PBL, CBL, PBL, PB&J What Does it all Mean?

So I decided this week to branch out and do a podcast instead of your typical post.

A couple of things I have learned!

  1. I sound very echoey
  2. I need to better annunciate (hence the reason I am also posting the script)
  3. My speed is generally okay as is my volume
  4. I want to try again at a later date with another blog post.
  5. It is hard to make edits like I have realized I want in the script (edits in bold and Italics)

Script

Let’s start with some definitions:

The book How to Use Problem-Based Learning in the Classroom by Robert Delisle on the ASCD’s website quotes Howard Barrows’ definition of Problem Based Learning as “the learning that results from the process of working toward the understanding or resolution of a problem”

The Buck Institute defines on their website that Project Based Learning as a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.

Digital Promise defines on their website that Challenge Based Learning as learning that provides an efficient and effective framework for learning while solving real-world Challenges.

I think it is easy to see that all three of these are basically the same idea. I am sure they have small elements that are subtly different from each other but I was struck by how alike they were while I was reading about them.

Just some of the similarities are that they:

  • All mention real life preparation
  • They all revolve around students identifying a problem and working towards a solution
  • They all ask for students to explore outside the 4 classroom walls
  • They all require student-driven research
  • They all require teachers as mentors
  • They all mention the use of technology
  • They all leave space for learning from failure

This week we were asked to write a blog post on how these apply to your curricular area, grade level, and own theory on technology in the classroom. While I do not teach in one classroom I still feel that these approaches are a key element of education. Our school, in fact, has been working towards developing skills and dispositions that would be elements of all three of these theories. The most obvious of which is self-directed learning.

One of the arguments that I hear a lot around these three theories is that “they are great for middle and high school, but I just can’t see how you can do this with first graders.” I have to respectfully disagree. While I do agree that there are elements of first grade that need to be more traditionally practiced, there is a lot that can be done with PBL (I will use this for both Problem and Project) and CBL learning. Yes, it will be more guided that you may do with a high school student but it is very possible to do.

I can’t think of a more effective way to teach students the value of research than to have them state a problem that they are interested in solving and then helping them to find the research they need to understand the problem and possible solutions. I can see this as having a much more lasting impact on their learning then asking them research something that you as the teacher decided on.

I can also see that the younger grades are where we can really leverage technology to help students share their process. For many in the younger grades, writing up their research or their findings is not a realistic idea. But videoing them talking about their research or recording them in a podcast talking about their research is not only developmentally appropriate it is a very effective use of technology in an authentic way. Which is a key element of PBL and CBL.

This is where I come in my role as the integrationist could be to come in and offer Tech training and knowledge to students are the right time for when they need it. Also offering the teacher training in the technology. I also see my role in this process as mentoring the teachers in the ways in which they can manage 20 students going off doing potentially 20 different projects at the same time. Technology can help teachers manage the individual communication between the teacher and the student as well as the collection of data along checkpoints to monitor the student’s progress through a project. For example, using Google Classroom to keep track of the activities happening with a project.

I do think that to be very effective and not be completely overwhelmed by these projects, technology will need to play a huge role. Yes, you can do things with paper but imagine if you as a teacher need two days to read over students research journals. If they are doing this with only paper then the students would either need to stop researching for two days or use another journal. If the teacher used technology the students could take photos of their research journal, share those photos with their teacher and then the students could continue with their research. Also, teachers could make this a process that happens frequently throughout the research, anytime a new “chunk” of research is gathered the students could submit it for feedback, which would give the teacher smaller checkpoints to give feedback to instead of large ones.

I think that many people worry that if we have students doing PBL and CBL nearly full time then there will be no need for teachers after all the students will be deciding what they are learning, how they are learning and how they are sharing that learning all on their own. The key element that the naysayers are forgetting is that students don’t just “know” how to do this. This is where teachers come it. While doing a PBL or CBL teachers could offer mini-lessons with small groups or the whole class when needed to teach a skill right at the perfect time when those students need it.

For example, teachers could offer a how to read data lesson for students who find their research is full of data. Which could lead to a lesson on how to collect data which could then help the students towards their goal of identifying problems and identifying solutions.

So in conclusion, I think that there is a place for PBL and CBL even in our younger grades and I do not see the role of the teacher as disappearing but morphing into something more along the lines of a Teacher Mentor who swoops in to help you when you need it and leaves you to discover, fail, scramble and succeed when you thought that you wouldn’t be able to.

Sources:

“What Is Project Based Learning (PBL)?” What Is PBL? | Project Based Learning | BIE, Buck Institute for Education, 2017, http://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl.

Delisle, Robert. “Chapter 1. What Is Problem-Based Learning?” What Is Problem-Based Learning?, ASCD, http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/197166/chapters/What_Is_Problem-Based_Learning%C2%A2.aspx.

“Key Ideas.” Challenge Based Learning, Digital Promise, cbl.digitalpromise.org/about/key-ideas/.

I’ve Got the Power!

After watching videos this week, I feel a buzz. The buzz comes from seeing young students who have started exploiting technology in their lives. The first video was about Martha Payne and her journey to find her voice. When you watch the video which is a fantastic example of a child taking action. You may initially think “Wow, that is a that is a student who chose to take action. Look how strong and forward thinking she is.” What I realized as I watch the video is that I don’t believe that she chose to write on her blog, Never Seconds, because she felt that she had a strong, empowered voice but instead that she chose to write a blog because she didn’t feel that she had a strong, empowered voice. Through writing, she was brave enough to say things that she was not brave enough to say out loud. I think that the blog and being behind the computer gave her courage and a voice that she may never have found without technology. I realized this when I watched the video. It is obvious that Martha, while being very confident and committed to her cause online, does not have that confidence in front of an audience. This is maybe not what you would expect from a child who has had so much success online. But I think that it is exactly the type of thing that technology can do for some students.

I have seen on more than one occasion students who are nearly silent in class, blow me away with something that they have written. While writing doesn’t necessarily involve technology. Technology does allow a writing piece to be shared in ways that were nearly impossible before. Think of how much of a boost Martha got the first time she received a comment or realized that her blog was actually being read, that she has a voice.

I was in a class today with a group of students who were video recording a message to their parents on the SeeSaw ePortfolios. The teacher asked them to introduce their ePortfolio to their parents. One student asked, “What if my parents already know what it is?”. We suggested this would then be a good time for you to tell your parents how you would like them to interact with your Portfolio. Tell them what kind of feedback you want them to give you. One student went on to say: “Mom and dad, last year you liked my posts but this year could you make more comments.” What a great way for kids to communicate about their education with their parents. By having the students tell their parents what they need they are showing that they understand the benefit of good feedback.

After watching Martha’s video I was still stuck on what to write for this blog post but then I saw Scott McLeod’s TEDx Talk. The beginning of his talk is about Martha but then he makes the statement that there thousands of Martha’s who are using technology at home to learn, create and grow but, that in school, technology use is less about learning, creating and growing. That to get to the point at school where we are allowing students to achieve similar to what they can at home we have to get past our FEAR. We have to stop locking down and blocking out the world.

“We do everything we can to get technology into the hands of our kids, then we do everything we can to prevent them from using it. If we want to have more kids like these, we have to get rid of our fear, our need for control and focus more on Empowerment. If we want more of this to happen in school, then we have to give them something meaningful to work on, give them powerful devices and access and get out of their way and let them be amazing.”

I completely agree, especially since this is essentially my job. My job is to empower students, teachers, teacher assistants, secretaries, administrators, and staff to use technology and be amazing. If I do my job well then I should be able to get out of their way. I should be able to let them get on with it. That goes for training the teachers, guiding the students and working with colleagues.

When I think back on the examples of student action that I save for reference, most include tech and most include home/independent learning with tech. Imagine what students would do at school if we gave them the venue to do it. Like Richard who saved his village from Lion attacks with blinking lights. Or Kylie Simonds who wanted to help cancer patients be more mobile during treatments. Or Kelvin Doe who turned garbage into a radio station. Or William Gadoury who had a theory about Mayan temples that led to the rediscover of unknown temples with the help of Google Maps.

Another example of empowering students comes from System Administrator Aram Schalm, who encourages the students that notify him of weak spots in the school’s system, to help him find ways to close the gaps. He has empowered these students so much that they are coming to him with management suggestions, like when a student suggested that the news Widget on the iPads might occasionally show images that would be shocking to the younger students (ex: War photos). Aram says:

I love it when Students help finetune tech to make improvements! I always make sure that they get credited for this too; from sending out Staff-emails to make Teachers aware, or even during Staff-meetings and also during conference-type gatherings.

I first heard of Aram’s style of empowerment when we chatted at one of those conferences. I have found that many of my ideas for empowering students come from the buzz that I get when going to one of these conferences!

Kids are amazingly diverse and creative, imagine what they could do if got out of their way and let them be AMAZING.

This is what I love about technology, with a little bit of information and playing with keywords in Google Search you can find what you are looking for!

Sources:

“Martha Payne: ‘Changing the World, One School Dinner at a Time.’” Vimeo, Madfeed.co,  8 Sept. 2017, vimeo.com/85140281.

TEDxTalks. “Extracurricular Empowerment: Scott McLeod at TEDxDesMoines.” YouTube, YouTube, 9 Sept. 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyIl4y_MRbU.

Myinstants. “Instant i Got The Power.” Myinstants, 2010, http://www.myinstants.com/instant/i-got-the-power/.

It’s Not About the Tech… It’s about the Planning

EQ: How can we effectively, practically and authentically embed technology within our curricular areas?

Anne Karakash’s article 5 Steps for Planning Lessons Around Technology states that the steps for planning effective technology integration are:

  1. Plan – consider the content then pick the technology
  2. Research – take the time to explore the technology fully
  3. Engage – think about the interaction that the students will have with the technology
  4. Explore – expand the project beyond the initial task
  5. Synthesis – bring it all together

I agree with Anne in many ways. I often find that teachers contact me about using technology without having considered these steps. They contact me as an integrationist and expect me to come into their class and teach a lesson without them having gone through the steps above to consider how the technology will integrate.

Teachers often ask me teach something with tech by saying “I want you to come in and teach ____ app.” When I ask what they want to accomplish with that app they generally tell me. “Oh, I want them to know how to use it because I want them to make a ___ at the end of this unit.” My next question is always what will you require them to have in their final element? They then give me a list.

This is usually the point where I have to make them back track for one of two reasons. One they haven’t’ given the students anywhere close to enough time to accomplish this or two they have a very narrow goal for the technology. These two problems are mostly because they haven’t taken the time to become familiar with the technology for themselves.

Then they are surprised when I make them pause and reexamine the plan for the lesson. They don’t like when they are told that one lesson will not be long enough or detailed enough to accomplish what they want.

This is why planning with teachers from the beginning of a unit is essential. If I am there at the beginning of the unit planning I can help a teacher better gauge the student’s understanding of the technology along with the needs of the teachers and students. I can help the teachers plan how to more effectively use technology throughout a unit not just slap some in at the end. It also allows me to help teachers manage spreading out the learning of a new technology throughout a unit instead of trying to cram it all in before the project they want to complete.

Spreading the technology lessons out over the course of a unit, allows students to begin to synthesize their knowledge and understandings all of the way through the unit instead of waiting until the end. This gives them time to explore both what the technology can do as well as go deeper into their knowledge. By synthesizing along the way they see the holes and gaps in their research and are able to take the time to go back and fill those in.

It was pointed out to me recently that the way integrationists work is Design Thinking in action. Once we realized this we realized that one of the best ways to help our teachers is to help them use Design Thinking when they are planning for the use of technology within their lessons.

This leads me to the second article that I read. 16 Modern Realities Schools (and Parents) Need to Accept. Now. I think that teaching teachers how to think in a Design mindset will help them teach students how to think in a design mindset which would address many of the 16 realities mentioned in this article.

Ever Changing Technology

When I went home this March I took my mom a laptop with Windows 7 on it.  After a day or so of working on it she began to complain about “why do they always change everything.”  I reminder her that change has always been happening and that when she was younger she worked on one of the first computers in Memphis.  She worked on it because all of the older ladies in the office wouldn’t work on “that new fangaled thing.”  She relented and said that’s right.

She did have a bit of an argument though.  While change IS always happening and will always happen, what is new is the speed of that change.  Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors and circuits in a computer doubles every two years.  This means the speed of change with technology is doubled every two years because the speed of the ability of the technology to process information doubles.  This is what my mom was struggling with.  Because during her generation things improved and changed at a slower rate.  She didn’t realise how far behind she had gotten in her tech skills because she didn’t realise how fast and dramatically things were changing.  This is why I upgraded her equipment.

The speed with which technology is changing is only going to get faster.  We have to keep up by doing what we can to teach ourselves about the changes.  As teachers we have to be ready and willing to grow and change.  Our students are using technologies that are sometimes 2 or 3 years ahead of what we ourselves use.  If we allow ourselves to fall behind then we will loose a link to a major part of our students lives.

I moved to an iPhone only 2 years ago, but that simple move allowed me to be able to learn the ins and outs of the Apple IOS system, before I received my iPad.  Doing that made the move to an iPad easier because I knew some of what to expect.  That being said, I know nothing about the android market because I own no android devices.

Keeping on top of the latest technologies can be difficult but even if you choose one and keep that updated, then you will be able to more easily move between devices. Find a way to stay on top of things, a blog you like, a twitter feed, a teacher friend, a techy friend, or a student any one of these can be a good source of tech support. But whatever you do find a way, standing still is no longer an option.

Thank you Suzanne McCluskey for the idea for this post.