PBL: Final Reflection

What do you now understand best about Project Based Learning?

That PBL is truly a collaborative effort, not just among the students, but the teachers developing the project.  A good PBL lesson involves the input of many people to design, create, implement and review.  While a single teacher can conduct a PBL class, it enhances the students’ chances to retain learning when it is a school wide approach.

What do you understand least well?

This class provided a good foundation for beginning to use PBL.  However, not actually doing it in my school, I am still unsure what it will look like in action.  I have seen some videos that showed elements of a PBL class, but I still would like to see what one looks like live and be able to ask questions when I am uncertain as to what is happening.

What did you expect to learn in this course?

Since I had no experience with PBL, I expected to be introduced to what it was and how to use it in the classroom.  I believed this course would provide me with the necessary tools to develop a PBL classroom.  I also hoped to be able discuss the benefits of PBL at my school in order to persuade the administration to consider giving it a test.

What did you actually learn?

I learned that PBL requires a lot of time to prepare.  Teachers must coordinate with one another to ensure learning is focused on the driving question.  Math can be taught in a more meaningful way that excites even the least interested students.  Students can be given more voice in the choices they make, thus better furnish them with the tools and skills needed for the 21st century world.

More or less, and why?

I learned more than I expected because I had no real idea what PBL entailed.  I only knew it had something to do with projects.  The work required to develop a PBL classroom is incredibly large.  The potential resulting benefits for student learning is even larger.  I don’t know if PBL would be feasible in my school because it would require a shift in thinking among administrators and teachers, but I do know that my students would benefit immensely from it.

What will you do with what you have learned?

I started this course about the same time I reviewed a PBL program for possible inclusion in my school.  I am now better prepared to create a proposal for my school to consider adopting PBL for a test run to increase our students’ motivation, test scores and employability skills.

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Designing Integrated Curriculum

When my students take the GED Ready Test for Social Studies or Science, I hand them a calculator.  Their first response is, “Why do I need a calculator for the Social Studies/Science test?”  I explain to them that there is Mathematics in Social Studies and Science.  Inevitably, they say “That’s dumb.”  Therein lies the biggest challenge in interdisciplinary projects.

Education has done a disservice to students by separating learning into disciplinary courses.  In real life, scientists, engineers, archaeologists – anyone and everyone – uses skills learned in all courses in an interconnected way.  Students, however, if they have never been exposed to this, don’t see that connection (this helps explains why students in Algebra have trouble conceiving letters as numbers).  Once students begin working on interdisciplinary projects, they will begin to make those connections (a relief for the Math teacher who tires of the question, ‘why do I need to know this?’).  If students are exposed at an earlier age to this process, it will be more natural for them as they age.  The longer the delay, the harder it will be to reshape their ways of thinking what is a Math/English/Social Studies/Science class.

A second challenge is from educators themselves who may have never taught this way before.  Like the students, you are taking them out of their comfort zone and they may resist.  As a Math teacher, I can teach about numbers, but when it comes to English, I don’t teach too “good”.  But, in an interdisciplinary approach, I don’t have to teach English.  I will work with a team providing the students with the mathematical education they need to successfully complete the project.  Working with fellow teachers, especially those outside our field, can be another new and rewarding experience.  As a team member, you will be designing and implementing a curriculum together.  You will have peers to discuss ideas with (similar to most business environments) and develop a stronger plan.  An added benefit is that the students will see teachers working together, modeling how to collaborate.

Currently, my school is not a traditional one.  We do not have courses like a high school.  When it comes to academic education, we are focused on basic skills and credit recovery or high school equivalency.  I am the only GED teacher.  I am responsible for educating my students in all four GED subjects.  Our high school diploma programs are through established online diploma programs.  We don’t have any say in curriculum.  In order to implement an interdisciplinary approach, it would require a radical change in thinking at our administrative level – something that I don’t foresee happening.  Unfortunately, our students, many who have been failed by the traditional approach to teaching, would benefit greatly from an interdisciplinary curriculum.  They are in dire need of 21st century skills in collaboration and communication and yet we focus on getting them to pass the GED (or obtained their diploma) just so we can meet our quotas.

 

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:

Principles of Effective Online Instruction

  • What does good online instruction look like?

In the traditional classroom, one expects to find the teacher leading the class by presenting the information, asking the questions and guiding the students’ practice.  Everything flows from the teacher.  They are like dad, who plans the family vacation, does all the driving and decides when to go home.  In the online classroom, the teacher provides the destination, but it is the students who decide what roads to take and what sites to see when they get there.  In an online course, the students have goals and objectives set by the teacher, but they reach those goals and objectives by their own means.

This does not mean that the student is left to his/her own accords to learn.  Online instruction involves collaboration, mainly among the students.  By collaborating together, the students build a learning community allows them to not just learn information for the purpose of testing, but fully understand it for the purpose of utilizing it later in their education and their life.  Other collaborations include teacher-student (in the form of feedback), teacher-parent (conferences) and, hopefully, parents will interact more with the student about what the are learning.

  • Does it look the same for all grade levels and content areas?

Obviously, a first-grade class and a twelfth-grade class will look different, as will an English course and a Mathematics course.  The types of projects, the online learning tools used and the amount and content of material presented will all be different.  However, behind all of this, the foundations of the classes involving the aforementioned student self-directness, goals, objectives, collaborations and feedback will be present in all forms of online instruction.

  • Will effective face-to-face teachers be effective online teachers?

When I thought about this question, I remember Rice’s (2012) phrase, “Good teaching is good teaching.”  I went back and reviewed this section.  She talks about how a face-to-face instructor can sometimes just “wing it”, but in the online environment, careful preparation is required.  I remember thinking the first time I read this section, “Great.  Winging it is my lesson plan.”   My winging it comes from knowing the material and thus forming the concept of instruction beforehand; a premeditated winging.  I need to harness the creativity I use when presenting my lessons live and apply it to the development of those lessons for the online environment.

Below are seven principles of effective online education that I have gathered:

  1. Online instruction is learner-centered.

The traditional classroom is teacher-centered (all information flows from the teacher).  In the online classroom, Lecture-based learning is impractical (NEA).  Instead, the course must be learner-centered.  In a learner-centered classroom, student takes an active role in learning (iNACOL, 2011) and instruction is about learning based upon goals important to the student (Roce, 2012).

  1. Online instruction begins with setting course goals and objectives.

Goals and objectives are the foundation upon which the course is built.  They clearly state what the student will know or be capable of doing (iNACOL, 2011).  Essentially, these goals are a contract between teacher and student on what is taught and learned (Ragan, 1999).  They are reached via the use of the proper instructional strategies (Rice, 2012).  Every aspect of the course should be developed in order to facilitate the students achieving these goals.

  1. Online instruction evaluation is based upon measurement and assessment of learning goals.

Determining whether students have successfully met the goals and objectives can not be accomplished from just the standard testing practice of the traditional classroom.  Assessments should be both formative (informing) and summative (demonstrate mastery) (iNACOL, 2011).  In the online classroom, these assessments are important because of the lack of face-to-face interaction between teacher and student (Ragan 1999).  The assessments should consider different learning styles (NEA).  Rice (2012) says that the online environment demands performance-based assessments upon task completion in order to demonstrate and apply understanding.  These assessments become a valuable tool in providing feedback to the students.

  1. Online instructional tools should be selected to support the learning goals.

The nature of online instruction lends itself to the availability of many tools to enhance the learning of the students.  Teachers should be able to use a variety of instructional tools (NEA), however, at any given time, one or two carefully chosen tools will be better than a haphazard arrangement of many tools (Rice, 2012).  The selected tools need to be accessible to the students (Ragan, 1999).  There are tools for all elements of the online course.  They are used for instruction, assessment and feedback (iNACOL).  They also provide unintended assistance.  Proper technology usage can also promote the behaviors you want (Rice, 2012).

  1. Online instruction involves collaboration among students.

Another difference between the traditional and the online classroom is in how much learning is acquired through groups collaborating.  Online instruction lends itself immensely to collaboration through the building of communities.  The instructional tools support the collaborative activities (Ragan, 1999), but it is the online teacher who must foster collaboration (NEA).  In order to provide incentive, students should be graded on participation and interaction (Rice, 2012).

  1. Online instruction is time flexible with deadlines.

The very nature of online instruction creates an environment where student can (and sometimes must) have access 24/7.  However, there must be structure to the course and students must be capable of completing assignments in a timely manner.  When lessons are provided ahead of schedule with benchmark due dates, students can pace themselves (Rice, 2012).

  1. Online instruction incorporates higher-order thinking skills.

For learning to be authentic, it must go beyond knowledge and comprehension.  The act of learning is as important as the information that is learned.  It is a skill that will serve the students throughout their life.  To accomplish this, learning must travel gambit of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Rice (2012) states that students should engage in synthesis, analysis and evaluation and not just factual recall.  Therefore, assignments, activities and assessments should all require higher-order thinking skills (iNACOL).

International Association for K-12 Online Learning. (2011). National standards for quality online teaching. Retrieved from
http://www.inacol.org/research/nationalstandards/iNACOL_CourseStandards_2011.pdf

National Education Association. (n/a). Guide to teaching online courses. Retrieved from
http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/onlineteachguide.pdf

Ragan, Lawrence C.  (1999).  Good Teaching Is Good Teaching:  An Emerging Set of Guiding Principles and Practices for the Design and Development of Distance Education. CAUSE/EFFECT Journal, 22(1).  Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/html/cem/cem99/cem9915.html

Rice, Kerry.  (2012).  Making the Move to K-12 Online Teaching.  Upper Saddle Ridge, New Jersey:  Pearson Education, Inc.

EDTECH 521 Reflection Journal

Here is a link to my EDTECH 521 Reflection Journal.  It will be updated weekly, so you can come back to this thread to view it.