PBL: Lessons Learned While Creating Driving Question

This week, we started our Project Based Learning lesson.  I say we because I am working with a partner, L’Maro Bell.  There are some obvious advantages to working with a partner, but there are some disadvantages, too.  Communication is not easy.  We did meet online once to discuss the beginning, but most communication has been via email.  We both have other commitments that prevent us from working on the project at certain times.  Therefore, you have no control over when you get a response.  This leads each of us to input our own ideas and wait for the other to comment, which could lead to changes – thus creating double work.

The first thing we needed to do was to decide on what the project was going to entail.  Originally, I was looking towards a project encompassing all subjects of the GED test, but L’Maro felt we might want to scale it down to one subject – Mathematics.  That was a good decision.  Still, we are looking at a project that could encompass many topics.  Our project centers on students choosing a math topic that is on the GED test and researching how to solve problems within the scope of that topic.

This course, like the Instructional Design course I took last summer, requires a lot of preparation.  Unfortunately, I have always been an on-the-fly teacher.  Writing detailed lesson plans have never been a strong point.  I knew what the lesson was and I would wing-it while teaching.  I believe this will serve me well when teaching a PBL lesson, but my early research into PBL – which is a new experience for me – tells me that detailed planning and preparation are a must in order to prevent the project from delving into utter chaos.

As I am sure most of my classmates have done, I have reviewed the suggested resources.  I have also searched for other resources, hoping to find something about utilizing PBL in the GED classroom.  Sarah Rich has provided some resources she found that have helped define the focus.  However, because of my lack of experience with planning, the best resources I have used have been my fellow classmates’ projects.  Even though they are completely different topics, by reading them when I was stuck for how to proceed on a section, they helped inspire me or provide direction.

Finally, when I think of the Ultimate Driving Question, I think of this:

PBL: Effectiveness in the Diverse Classroom

Find an article on the topic of the effectiveness of Project Based Learning in diverse classrooms. Post a reflection on your thoughts regarding your research this week on Project-Based Learning. What were you able to find? How do you think PBL will fit into your teaching style? Do you have an idea for a project? If so, begin articulating it now.

From the research I have done, the strongest aspect of project-based learning is in how it develops skills beyond intellectual knowledge that students will need when they move on.  By working in teams, students must learn to interact with one another.  Placing students in groups with others who they might not normally associate with at school prepares them for a working environment where they will not know co-workers when they first start working.  They need to learn how to integrate in order to form a cohesive team.

To increase the chance for success, teams need to be accountable for the success of each individual.  This I believe would be the hardest concept for students new to PBL to accept.  Many have always learned in an environment where only what they did mattered for their own grade.  Students who have been previously successful might be initially agitated that they have to assist their fellow classmates in order to obtain a satisfactory grade.  However, if the project is thoroughly planned and introduced to the students with clear and concise assessment rubrics, the students will be fully aware of what the requirements are from the beginning, then they can begin to understand how this different approach will benefit them.

Over the years, I have generally adapted my teaching to my students under the philosophy of whatever it takes.  If my students need a whole class lecture approach, that is what I will do.  If one-on-one tutoring is needed, then I will do that.  This is not to say that it will be easy to incorporate PBL.  The aspect of PBL that I think will be the hardest adjustment for me is in how the content is presented.  As a math teacher at a school that is very test/numbers driven, I have always focused on teaching my students how to solve certain problems.  Many of my students come from schools where they were unsuccessful in direct instruction, however, that is what they know and it is what they are comfortable with despite the results.  Therefore, switching to a PBL classroom would be a big adjustment.  Considering that we have an open entry/exit system, I will always have to deal with this issue.

I am a GED teacher.  I cover each of the four subjects (Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies).  I have students who need to pass all four test mixed in with students who only need to pass one, two or three tests.  They are at different levels of ability with different strengths and weakness in each subject.  Having a class on just one topic in a given period would not be beneficial as possibly half the students don’t need to focus on that topic.  My thoughts are that for my project to be the most productive, it must involve students creating some sort of study guide or game that centers around concepts they need to focus upon in order to be successful on the GED test.  This would allow students to develop the skills they need while creating material that their peers could use to strengthen their knowledge base.  Teams could be assigned based upon whichever test(s) the students need to pass.


Vega, V. (2012). Project-Based Learning Research Review. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/pbl-research-learning-outcomes


Project Based Learning: The Beginning

This is my first experience with Project Based Learning.  I come in to this class with 8 MET courses behind me and yet, I come in still feeling uncertain about what to expect.  While I have begun introductory research on PBL, I still do not know what a project entails in time, resources and planning.  My early readings have me believing that PBL could be a good strategy for where I teach, but my unique situation creates many questions that I want to answer. Can PBL work when students enter and exit the class at different times?  How do you conduct PBL when students are working on different content and at different levels?    I teach GED students. Their focus is on learning what they need to pass the test.  They know they only have to be in classes until they pass.  Therefore, there is no set time for them to be in class like a traditional school.  What kind of difficulties does this pose for PBL and how can they be overcome?  Hopefully, when this class ends, I will have answers to these and other classes


EDTECH 542 Introduction


I am a GED Instructor with the Pittsburgh Job Corps.  Job Corps is a training program associated with the Department of Labor for youths 16-24.  On Friday (June 13, 2014), I will celebrate 9 years there.   Five years ago, we received Promethean boards and this led to my decision to pursue this program.  I also provide training to my peers on educational technology tools.

This is my ninth class in the MET program.  In the fall, I will take EDTECH 505 and do my portfolio next spring (which I, unfortunately and against suggestions, have not done much preparation for, yet).  I plan to attend graduation in May of 2015.

Nines are wild, as that will be the age of my oldest dog, Lacie J., at the end of July.  She is a black and white Shih Tzu.  We added a second dog to our family this winter.  Lucky is a 6 months old brown and white Pomeranian mix and he is a rescue.  He shares my wife’s birthday.  We will celebrate 17 years of marriage three days before Lacie’s birthday.

Since 2001, I have worked part-time as a game day merchandise vendor for the SIX-Time Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.  The extra money comes in handy for vacations to Las Vegas, a destination my wife and I thoroughly enjoy.  Beyond the gambling, we love taking tours – Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, horseback riding in Red Rock Canyon – and seeing shows like Wayne Newton, Terry Fator and Recycle Percussion.  However, our favorite vacation was to the Black Hills.  We did a helicopter flight over Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial and drove out to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.  The picture in my advertisement was taken at President’s Park in 2006.  I guess I’ll have to go back out and get one next to the “THIS SPACE RESERVED FOR THE 45TH PRESIDENT” sign.

I better wrap this up.  We are trying to train Lucky, so I need to spend sometime teaching him to “sit”.  Besides, it will give Lacie a break from being tormented by him.  I wish everyone well in this class and in the rest of the program.  I look forward to learning about PBL with you.