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:

School Evaluation Summary


I expected this to be one of my more difficult assignments due all the writing involved.  When I first started, those expectations seemed confirmed.  My initial thought was that two weeks wasn’t going to be enough; I would need that much time to fret over how hard it was going to be.  However, once I got going, the project- while no means simple – became less daunting.

Rating each section and subsection would seem the easiest par for a numbers guy.  Some of the areas fell out of my level of knowledge or expertise.  Those were the Administrative and the Connectivity.  In order to better understand them and accurately rate them, I talked to others at my institution.

Once the ratings were completed, I knew I had to justify them in the summary.  I knew why I rated each area as I did, but communicating it in a written summary was going to be  a task.  I started with the easiest ones, Curricular and Support.  I felt I knew these ones best as they most pertained to my position.  As I completed each section, I had more faith in my ability to do the others.


Upon reading the summaries of others, I discovered that I was not alone in feeling that we are not utilizing technology efficiently.  Many classmates shared similar feelings of frustration with their schools’ technology standing.  In some ways, I began to realize that my school was even ahead of many others in some ways.  We have Promethean Boards that allow for much application of technology.  We have more access for students to computers.


My initial reason for seeking a Masters of Educational Technology was to be able to better use technology in the class room.  After this first course, I believe it would be more beneficial to convince my school to develop a technology department that could support the teaching staff.  That would require being able to convey the necessity of such a department through a process much like this evaluation.  I believe that I have gotten a start in that direction.  Hopefully, by the time I graduated, I will have a finish to go with that start.





Technology Use Planning Overview

What is technology use planning? 

The Guidebook for Developing an Effective Instructional Technology Plan (1996) provides a very good definition:  “Identify the technology needs of the individuals and organizations in your educational institutions, identify the technologies that can be applied to those needs, and identify how they can be applied” (Al-Weshail, 1996, p8).  Like the guidebook, technology use planning is fluid; constantly changing and being updated (Al-Weshail, 1996, p5).  Technology use planning will both state where an institution is currently and where it desires to be in the future (Al-Weshail, 1996, p9).

Getting Started

The National Educational Technology Plan 2010 can be an effective and powerful resource for technology use planning by being the cornerstone of any educational technology plan.  From that cornerstone, many foundations can be constructed.  On top of those foundations, one can build a multitude of structures.  However, these structures and foundations all rest upon the cornerstone’s five components:  Engage and Empower, Measure What Matters, Prepare and Connect, Access and Enable and Redesign and Transform  (NETP, 2010).

Every school has different resources (foundation) and personnel (structure), but the overall goal (cornerstone) should be the same:  to give the future’s movers and shakers (today’s students) the capability to deal with whatever future arrives.  How those students get there – the routes they take, the vehicles that drive them – may be different, but if the plans come from the same basic elements, all students will have the opportunity to get there.

Developing the plan

In the article “Developing Effective Technology Plans”, John See emphasizes developing short term plans (See, 1992).  Even though this article was written 20 years ago, before many of today’s technology was created (and much of the technology of that time has since become obsolete), the words he write are still relevant today.  I agree with See’s contention that technology changes rapidly, but that doesn’t mean totally eliminating long-range planning (See, 1992).  It just requires that the plan be flexible.  Plan for the future, but don’t be locked in on a technology that becomes outdated.

See’s contention that technology plans should be driven by application (output) and not technology (input) is dead on (See, 1992).  Too many times, those who make the decision are not the ones who work with the technology.  They gravitate to the latest and hottest without regard to whether that technology is a right fit for the staff and students who work with it.  This point is further emphasized by his arguments against technology for the sake of enhancing technology programs (See, 1992).

See makes the point that technology should go beyond just computers.  In it, he states:

We are all used to seeing the finished products of WCCO and ABC or NBC. They use the right video grammar. When kids turn in a video project, we look at it with professional standards in mind and say, “What a piece of junk. Was it really worth all the time the kids put into this product”. What we really need to remember is what our first attempts at writing the letter “A” looked like. Then put early attempts at video production into the same light.”  (See, 1992)

I believe this is a message that teachers need to remember everyday (because I know I forget it everyday and have to remind myself).

I think that See oversimplifies the point of teaching “computer literacy”.  While we probably don’t need a whole class on how to use a computer, especially with many of today’s generation, new technology still needs to be taught in order to use it effectively.  I have ActivExpression devices with my Promethean Board.  Most of my questions are multiple choice.  And while that is a simple process, when I get a new student in the class, s/he has to be taught how to use the device, starting with turning it on.  But, many of this how-to learning can be part of the course curriculum.

See is correct when he discusses teacher’s awareness, application, integration and refinement (See, 1992).  However, he is preaching to the choir.  The staff is the first to say they need to have development time for new technology.  However, this requires eliminating other development that is obsolete or overdone.  Unfortunately, the same administration that makes technology decisions on what to purchase are the ones to decide what development is required.  And many times, these administrators never were teaching professionals or they were not very good at it.  Everything starts at the top and if the top is strong, the staff will be, but if the top is weak, even great teachers can be hindered.  To make the most of technology, those who use it, need to be trusted to learn it when given the time and some control of the funding to purchase the right materials.

Personal Experience

Before my school purchased Promethean Boards, the staff was given an opportunity to see them in action at a local school.  This gave us the chance to give intelligent feedback prior to the purchase.  While the decision to purchase them was practically made at that point, we were impressed with them as a staff and would have request approval.  Still, it would be better to see if the people who actually use them to make a case pro or con.  Also, while we went through 3 days of intensive training, many of our older teachers still only use them as glorified white boards.  I went through advance training and even train our new staff on them.  However, I still don’t use their full potential.  The reason for this, is because we are not given the time to prepare or continual development of our skills.  How many times do I really need to have annual training on the TPS report?  Thus, while I use mine everyday, I don’t feel I always justify the expenditure.  This is not to say we shouldn’t have bought them.  Instead, we should make sure we utilize them to their maximum power.


The reason I started this program was because of my growing interest in using technology in the classroom.  Hopefully, when I complete, I will have the opportunity to use what I have learn to make a difference in technology planning to better the educational value for the students.


Al-Weshail, A. S., Baxter A. L., Cherry, W., Hill, E. W., Jones, C. R., Love, L. T., . . . Woods, J. C. (1996).  Guidebook for developing an effective instructional technology plan: Version 2.0. Retrieved from http://www.nctp.com/downloads/guidebook.pdf.

National Education Technology Plan (2010).  Transforming American education: Learning powered by technology.  Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/technology/netp-2010.

See, J. (1992). Developing effective technology plans. The Computing Teacher, 19(8).   Retrieved from http://www.nctp.com/html/john_see.cfm.