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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Post Project Reflection

Who will you involve in the process?

In the Army, we had a part of every mission called the After Action Report.  This was conducted at the end of the mission.  It involved everyone who participated in the mission.  The purpose was to see what went well to build upon for future missions and what didn’t go so well to improve preparation for future missions.  This would be my guiding process for conducting a post-PBL reflection.

What will your process look like?

I would start with a self-reflection.  This would allow the opportunity to think about issues that each person feels needs to be discussed.  Then each team would meet before bringing everyone together for a class discussion.  This gradual build-up could increase participation if students don’t feel like they are being put on a spot.  Afterwards, a final self-reflection to absorb all the information.  This would be followed by a similar process that occurs among the staff to institute changes for future projects.

Is it just a one-time assessment?

For any assessment to have value, there must be action that leads to changes.  These changes will in turn produce new results and new issues which would require more changes.  Like any educational process, in order to flourish, these changes are necessary to prevent stagnation of learning.

Role of the Facilitator

Will my role in the teaching/learning process change?

The expression “sage on a stage” fits me as a teacher, though I tend to use the word “diva”.  In a PBL unit, there is more student-centered learning, so my role will require less direct instruction and more guidance.  However, having worked in a GED environment where students may not be on the same subject, let alone the same topic, I am familiar and comfortable with conducting a class where students are working at their own pace.  Although it isn’t PBL, I feel that I can easily adapt into the PBL environment.  And, if you ask my students, I have can do so and still be the GED Diva.

What are the skills of effective facilitation?

Being an effective facilitator requires knowledge of the content, like a teacher, but demands so much more.  Facilitators need to guide the process and keep it on track.  They must, as stated previously, possess knowledge.  However, their job is not to convey all the information themselves, but to elicit and draw thoughts and ideas from the group members.  They are not just results-oriented.  The process of how the results are obtained is vital and facilitators need to direct the learning so that all members are involved throughout the process.

Will the students develop the competencies and skills needed to be successful?

Interestingly enough, some of the smartest students I graduated with have not gone on and fulfill the promising futures that were destined for them.  Meanwhile, students who were fairly average academically have become very successful.  This would seem to contradict the intent of school.  Yet, when you realize why, it makes sense.  The successful people are generally ones who have good communication and collaborative skills – 21st Century skills.  Success in most careers is not an individual result.  It is generally derived from the ability to work as a team.  Often times in sports, a team with lesser talent triumphs over a group of highly-skilled individuals.  This is because they functioned as a team and completed a team-oriented task.  These are the skills that need to be developed in order to be successful in life.  Having a strong academic background is a benefit, not the foundation.  In the traditional classroom, where the academics are given top priority, the 21st Century skills may be ignored.  However, In a PBL classroom where 21st Century skills are the basis for learning and academics are the tools used, the likelihood of becoming successful is increased as more students will develop their abilities in both areas.

What changes will you need to make in order to become an effective facilitator in your PBL unit?

However, facilitation is an area where I need to improve.  Facilitators take more of a back seat in the process, whereas, in my class, I find that I still spend a lot of time providing direct instruction to my students – just on a smaller scale.  As a facilitator in a PBL class, I need to spend more time listening to students all the way through and not stop them as soon as I realize what they need.  In order for students to better retain knowledge, they need to form it in a manner that makes sense to them.  I need to allow them the time to talk through it.  Also, if they make an error, instead of correcting them, I need to guide them to think it through and realize what their error was and go back and fix it.

Reference

Section 2. Developing Facilitation Skills. (n.d.). Chapter 16:  group facilitation and problem-solving. Retrieved from http://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/leadership/group-facilitation/facilitation-skills/main

 

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: 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.

REFERENCE

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

 

Assistive Technology Blog: Accessibility Features on My Computer

I use a computer with Windows 7.  There are four assistive technology tools available. There is also an Ease of Access Center that has seven features.

Assistive Technology

Magnifier – Magnifier allows the use to magnify part of the screen.  I am familiar with this technology because my wife has vision issues and uses this feature.  There are three settings:  full screen, lens and docked.  Full screen makes the whole screen larger by a chosen percent.  Lens places an on-screen magnifying lens that moves with the cursor.  Docked splits the screen and has a magnified version at the top.

Narrator – Narrator reads the text on your screen.  Another tool for people with vision issues or reading difficulties.  As someone who likes to hear the words that I am reading, I thought this would be a helpful tool for me, but I have yet to figure out how to get it to work right.  All it will read is the narrator window or the Ease of Access panel.  I have never gotten it to work on a word document or a website.  In researching on the Internet, it appears this is a common problem that was never fixed by Microsoft.  If you need a screen reader, I would suggest finding another one.

On-Screen Keyboard – I have typed this sentence with the on-screen keyboard.  If you do not have or can not use a keyboard, it is a helpful tool.  However, unless you have a touch screen, it is very time consuming.

High Contrast – This is another tool for people with vision issues.  This will heighten the contrast of items on the screen to make them more distinct from others.  It changes to white text on a black background, which is handy when working in very bright area (such as outdoors).

Ease of Access Center

The Ease of Access Center allows the user to make adjustments to the computer for the following purposes:

  • Use the computer without a display
  • Make the computer easier to see
  • Use the computer without a mouse or keyboard
  • Make the mouse easier to use
  • Make the keyboard easier to use
  • Use text or visual alternative for sound
  • Make it easier to focus on tasks –

There are features designed for people who are blind, like text to speech and audio description.  I have used text to speech before (because I never learned to touch type) and it is helpful.  Speech recognition can also be used to control the computer without a mouse.  To use this tool, you need to train your computer to understand your voice.  From what I could find, audio description tells what is happening in a video, but only if the video has an audio description track. There are other features to help people who have other vision difficulties like color blindness and farsightedness.  They allow you to change the thickness of the focus rectangle and the blinking cursor, turn off unnecessary animations and remove background images.  You can also change the cursor’s color and size.

Just as there are accessibility features for those with vision issues, there some for those with hearing impairments.  Visual notifications can replace sound and text captions can be displayed for multimedia presentations.

There are functions available for managing your keyboard and mouse or even using your computer without a keyboard and mouse.  You can turn on the mouse keypad to control the mouse and manage access to windows, like preventing windows from automatically resizing when moved to the edge of the screen.  This is helpful for people who have difficulty using a mouse.  Sticky, toggle and filter keys can be activated and you can adjust the keyboard shortcuts to make them easier to use.  Sticky keys allow you to assign multiple key controls to just one key.  This is would benefit people who may have only one hand available to them.  Toggle keys send alerts to notify the user that certain keys were pressed that turned on features that might be unwanted.  Filter keys benefit those with unsteady hands by ignoring repetitive keystrokes or ones held down too long.

References

Setting accessibility options in Windows 7. (n.d.). its-knowledge01.campus.ad.csulb.edu. Retrieved from  <https://its-knowledge01.campus.ad.csulb.edu/display/help/Setting+Accessibility+Options+in+Windows+7>.

What accessibility features does Windows offer? – Microsoft Windows Help.” (n.d.). windows.microsoft.com. Retrieved from  <http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/what-accessibility-features-windows-offer#1TC=windows-7>.