EDTECH 542 – Summer 2014

Weekly Reflections: 

Week 7 – 7/25/14

Getting feedback from all participants in a project-based learning unit is the first step in evaluating the whether or not it was a success. The participants will include the students, teacher, and if possible anyone who observed any part of the project. Student feedback will be collected throughout the project

Student evaluations will be conducted after the culminating activity in the form of a survey. By having the students submit their comments in writing, peer pressure should not get in the way of an honest evaluation. These evaluations will be collected and analyzed. Feedback from those outside the classroom who observed the project either in part or whole will be asked to share their thoughts via an informal email. Quite often, the perspective from someone who is not in the classroom on a daily basis is different than that of one who is. Lastly, I will assess and reassess the project, looking for ways to improve the unit. This assessment or self-evaluation will take place throughout the unit.

Although this may appear to be a one-time assessment, if this evaluation process is conducted after each project-based learning unit, then it is actually an ongoing assessment. One of the best practices to employ in the classroom is evaluation and reflection. What may have worked in on unit may have to be modified in another. Assessments provide insight to weaknesses or strengths that may go unnoticed if time is not given to take a closer look.

Week 6 – 7/18/14

By choosing to integrate project-based learning, my role will not change too much since I already try to facilitate instead of having a teacher-centered delivery method. Although there are times when it is teacher-centered but more often, it is student led. Since this style of learning is dependent upon the teacher being a facilitator at all times, I will have to correct myself if I drift back to the old ways.

One of the most important skills necessary to be an effective facilitator, especially for me as an elementary teacher, is to step back and give the students opportunities to take responsibility for what they are learning. Facilitators need to be there to support the learner, allowing the students the time to articulate their thoughts and ideas. When posing questions, do not ask simple “yes” or “no” questions. Instead, ask thought provoking questions causing the students to draw upon prior knowledge or to conduct the research necessary to find the answer.

I am highly confident my students will develop the competancies and skills necessary to be successful through the integration of a project-based learning environment. In fact, I now believe my students will be more prepared for the next grade level with this approach to teaching. Normally my students to quite well but I do have to admit that my approach is somewhat old school and I do shy away from group work. By having my students working on a project that they will see the result, they will have a valid reason to follow the directions and work together for a common goal. The skills they will acquire will not only help them as the progress through school but as they enter the 21st century workforce.

Incorporating a PBL unit in my class, I am going to have to make sure to provide the allotted time and remind myself of the content standards that are being met. My daily schedule is divided into specific content area blocks and with a PBL unit, I have to remember these content areas will be covered, just in a slightly different way. Another change I am going to have to make is having students work in groups. In the past, group work has not been a positive experience for me however I believe that is because my attempts at project-based learning have not been well planned. Over the past six weeks, I have learned how to design a comprehensive and well-organized unit that should go according to plan.

Week 5 – 7/10/14

Time is of the essence for all teachers so it is important for them to make the most of every minute in the classroom. Designing lessons with an intradisciplinary approach is one way to accomplish more than teaching individual disciplines throughout the day. Intradisciplinary lessons will integrate several disciplines into each lesson. For example, reading, writing, technology, and oral communication are often combined in language arts lessons. Through this integration, teachers expect students to understand the connections between the different subdisciplines and their relationship to the real world ( Drake & Burns, 2004).

Project based learning provides students with opportunities to make connections from their lives to real world activities. These activities make the content relevant and “studies of project-based programs show that students go far beyond the minimum effort, make connections among different subject areas to answer open-ended questions, retain what they have learned, apply learning to real-life problems, and have lower absenteeism” (Drake & Burns, 2004). Although designing lessons with integrated curriculum takes more time and planning, the long-term outcome for the students is worth the investment from the teacher.

Regardless of the grade level being taught, project based intradisciplinary lessons are a positive addition to any classroom but the teachers must be committed and dedicated. When designing an integrated curriculum, the instruction must center on a concept, issue, problem, topic, or experience. Once this has been established, the students will research and explore the topic, or theme using several disciplines, which will help reinforce what has been learned and lead them towards mastery. The outcome of a problem based integrated curriculum helps students to apply skills, ability to retrieve information previously learned, and greater knowledge base.

Once a teacher or school has decided to use a project based integrated curriculum careful planning must follow. Possibly one of the most important steps is to select a good topic that will capture the learners’ attention. A good topic will have the following characteristics:

  • Is relevant to students’ lives and interests.
  • Reinforces content standards and skills.
  • Reflects important contemporary or historical issues in a broad career view.
  • Is general enough to include all major academic disciplines (Designing Multidisciplinary,” 2010)

Making this a reality at the school where I teach is attainable however I would be working alone since I am the only 4th grade teacher. Since I began teaching six years ago, I take every opportunity to design lessons using an intradisciplinary approach. For example, last year the students did a project on Westward Expansion in which reading, writing, math, science, and technology were all integrated. It was interesting to watch the students work through the project and at the end realize just how much they had learned. One of them even commented one day that they could not believe they were doing math during Idaho History. This turned out to be a very teachable moment.

From my experiences of using an integrated curriculum and this class, I am planning on presenting the principal with a training lecture that can be shared during a staff meeting. The lecture will include research, resources, and examples of how to best design project based integrated curriculum activities. Hopefully this will spark interest and dialogue will follow about ways to best design an integrated curriculum at all grade levels.

References:

Designing multidisciplinary integrated curriculum units. (2010). In ConnectEd, The California Center for College and Career. Retrieved from http://www.connectedcalifornia.org/downloads/LL_Designing_Curriculum_Units_2010_v5_web.pdf

Drake, S. and Burn, R. (2004). What is integrated curriculum? Meeting Standards Through Integrated Curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/103011/chapters/What-Is-Integrated-Curriculum%C2%A2.aspx

Week 4 – 7/5/14

Reminding myself of the importance of only selecting a few standards or skills for the students to master made me think how careful planning is key to success in teaching.  Ensuring we teach what we want the students to learn is also key.  As I was creating the assessment, I had to continually refer back to the standards I selected last week as the focus on this project.  Then to narrow it down to one took some time but I finally decided comprehension was the area I wanted the students to master.  Will they master it in one project, the answer is no; however the more practice they get, the better off they will be.  I found it was very easy to get off track first selecting too many standards to address and then deciding what type of formative and summative assessments were going to be done.

Again, I had to pull myself back in when selecting the assessments.  I kept coming up with ideas but quickly realized I was losing my focus.  What is the goal of this lesson?  What do I want the students to take away?  How am I going to document what they have learned.  Beginning with the summative assessments, I chose for the students to first participate in a class debate.  This will give them experience with presenting research they have compiled throughout the  project and to listen to the other side of the argument.  I will be curious to see how much compromise there will be with this issue, if any.  Next the students will draft and send a formal letter to the Department of the Treasury and state representatives, again using information gathered during the research phase.  Will they receive a reply, probably not but if they do I am sure they would be thrilled to realize an elected official took the time to not only read their letter but reply.  For the final and much more publicized product, the students will create an Infographic that will be placed on the classroom blog to be viewed by those who follow the class.  We do not have much of a following yet but I am hoping the more work the students post, the greater interest family and friends will take.

What I took away from this weeks assignment is to plan for where I want the project to take the children and work backwards from that point.  If I can visualize the end goal and document it, then I am better prepared to get them to that point.

Week 3 ~ 6/27/14

This was a week of changes and modifications. Initially I had selected school rules as the focus of my project. I was not completely sold on it since I knew it would be difficult to assess. After that I kicked around the idea of doing noise pollution hoping the students would find a solution to the excessive noise in the cafeteria during lunch. Again I struggled with the product phase. What could the students produce to reduce noise other than learning self-control? Then I remembered a particularly active conversation I had with my students this past spring about the possibility of discontinuing the production of the U.S. penny. Immediately I knew I had found the topic.

Recognizing the importance of the driving question, I have had to revise it numerous times already and realize I may still have to revise it as I continue the development process. At this point I am satisfied with the driving question and the sub questions. The sub questions provide wide range inquiry opportunities covering several content areas. I hope the questions are not too scattered.

The visual organizer activity caused me to step back and think about where I wanted this project to go. I have not been in the habit of creating organizers for my lessons but after this activity, I now realize what a useful tool it can be. By taking the extra time to map out an activity, I could actually save myself time from having to rewrite a lesson. The visual allowed me to see the project in a snapshot instead of having to read through a lesson plan.

Right now I am trying to come up with potential guest speakers to discuss the impact of the penny. I wish I could contact someone from the Treasury Department but the odds of that are slim to none.

Week 2 ~ 6/18/14

Spending time this week researching different ideas for PBL was very interesting and enlightening.  As I was reading through numerous lessons, I began to think how much I would like to create one on noise pollution.  The driving question could be “How can we, as students, decrease noise pollution in our school?”  A project based on this topic would encompass the harmful effects of excessive noise, noise in the work place, and ways to  decrease the damaging physical effects of excessive noise.  Guest speakers could include an audiologist, safety supervisor from an industrial employer in the area, and a pediatrician.  Students could measure decibels is a variety of locations of their choice, creating a graph documenting their findings.  This information could be included in a publicized commercial documenting the harmful effects of noise pollution and ways we can help to make our world a quieter place.  I realize this is a bit rough, but I think it is something I could definitely work with.

Week 1 ~ 6/14/14

This week was spent getting familiar with Project Based Learning and the characteristics associated with this approach.  PBL sounds like a daunting challenge to me but I know it is a very positive way to engage and motivate students to take an active part in their education.  One area I personally need to improve upon is the time management of projects along with creating a library of projects to do throughout the school year.  I am looking forward to learning more about PBL and ways to integrate it throughout all content areas.

6/14/14

Define Project Based Learning. Describe the difference between Project Based Learning and Problem Based Learning.

Project Based Learning provides students the opportunity to learn through exploration in a collaborative environment. Students participating in PBL conduct an investigation on a real-world problem they want to solve, design or create an item to be used in an authentic situation, or investigate a topic they feel compelled to answer. According to the Buck Institute for Education, “Project Based Learning is a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning important knowledge and 21st century skills through an extended, student-influenced inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and learning tasks.” Classrooms in which PBL is utilized, students acquire and build upon the skills necessary for the 21st century along with meeting the common core standards.

Although there are similarities between Project Based Learning and Problem Based Leaning, the differences are more obvious. Project Based Learning encompasses several content areas, can take weeks or months to complete, is based upon a real-world scenario in which the students create a product, or are able to provide an authentic solution. Problem Based Learning, on the other hand, focuses on a single content area, takes less time to complete, revolves around a written or oral presentation, and often involves poorly structured problems.

Why should teachers consider incorporating PBL in their classroom?

Project Based Learning is a wide reaching approach to teaching in which many tasks can be addressed simultaneously. A well-researched project provides students with the opportunity to conduct research, investigate real-world scenarios, and arrive at an authentic conclusion. Teachers who embrace PBL are exposing their students to world they will soon be entering as adults. PBL prepares students for the remainder of their years in the classroom and eventually as contributing members of or society.

What are the essential components of a PBL approach to instruction?

According to the Buck Institute for Education, the following are essential components of a PBL approach to instruction:

o   Projects containing significant content based upon real-world scenarios

o   Construction of 21st century competencies

o   In-depth inquiry over an extended period of time involving questions, resources, research, and arriving at a final conclusion or product

o   Projects focus on an engaging, open-ended questions

o   Students experience the need to know why the project is important and the effect it may have on the world

o   Students are given a voice and choices as to what products to create, how they will complete the project, and time management

o   Peers will critique projects with the option for revision based upon this feedback

o   Possibly the greatest component of PBL is the presentation of the project to the public

References:

Hallermann, S. and Larmer. (2011). PBL In The Elementary Grades, Project Based Learning For The 21st century. (p. 5). Novato, California: Buck Institute for Education.

 

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