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 >


I am of course a huge project-based learning (PBL) nerd and advocate. I am also an advocate for the flipped classroom, yet at the same time I also have my concerns about flipping a classroom. This model still hinges upon great teachers, and engaging curriculum and instruction. So why not combine PBL and the flipped classroom? It can be an excellent match when you consider some of the following tips. Even Salman Khan believes that the flipped classroom can create the space for PBL.

1. Short Content Videos
The key piece here is short. Kids do not want to be watching hours of content. However, short five- to ten-minute videos could be used to replace lectures in the classroom and free up space for more PBL time. These videos might be introductions to learning the content, or possibly content review. Students who enjoy the flipped classroom often comment that their favorite part is being able to watch videos over and over again as needed. Find or create these videos, and make sure to align them to the significant content you intend to teach and assess in your PBL project.

2. Collaborative Virtual Work
I love it when students assign their own homework. Many times in a PBL project, the team might not quite finish all they want to do in class, and some of this work relies on collaboration. There are many digital tools out there that allow for collaboration, and this could be your chance to “flip the collaboration,” whether it’s joint research and documentation, or even reflection as a group. This virtual work can also be great documentation for assessing collaboration as one of the 4 C’s in the 21st century learning aspect of a PBL project.

3. Virtual Labs and Games
Flipping isn’t just videos, because — let’s be honest — videos can get boring after a while. As you go through the PBL process with students, use other types of virtual activities as both components to learn content and a means of formative assessment. For example, if students need to learn about parts of the body, use an interactive digital lab for them to do a dissection. Or, if students are learning about some math component, have them play a math game outside of the brick-and-mortar setting that still allows you, as the teacher, to check on how they’re doing.

4. Product Production
If you are concerned with students taking an excessive amount of time in actually constructing the PBL product, give a technology choice or choices as an element of the final product. These products can be produced and edited in the cloud, where individual students and teams can have access to them 24/7. You can ask students for these links and give them your feedback to help improve their work.

5. Consider Tech Equity
Not all of our students have access the technology. Some of us are lucky enough to have 1:1 classrooms, but not all. Because of that, you need to truly consider equity as a core issue if you intend to flip your PBL classroom. It’s difficult for students to collaborate digitally, for example, if some have access to the technology while others do not. In cases like this, consider your flipped components as optional for those students able to use them.

PBL and the flipped classroom model can play well together. In fact, PBL can make it better when students are engaged in authentic work and given voice and choice in how and what they want and need to learn. What are some of the ways you’ve used both the flipped classroom and PBL? How do you see them complementing each other?

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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 >


The word “grit” suggests toughness and determination. The question is how do we get students to value struggle, failure and perseverance in our classrooms? ASCD recently published Thomas Hoerr’s short but great book on this subject, Fostering Grit. The subtitle “How do I prepare my students for the real world?” reflects the fact that our students will encounter challenging work and problems to solve. If this is the case, our classrooms should mirror that process and prepare our students to be successful in meeting these challenges. You might consider this a critical 21st century skill, which means that we need to scaffold the related skills we’re teaching our students.

Model Grit
Modeling is a crucial component in teaching skills to students. Many teachers use modeling to teach reading skills, which will be crucial as students encounter more and more complex text. Try modeling grit by leading students through a think-aloud explicitly about grit. Reading and navigating a complex text is challenging, so make sure your that think-aloud talks not only about how to navigate, but also about mistakes made and the thought process of perseverance. This can build trust in the classroom that grit is valuable and natural.

Don’t Grade Formative Assessments
In a previous blog, I wrote:

Why don’t I grade formative assessment? For one, a grade is supposed to answer the question: “Did the student learn and achieve the learning targets or standards?” If this is the case, then the summative assessment primarily represents achievement. Formative assessment is practice. It is part of the journey.

If you punish students in the learning process, then they are less likely to engage with it. Grit requires that there are multiple stages in the learning process and that the journey of learning is valued. You can read the above-mentioned blog for strategies on how to use formative assessments more effectively if this is challenging for you. If you want grit, then you can’t punish students for making mistakes.

Authentic Products
In another blog, I wrote about the importance of bringing authenticity to the classroom. One piece of this is having students create authentic products. When they create real work that has value, they are more likely to create high quality work. And students are more likely to improve their work when they know there is an authentic audience for the authentic work.

Ongoing Revision and Reflection
Build in sacred time to revise work and reflect upon the learning. If we want students to value grit, they need to see learning as a journey, and we need to give them time to reflect about the challenges they’ve faced, and the mistakes and revisions they’ve made. To start, watch the “Austin’s Butterfly” video for advice on how good critique and feedback can scaffold and support grit in the classroom

Celebrate Success
When we persevere, we need to celebrate the success. We often don’t take time to celebrate the challenging work we’ve completed. Sometimes we feel that our schedule forces us to immediately move on with the next unit of instruction. If you want students to value grit, then you must celebrate in your classroom. This is part of the reflection process, but again is explicitly about celebration. Have students celebrate their own grit as well as the grit of others with a strategy like Your Shining Moment.

These are some practical steps to foster grit in your classroom. If we want our students to find joy in grit, then they need to find that joy in our classrooms. Seek a balance of challenge, reflection and authenticity to create a culture of grit.

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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 >



Let’s have an honest conversation on the issue of coverage. Whenever I work with teachers, I always hear the genuine concern about coverage of material. And it’s true — most teachers, based on structures beyond their control, are forced to cover a lot of material in the year.

AP teachers must cover world history and chemistry content to prepare students for the AP tests, a series of exams that call not only for knowing a lot of content, but also its application. Non-AP teachers also face the same issue of covering many standards in a short year. I work with teachers to build great PBL projects that focus on deeper learning, and I always hear, “I have so much content to cover this year that I don’t have time to do a PBL project.” Again, this concern comes from a real place. I’ve experienced it both as a student in the classroom and teacher in AP and PBL classrooms. However, I have a few responses for this common concern.

Starting the Conversation
“How’s the coverage going for you?!?”
The typical story here is this. We have a lot of material to cover, either because the pacing guide calls for it, or because we mapped out our year to cover that material. We prepare our students for an exam that will occur in a week or two. We are successful in preparing them for that exam through a variety of lessons, lectures and instructional activities. Most students pass the test, but after the weekend or even weeks later, they can’t remember the content. They are then forced to relearn or review content later. Sometimes we must take up class time to do this. In general, coverage doesn’t ensure that the learning “sticks” and may even take away from time that we need to teach other content and skills.

“Do you really cover everything?!?”
Most teachers who cling to the excuse of coverage aren’t actually covering everything. Because students have different individual needs and the character of a classroom changes every year, teachers differentiate and make adjustments to meet those needs. This means that some standards or learning objectives may not be given the content they need. I was guilty of this when I taught world history. I just didn’t have time to do it all. However, teachers still make good choices here. They look at the standardized or AP tests and pick the content they’ll hit during that year to make sure students are prepared. If Gothic literature or specific texts are frequently on the AP literature exam, I make sure to pick those texts. Let’s just honor that fact that we make good choices for our students and yet may not cover everything we want to or need to cover.

I admit these questions are somewhat crass and could be perceived as rude. However, I am simply trying to elicit an honest conversation on coverage of material. My personal opinion is that we use this excuse of coverage as a crutch when we, as good teachers, are actually not as committed to it as we think.

Covering Your Bases with PBL
If you are concerned about coverage of material as you build your PBL projects, consider these few ideas to alleviate your fears. They will help you focus on “uncoverage” and steer you more effectively toward deeper learning.

1. Pick the Major or “Meaty” Content and Skills
Some of our standards are easily taught and assessed in a limited time frame, while other standards and learning objectives require a length of time. This is either because of what the pacing guide dictates or because our teaching experience has told us so. The “meatier” content and skills are a great place to aim for deeper learning. They take time because that’s often part of deeper learning, so why not use a PBL project?

2. PBL Projects Uncover Multiple Standards
In addition to “meaty” standards, teachers have targeted multiple standards for a PBL project. A PBL project can have a single-disciplined or multi-disciplined focus. There is space for teaching and assessing multiple standards. In addition, you can use a PBL project to “spiral” in standards you may have already targeted for continued practice and assessment.

3. PBL Projects Require Critical Thinking
It we want the knowledge to “stick,” then we must have students think critically with it. When designing a good PBL project, we make sure that it simply isn’t regurgitation of knowledge. If I see a PBL project going this way, then it might be a design flaw. It could be a problem with the driving question, the rubric or a number of other factors. Design with critical thinking in mind, and make sure the PBL project demands it.

There are of course other reasons that PBL projects work, and there is research to support it. I think we need to stop using the excuse of “coverage,” first because it may not even be an honest excuse, and second because it isn’t working. Let’s do what’s best for our students and focus on “uncoverage” by creating PBL projects and units that focus on deeper learning of the content, where students remember the material, think critically with it, and apply it in new contexts.

What are your strategies to reframe the conversation of coverage to “uncoverage?”

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