaches—that is, learning when to step in, when to back off, and when to simply give the students the tools they need to take control of their own project, whether collaborating with others or self-managing. As educators, we do a disservice to our students if we solve all of their problems for them. Sometimes it is necessary to be present in the learning process but out of the way so that students can learn to learn.

Small, Safe Steps for Introducing Games to the Classroom

Posted by on Oct 20, 2014 in Blog, Edutopia | 0 comments

 

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >

 


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Some educators are nervous about using games in the classroom or fully implementing all aspects of game-based learning (GBL). However, there are a few small, safe steps that all educators can and should consider to leverage the power of engagement that games can bring. Finding games isn’t as difficult as it used to be. Sites like Educade provide game ideas, links, resources, and even lesson ideas. This is a great start, but educators should take some of the following next steps to feel even more confident and safe about using games in the classroom.

Play the Games
When educators want to know if a game is appropriate for the classroom, they shouldn’t just rely on someone telling them it’s great, whether that someone is a company or even a colleague. To truly understand if the game will work with your curriculum or your intended goals for learning, you need to sit down and actually play the game. Spend the time to explore this software, app, or board game to your satisfaction. As you play, you can experience what students will experience and learn how to support them when they play. You’ll develop an understanding of what can be learned from this game, whether it’s content, thinking skills, or both. One of the best professional development experiences on games and GBL is to play a digital game like Civilization solo or a board game like Settlers of Catan with a group of friends.

A Game Is Voluntary
You want to know what makes games the most effective? They are voluntary. If you make students play the game, you are missing the entire point of games and GBL. Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken, states:

When you strip away the genre differences and the technological complexities, all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.

Voluntary participation means that players actively agree to the rules and procedures of the game, rather than having those forced upon them. When we are forced to do something, the work we do in games actually becomes less safe and less enjoyable. Consider offering games as a voluntary activity for true engagement.

Games as Differentiation
Not every student in your class needs to be playing the same game at the same time. In fact, games can be used as just another tool to differentiate. As teachers formatively assess their students, they may find that some students didn’t quite get either the content knowledge or 21st century skill they were focusing on. Also, educators might find that some students are ready for a greater challenge. Educators can use games as a tool to support either revisiting the material or pushing students farther on new material. Not only do games help differentiate for students, but they also free up the teacher to meet the needs of more students.

Team Games
Even though many games are played individually, playing games together can be a great way to build classroom culture. When paired with other culture-building activities, games can provide low-stakes, competitive ways to build collaboration skills. In fact, games that involve teams can help support the principles of “helping each other out” and sharing. Some games, like Pandemic, require that all players work together toward the same goal instead of working competitively. Collaboration is key in that game, so consider games like it for building classroom culture, and pair them with reflections and discussion to assess the learning.

Remember, depending on the access to technology, teachers can pick both high-tech and low-tech games, or offer both. Educators can try all or some of these steps to use games in the classroom. It’s important that we start small with implementation, and that we continually reflect on the learning and push ourselves to try new things for the sake of our students, their engagement, and their achievement.

What games have you introduced in your classroom, and how did you make it happen? Please share in the comments below.

What’s Your Intent? Developing Collaboration and Communication with Technology Tools

Posted by on Oct 13, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

 

p21logoThis post originally appeared on Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), the leading national organization advocating for 21st century readiness for every student. P21 brings together the business community, education leaders, and policymakers who believe our education system must equip students with rigorous academic coursework and the skills to be successful employees and citizens. View Original >

 


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Driving Question: How do we use digital tools to develop students’ collaboration and communication skills?

Technology is a great tool that can enhance instruction and assessment, not replace it. Likewise, when we consider classroom collaboration and communication, we can leverage technology to enhance not replace. Technology alone is not a 21st century skill, but the use of its tools for developing the skills of communication and collaboration is. As digital footprints expand and as technology permeates schooling, we need to embrace its tools as part of instruction, but with an intentional focus and purpose.

What’s Your Intention?
It’s most helpful if we know how you intend to use the tools and for what purpose in the classroom. The first distinction is to be clear whether a tool is being used for instruction or for assessment. Careful choice is a must.

If you intend students to use a tool (as opposed to having students just pick it up like a library book), it is best to know its specific use so you model, give instruction and guide practice on how to use it. To avoid taking too much time, a limited amount of digital tools can help. From the examples shared below, know your intent for each and consider using a few rather than all the tools.

Care must be taken not to overdo the use of digital tools. Sometimes we have a tendency to get “tech happy” and in the name of student choice, overload the classroom with too many digital gadgets. This lack of focused purpose will be overwhelming and very frustrating for students. You will also feel this frustration if students are making bad choices.

Digital Tools for Instruction
These are tools that lend themselves to developing students’ collaboration and communication as students pursue projects or standards-aligned lessons. They enhance instruction; they do not replace it.

Skype in the Classroom – One great way to practice communication skills is through presentations with guest speakers and experts. Skype in the Classroom can help you find guest speakers for your classroom for intentional digital communication. In addition, classrooms can Skype with other classrooms. This opens up not just the opportunities for collaboration and communication, but also for cross-cultural conversations.

Scrumy – This is a great tool for project and task management. Students can use it to self-manage their work and collaborate effectively on a task. Tasks can be sorted into To Do, In Progress, Verify, and Done. Scrumy also allows for roles and tasks to be assigned to specific students in a group.

Padlet – Students can instantly setup an instant collaboration tool which captures conversations in real time. Students color code their writing so that you can guide student’s communication and collaboration work on a writing task. Links and other resources can be embedded as well. The conversation on Padlet can even be played back so that you can see the full package of the conversation.

Remind – Remind is used by teachers to keep in constant communication with students, but also parents. It’s a free app that can be used on many devices. You can send out reminders as well as resources and even voice clips. Not only can this help facilitate deeper learning through PBL, but also helps you model what effective communication looks like.

Digital Tools for Assessment
One of the best ways to use digital tools is to use the tools for intentional assessment. Whether formative or summative, digital tools can provide documentation of learning so that learning can tell a story and track a journey.

You should select these tools so you can assess how students are learning how to collaborate and communicate. In addition, the assessment should be focused on very specific quality indicators of collaboration and communication. What exactly are you looking for when students use that tool? Perhaps you are looking for “consensus building,” or “giving effective and polite feedback.” These are specific and measurable.

Edmodo is a free and intuitive tool that brings teacher-controlled social networking to the classroom. It allows you to control how and when students enter a classroom discussion. You can comment on their work, give quizzes, and make corrective assignments. They can post work for you or peers to review and make comments. It works on any web browser and connects to Google Chrome and Adobe.

ISTE is not an assessment tool but it provides resources for technology teaching. One of the critical ways to message effective communication and collaboration is digital citizenship. ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) has excellent quality indicators for what a good digital citizen is, and teachers can use these indications to build a rubric and assess students. With a focus on Digital Citizenship, you can combine the instruction and assessment of collaboration and communication and technology usage into one package.

All in All
As you consider the use of digital tools in their instruction or assessment of collaboration and communication, you need to be intentional and focused. Digitals can enhance the great instruction and assessment that is already occurring and help foster student engagement in learning how to be effective collaborators and communicators.