Friday, May 13, 2016

PBL Toolkit

What do you do when your administrator asks you to show your colleagues how to develop and run PBL projects? Once the meltdown is over, and you have had time to mull things over, you compile a list what you consider your best tools. Here goes:

Project Ideas:

This is really the hardest part, especially when you are just starting out. In the beginning, as you familiarize yourself with the process, your best bet is to use BIE's project searchEdmodo Spotlight or even my own PBL page. Find something you like and that you are willing to do. Know that it will not be pretty the first time around (or the second or third). Trust in the process knowing that once you have run a couple of experiences you will start to feel comfortable and even decide to create one from scratch. When you reach that point, you will start seeing opportunities everywhere. You will find yourself reading an article or thinking about an experience through the lens of, "I wonder what my students could come up with to ...". That is when you are ready to meet with your fellow educators, and develop one you can call your own.


Yes, of course you will have to think about your standards. See where that nugget of an idea you had could fit. Truth be told, any PBL experience you create can hit on many standards. The trick is to decide which one you will be teaching explicitly. Don't fall into the trap of simply stating the standard. Decide in advance how your students are going to show mastery of the standard and make plans to point your workshops and activities to address the specifics of the standards.

The Driving Question: 

This is the root of your project, and BIE has graciously shared a handy tool to help with that. They call it the Tubric, and it boils down to something along the lines of:
"How can we as ___ create a way to ____ for ___ in order to address/do/change ___.

Now that you have your project idea, your standards and your driving question, it is time to develop your project. This is where the fun begins.

Entry event: 

Nothing beats a video to catch the student's attention. Thankfully most districts have now decided that YouTube is not the root of all evil. However there are still steps that can be taken to reduce distractions when presenting a YouTube video. Use tools like SafeshareTV or ViewPure to remove comments, advertisements, sidebars, etc.
A novel idea that can be used as an entry event and as a way to encourage deep need to knows is having students participate in a StunConference - a student-led unconference. This takes more time and preparation than showing a video, but it does have the benefit of greater student engagement with the project.

Need to knows: 

These can be collected by the students on Google docs (or in their notebooks). But what about group need to knows that can be easily shared and added to by the whole class? For this, I like to use Padlet and more recently Verso. Both of these remove the stress of students trying to come up with the "perfect" need to know, by allowing them to add and respond long after the project run began. They can also access the tools from any device, so if a new need to know pops up in their head later (while at the store for example), it is simply a matter a few clicks and the idea is added.

Workshops and activities: 

Whether you plan them way in advance or as a response to the needs of your students, you can curate your materials for easy access by your students in platforms such as LessonPaths or Blendspace. For your visual learners, or simply because it is more fun, you may want to create interactive images using Thinglink.

Project page: 

This is where you communicate expectations, as well as host all of the materials your students will need, including the rubrics. You want something that is easy to access and offers flexibility should you need to add things "on the fly" with a minimum of disruption. For me, the answer is WIX, a web page creation platform that allows you to add practically anything, anywhere. If you have never used it, choose from one of their templates. As you become more and more familiar, be bold and create your project pages from scratch. With a little bit of knowledge regarding iframes, you can embed anything without having to worry about figuring out whether what you want to add has an embed code or not. I have used some other tools that also deserve a mention due to their shallow learning curve: Tackk and HSTRY. Both of these are a bit more linear, and have limitations in what can be embedded directly, but for some groups of students this is a "good thing".

Managing a project run: 

Everybody is working on their project, or are they? How do your students communicate their daily activities with you, and how do you manage all those groups without going crazy? It is as simple as Trello, a project management tool that updates in real time, and allows every member of each team to share exactly what they are doing, upload materials, share information, etc. It also provides a space for direct teacher feedback during the run, eliminating the fear of facing a "what did you do all this time?" moment come presentation day. If you want to know more about how I use it, you may want to visit my previous post.

Presentations and Exhibitions: 

Make use of the Ignite format during presentations, or better yet host student exhibitions.

Rubrics and Feedback: 

Your students are done, and have successfully presented their projects. You still have to figure out a way to provide feedback and give access to the graded rubrics. Yes, you can use paper or you can create individual documents and e-mail them to the students. It is a chore no one likes. Thankfully, ForAllRubrics has come to the rescue. Whether you use it as a stand alone product, or as I do within Edmodo, this badging and rubric platform allows you to grade and send the rubrics to your students with just a few clicks.


What is PBL without reflection? Just another project... Invite your students to reflect on their work by having them use this set of questions using Blogger as their platform.

Dive into PBL. Your students will thank you for it.