(u06a1) Visit, Review, Consider

I’ve mentioned before that my particular education field (Technology Education) truly allows me to run my classes almost entirely in PBL format. However, after 1.5yrs of teaching in, it’s not the creation of the PBL that’s the problem, it’s the management of the PBL that I’m still constantly trying to modify and adapt.

The key to an effectively managed PBL begins with proper direction. Students need to be clear on what the EXACT goals and objectives are within the project. I usually give a detailed assignment sheet that lists every requirement and goal for the project. Additionally, a separate rubric for each checkpoint and/or culminating project should be given and discussed not only at the beginning, but throughout the project.

PBLs often involved group collaboration, so using a tool like Wikispaces, or Google Docs, or a general discussion forum, students are able to collaborate and communicate throughout the project. However, I’ve found from using these discussion mediums, that students do need to be monitored for inappropriate use of the technology. Spot checking discussions, and making them part of the PBL benchmarks ensures that students will have a better chance of staying on task.

Many of my classes have students producing a digital works for me as culminating projects, but right now, we aren’t sharing them in any way shape or form. I think I would like to utilize a tool like Moonk! to have my students publish their final works (even edit them a little bit), and have students share them through a class community like Ning. Both of these processes would need clear benchmarks identified at the beginning of the PBL and while the actual process is being completed. Possibly including some conflict avoidance ahead of time would be ideal as well since having students posting comments on others work can be a shaky line. Students need to make sure their comments are constructive and not critical.

Aside from using communication and publishing tools for my class, the general overall management of the PBL can be very challenging. My problem areas lie in my ability (or lack there of) to continually ORIENT the students to the goals and objectives of the project. I do this at the beginning of a PBL, but rarely ever again. What happens is students become a bit disconnected from the objectives later in the project, and then they become a bit confused. In situations like these, I’m getting better at establishing “just-in-time” instruction to refresh important concepts, but I still think the confusion all together can be eliminated all together through proper orientation throughout the project.

(u05a2) Students Meeting the NETS-S

Looking over the ISTE standards and student profiles it’s clearly evident out Web 2.0 tools can be used to support many of these standards. In fact, the three main categories (Collaboration, Communication, Publication) are key identifying words within a few of the particular standards. To illustrate this, I will choose the three tools I outlined in my previous blog to show how they can be used to meet particular standards.

Communication

Diigo

Diigo, as mentioned in the previous blog, is a great tool for annotation and organization. For student use, it allows them to research topics, organize all resources in one location, and pick out important portions of website. If you look over the ISTE standards, number 3, clearly states learning objectives that would be met with the use of this tool:

3. Research and Information Fluency

Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information. Students:

a. plan strategies to guide inquiry.
b. locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media.
c. evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.

If you look over the bolded portions, you will see how a social bookmarking and annotation tool like Diigo would help meet those PLANNING, ORGANIZING, and EVALUATION skills.

Collaboration

Google Docs

Google docs, on the surface, appears to fit more of the publication category, but if you look a bit deeper in terms of its educational value, it’s very much a collaboration tool. Google docs allows you to publish and share documents, as well invite users to CONTRIBUTE to the creation process. Students can publish a working bibliography, an ongoing rough draft of a document, a research plan, a list of resources, etc, that they and their group members (assuming the project is group-based) can edit, change, and provide feedback on. By using Google docs to establish an ever-changing document that all students can edit, add to, and provide feedback on, it’s certainly encouraging collaboration. Looking over the ISTE standards, you can see how Google docs helps fulfil some key objectives:

2. Communication and Collaboration

Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students:

a. interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
b. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.

4. Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making

Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources. Students:

Publication

Moonk!

Moonk! was one of the new to me Web 2.0 tools. It allows users to upload video/photos, create a slideshow/presentation, edit, and publish/share. It’s a great digital media creation software that could be used for the creation of digital portfolios, multimedia presentations, supplemental project visuals, etc. I view Moonk! as being a vehicle for the culminating project in a PBL, although it could certainly be a supplemental activity as part of the whole PBL. Moonk! can also be used for project evaluation from peers. Students could all view the published projects, and provide feedback on each project. Additionally, students are communicating their ideas to not only fellow classmates, but a worldwide audience. Worldwide collaboration is one of the great things of a PBL, and publication tools (not just Moonk!) allow you do just that. Additionally, publication tools let students use software and various digital tools to help solve a problem or achieve a perceived goal. Taking a look at the ISTE standards, we can see how the use of Moonk! helps student achieve particular objectives:

2. Communication and Collaboration

Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students:

a. interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
b. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.

6. Technology Operations and Concepts
Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations. Students:

b. select and use applications effectively and productively.

Additionally, looking over the ISTE student profiles, we can find a few that certainly would be met through the use of Moonk! (I’m going to concentrate on 9-12th grade since that’s what I teach).

Create media-rich presentations for other students on the appropriate and ethical use of digital tools and resources. (1,5)

2. Create and publish an online art gallery with examples and commentary that demonstrate an understanding of different historical periods, cultures, and countries. (1,2)
3.

Select digital tools or resources to use for a real-world task and justify the selection based on their efficiency and effectiveness. (3,6)

I’ve focused just primarily on a few tools that are available to students and teacher’s alike, but it’s quite obvious other tools such as Ning, TeacherTube, Twitter, Wikispace, etc, all encourage collaboration, communication, and publication. Furthermore, each one of these categories are the primary focus in terms of objectives outlined by ISTE. It has to be understood that these tools are just that…tools. They are a MEANS to accomplish the objective, they shouldn’t be the objective, but they are great tools to help serve as the vehicle to get there.

(u05a1) Your Ideas for Implementation

Although I’m familiar with many of the Web 2.0 tools available to us as teacher’s, I found a few interesting qualities in a few that may help/hinder their implementation in the classroom. I’ve chosen one tool for each of the three major categories : Communication, Collaboration, and Publishing

Communication:

Diigo (http://www.diigo.com/)

Diigo was a tool a learned about in a previous graduate class, and I quickly saw that it stood out to me as a VERY useful tool for my classes (and many classes in general). Diigo is a very useful social bookmarking and annotation tool (in simple terms, it’s a place where you can organize content from the web, and key in on portions of websites).

Like many of the Web 2.0 tools, Diigo provides a very clear Terms of Service outlining what content is acceptable, what is considered appropriate use of Diigo, legal restrictions, etc. However, there is no parental or age verification upon joining meaning anyone can join (however, for what Diigo is used for, I don’t think it lends itself to inappropriate use).

Once joining, Diigo is fairly user-friendly. You essentially have two options (work off the Diigo site, or install the Diigo toolbar to use within your browser). I feel the latter is easier to use, and much more convenient since you can simply visit sites you want, add them to your bookmarks, add annotations, tags, etc, and it will automatically update your Diigo account on the main site. Diigo provides a great overview video to new users that details what Diigo can be used for (which is especially good for people new to Web 2.0). You can view the video here. In fact, that was one of the better resources provided to new users by all of the Web 2.0 tools I evaluated.

Research is a key component to much of what students do in school. It’s not uncommon to have students accumulate a wide variety of resources for various projects, activities, and research papers. Diigo provides a way for students to collect all of these resources into one central location, as well as key in on the important parts of a website (how often have we found a website that had a few key pieces of information, but the rest was full of “fluff?”). Diigo is simply an organization tool, and the more organized students become, the much more efficient the work becomes. If we’re attempting to develop real world skills in the classroom (remember PBLs), then organization is certainly one of those skills.

As for caveats for teachers, I don’t see the tendency of student’s to misuse a resource such as Diigo, except for possibly OVER using the tool. Just like with traditional research, it’s important to weed out the valuable information from that which is questionable, unreliable, or irrelevant. Part of proper organization is also making wise choices off what is to be included in the Diigo list.

Collaboration

Google Docs (http://docs.google.com/)

Google docs is a favorite of mine simply because I like Google apps since they seamlessly integrate with each other and other apps (Wikispaces for example).

Google docs allows you to create, upload, and share various documents. Additionally, Google docs allows users to edit in real time, and owners can invite other various users to collaborate as well.

Google provides a clear statement on their Terms of Use much like Diigo. There is no age requirement or parental consent to join, but Google closely monitors content publication on many of their apps. They provide a nice overview/tour of the application for new users, but I feel their “tour” is more an outline of features and what Google docs is used for rather than a “How-To.” There’s also a Google Docs In Plain English video that also gives a great simplistic breakdown of what Google Docs can do, but again, not much of a how to. However, a quick Google search for “Google Docs Tutorials” will reveal a variety of sites providing actual how-to tutorials on using the app.

I feel the usability of Google docs is a little less than desired. There’s a nice interface at the top for creating new documents, uploading, sharing, etc, but one thing that I found that might cause some issues for students is the sharing of the documents. The sharing process is a bit cumbersome in that you have to either have a contact list within google, or manually enter each email address of the person you want to share with. So that means in a classroom, everyone would need a google account, and probably the easiest solution would be to create a class group so everyone that was a member of that group would all have access to documents created by fellow members.

As far as the uses for within the classrooms, I feel that Google Docs is a GREAT tool for the planning stages of a project or unit activity. We all remember the concept of “brainstorming” from our days in school. Think of Google Docs as being an interactive form of brainstorming that can be constantly edited and modified at the group level in real time.

I could also see this tool being used to publish final forms of research projects and files. Students could then edit or comment on the document right within the document. English teachers could also have student submit rough drafts to be edited right within the application.

Caveats for teachers with this tool is a little more relevant than with Diigo. Although Google monitors the content that is made public, private documents are much easier to hide. Students would be able to set their documents to public or private access. It still would be necessary for teachers to make it clear what is acceptable and what’s not acceptable for content posting. Although I don’t think this tool is a susceptible to misuse as say, Twitter, there still needs to be caution when content is being published.

Publishing

Moonk! (http://www.moonk.com/)

Moonk! is actually one of the few Web 2.0 tools in the list that I haven’t had much experience with, but it caught my eye because of a need I have in the classroom. I need to find a way for my students to publish their projects from Photoshop, Flash, and Dreamweaver. Although Dreamweaver files are going to need to be published on a web server, the other two (Photoshop and Flash) can be published via the free publishing tool, Moonk! Moonk allows you to upload photos, edit them, create slideshows, upload video clips, etc, and publish them for all to see. All of this, and it’s free! It’s a bit of a combination of web host and photo/video editing all in one.

Moonk, just like Diigo and Google, have a very clearly stated Terms of Service (noticing a trend, yet?). However, Moonk doesn’t have any tutorials available, nor do they have a “starters guide” of any sort. However, I feel this is most likely due to the fact that the software is so user friendly. There really isn’t much to it at all.

Upon creating an account, you are prompted with three choices (did I mention the pages are VERY simplistic with little extra content or ads): Slideshow, Videoshow, and Jukebox. Each of these are very easy to use, and each are broken down into three simple steps- Import, Edit, and Create.

You can upload files from your computer, pull files from an online storage/gallery, OR copy and paste an image URL for one that is already hosted. I found that this process actually was a bit slow on occastion regardless of file size. When I was uploading pictures, it seemed to take a while to load them up in the gallery, but they eventually did load.

The editing functions are a bit simplistic, but again, this a free ONLINE service. Something is always better than nothing, and for my uses, I wouldn’t want to use this tool for heavy editing anyways, since it’s more about the SHARING of content than editing of the content. I feel students could use this to share projects that were mulitmedia in nature before uploading (as in my case), or even to provide a multimedia visual as a project supplement. What’s great about this tool is that it provides a way for students to publish their work, and share. I’ve found that students become much more motivated when they know their work is going to be shared to the public.

As for caveats for teachers, this tool definitely needs to be approached with caution. Although Moonk clearly states what can and can’t be uploaded, there are still things that Moonk would find acceptable that a teacher wouldn’t. Just like any of the Web 2.0 tools, it’s important as the teacher to clearly state what is acceptable and what’s not, as well as the consequences if students don’t follow the rules. It might also be advisable to include a small mini-unit on digital ethics before entering into the use of a tool such as this one.

( u04a1) Challenges of Global PBL

I certainly feel that a PBL in itself can be quite challenging for teachers, but one implemented on the global level presents a whole new slew of challenges.

For one, the most obvious challenge is the language barrier. There are translators provided online that students can access, but they generally only cover the very basic elements of speech. There are many phrases and figures of speech we use on a regular basis that if used with someone from another culture, may cause a LOT of confusion. It’s not a realistic goal to have your students learn an entire other language, but they should certainly become familiar with basic communication (whether through an online translator or some other source). Additionally, I think it’s important for the students to be mindful of who they are working with, and choose words/phrases carefully. You don’t want to cause confusion and/or anger due to misinterpretation.

Another challenge tied into the language barrier is being understanding of other culture’s. We as Americans tend to be a bit isolated from the outside world. The world, to us, is full of pop culture, fast food, movies, iPods, reality TV, etc. Part of the goal of global PBL is to become understanding of other cultures, but there needs to be a foundation laid before entering the actual PBL. I think a preceding “mini” unit leading up to the PBL would be a good idea. During this unit, you could study the country with which you will be involved with. Everything from religion, history, and even their daily lifestyle could be covered. Students would then enter the PBL with a good basis of understanding about the students with whom they are working with.

I certainly think that global PBL’s are a great extension of traditional PBLs in that it gives students a chance to approach global problems WITH the aid of other cultures. This very premise is one that man has struggled with for thousand’s of years (global cooperation that is). Today’s generation is growing up in a world that is more globally connected than ever, and it’s important that they understand how to function in it. Global PBLs combine the qualities of a PBL with the benefits of global cooperation. However, there are certainly challenges with it, but they can be overcome with a little planning and effort. I feel that we owe it to the students to try to overcome the challenges, because the rewards are worth it.

(u02a1) – Pedagogical Justifications

PBL is certainly a hard concept for some teacher’s (particularly veteran teachers) to grasp. On the outside, it looks somewhat out of place from, well, the traditional school (but that’s the point). Students are interacting with each other, they’re discussing, creating, communicating with the teacher (who is more or less a facilitator). Where are the rows of neat and tidy desks with students writing in open notebooks, or reading textbooks?

It’s been proven time and time again, that not all student’s learn the same, or even at the same rate. Unfortunately, many teachers focus on one specific instructional method in an attempt to fit ALL students.

According to the article, Put Understanding First, teachers are putting too much emphasis on pushing content on students without and chance for application or analysis. Students are fed facts, figures, etc, and then tested on it through assessment methods that really only support basic cognitive application (multiple choice, fill in the blank, general recall, etc).

PBL, on the other hand, delivers small pieces of content followed by various application activities. Students are immediately challenged to think about a problem or situation, and then they begin learning things that will help them solve it. The three major steps as outlined by the article were Meaning, Acquisition, and Transfer. Students aren’t forced facts and figures, and then expected to memorize. Instead, they are led through the learning process through inquiry, discussion, experimentation, and then finally (and this is the big one) APPLICATION. Students need to see that what they’re doing in school is relevant to the real world. They aren’t going to see relevance through reading a textbook, or watching a teacher write on a board, they need to get involved in the learning process. That’s exactly what PBL’s do.

PBLs focus on establishing connections to the content from real world scenarios, and problem-based activities/research. The very nature of a PBL ensures that students that may have necessarily been stuck at the acquisition stage (which most schools spend the majority of the time focusing on), will no longer be stuck simply because of the varied methods included in a PBL. Students aren’t just learning content with a PBL, they are acquiring and developing a whole set of life-relevant skills such as analysis, reasoning, collaboration, problem solving, etc. All of these skills are relevant and necessary once outside of school, and shouldn’t that REALLY be the goal of all high school institutions?

PBLs-u01a1

After watching the three video examples and reading the articles concerning PBL’s being incorporated throughout classrooms in the United States, there are are certainly some common traits shared by all.

I noticed that with each PBL, there was always a starting point. An essential question or challenge for the students (tracking the migration of butterfly’s, design a high school to meet specific criteria, researching cystic fibrosis, create a wall street traded company and sell shares, etc). The PBL’s all seemed to include the incorporation of a real world individual(s) to aid the students along in their PBL activity. Health care providers, architects, and even scientists were brought into the classrooms to help judge, advise, and even present to the students (the scientists in the butterfly project were available online, I believe). Bringing in these industry professionals really helps create a real world connection for the students, which every teacher stated was their main driving factor in choosing to pursue a PBL approach.

Another shared element of the PBL’s were the fact that most involved group work to some extent. The inclusion of peer interaction and group work encourages students to develop social skills, and learn to work with others (which is an ESSENTIAL skill to learn in the early years).

Each PBL had several components to it usually starting with an underlying problem/question/topic. Students then researched and developed possible solutions using a wide variety of resources (internet, paper media, video, etc). What I liked about the PBL’s is that students developed multiple components in the project. Students in the Geometry class created floor plans, blueprints, cost analysis’s, etc. Students in the elementary schools made video interviews, PowerPoints, etc. However, none of the PBL’s were ABOUT these pieces of technology, rather they were just additional TOOLS to help accomplish the initial goal of the PBL.

The teacher/student relationship is a bit more redefined with PBL’s as opposed to the traditional classroom model. Student’s essentially become both the learner AND the teacher (especially at the end of the PBL). In PBL’s, students are required to make decisions/choices about WHAT they want to learn, and HOW they’re going to go about it. These were decisions that were normally reserved for teacher’s in the past, whereas in PBL’s, the teacher serves more as the facilitator rather than the director. In a PBL, the teacher is there to guide and direct students, but not DICTATE student decision making. That’s what makes a PBL so effective. Students are able to make decisions on their own, and often they’re required to make quick decisions, or develop an alternate plan. These are all skills students will require once outside of school, and they wouldn’t (couldn’t) develop these in as much in a traditional classroom setting.

Almost every teacher and administrator that commented about the PBL’s said they saw an increase in student participation and overall performance when PBL’s were incorporated. It’s clear that if these few examples are just a sampling of what PBL’s can do for student’s, then anyone who’s choosing not to incorporate them is underestimating their worth.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.