Proposal: The integration of project based learning into the curriculum
The following proposal incorporates the key points made in the following sessions at ASB Unplugged 2012:
- The “Power of the journey” session based on project based learning presented by Kevin Crouch and Scott Hoffman
- The institute session on “Constructionism and project based learning” led by Gary Stager
- Project-Based Learning led by Andrew Churches
What is Project Based Learning (PBL)?
Edutopia.org states that project learning, also known as project-based learning, is a dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges, simultaneously developing cross-curriculum skills while working in small collaborative groups.
During the power of the journey session PBL was defined, using the review of project based learning by John Thomas as
- Central, not peripheral to curriculum
- Focused on questions or problems that drive students to encounter and struggle with central concepts and principles of a discipline.
- Involve students in constructive investigation
Why should we use project based learning?
Gary Stager identified the 8 big ideas, which are embedded within PBL, as opportunities for:
- Learning by doing
- Using technology as a building material
- Hard fun
- Learning to learn
- Taking time
- Can’t get it right without getting it wrong
- Do unto ourselves what we do unto our students
- We are engineering a digital world where what we know is as important as reading and writing*
*I appreciate the sentiments of this last big idea but feel it should just say information technology is now an invaluable tool in PBL environments.
What are the requirements for a successful PBL experience?
Andrew Church makes it clear the planning is the key to the success of a PBL unit and he promotes the use of the 4Ds approach (Define, Design, Do and Debrief). Due to the freedom of pathways the students have it is vital that clear objectives and a final outcome are in place as clear progression signposts. Gary Stager stated that “a good prompt is worth a 1000 words” and from his experience it was most important that a successful PBL experience had:
- Good prompt
- Appropriate materials
- Sufficient time
- Supportive culture (including expertise)
All in all a clear grasping of the objectives and outcomes with sufficient allocated time, materials and effective support are the key to the success of a PBL unit.
So why do I want to adopt PBL?
I am excited by PBL as I think that it will provide a different learning experience to what students normally receive. Such a method explicitly requires students to find their own pathways of discovery. This freedom also better reflects the results driven real world unlike the carefully structured faux-enquiry based learning path often seen in school classes. Furthermore the inbuilt collaborative element requires students to develop the skills required to work with others. The outcomes I am looking for are a deeper understanding of key ideas and the opportunity to develop crucial life skills.
Where do I want in introduce a PBL unit (1)?
The year 11 MYP science unit on energy provides a great opportunity for PBL. A project requiring the construction of a Rube-Goldberg machine and the measurement of energy transfers throughout provides a context for knowing how to make energy calculations and consider the factors which impact efficiency. I also feel that such a project would provide an opportunity to evaluate the approaches to learning (ATL) skills developed throughout the MYP programme and produce a vital jolt of something different.
Where do I want in introduce a PBL units (2)?
It has become apparent that some students at my school will struggle with the requirements of IB Diploma Science. My school is presently introducing year 12/13 non-IB alternative science course which I feel would benefit from a number of PBL units such as:
1) Growing what is required for an organic salad and using this as a driving force to consider world food requirements and the benefits of both GM and chemical solutions.
2) Building rockets as a driving force of fuel consumption, aerodynamics and mechanics
3) Producing ginger beer to consider fermentation process and enzyme use
4) Camera production to consider optics and photochemical reactions
In reality this course will not be trying to develop future scientists but work on enhancing the science literacy of these students so that they can be more informed in the future. So a parallel science in the news presentation element will also be included requiring students to consider and explain opinions.
How does information technology enhance project based learning?
In both examples information technology tools will provide crucial opportunities to do more than ever before, with greater ease than ever before and share those findings with more people than ever before and so also enhancing their own technological skill set and crucial confidence.
Examples of such opportunities which will support:
- Making measurements using probes and data loggers
- Sharing information in a collaborative group using Google docs
- Journaling the process using blogs
- Considering various (and sometimes opposing) information sources using the internet
- Bookmarking relevant information using tools such as Delicious and Diigo
- Analysing data using spreadsheets
- Connecting with other experts and interested parties using e-mail and Skype
New International School of Thailand
Following my attendance at the ASB Unplugged 2012 conference in Mumbai I have started to reflect on how my own school’s one-to-one program needs to continue to work towards true integration of technology.
Dr. Damien Bebell in his hands-on learning institute session, which I attended on the morning of Friday 24th February considered the importance of educational measurement and evaluation in the development and sustainability of any educational technology initiative or school reform. At my school it is still unclear to me as to what are underlying motivations for our one-to-one program. I myself can eulogise over the impact of greater connectivity and the provision for a wide range of teaching and learning opportunities. Yet I also know that this one-to-one program is so tantalising because it reflects an expected future for the students we have. Yet that still does not clearly identify the core objectives, and in turn allow us to measure our success in the development of our students against these objectives. So moving forward the identification of such objectives and the development of an annual school survey system which allows the school to measure progression is vital. The techniques/ styles presented by Dr. Bebell reflected the need to really consider what your needs are from such surveys and to carefully consider the needs of the audience to guarantee a high percentage of involved responses.
Within the above mentioned measurement session a back channel conversation developed with two staff members from UWC in Singapore about effective ways to share best practice. My school has two full-time staff members whose job is to support the teaching and learning in a one-to-one environment. They provide additional support to teachers in the classroom and also run sessions sharing useful tools. However, beyond these two members of staff there is not a true forum for sharing best (or unsuccessful) practice. For that reason teachers are not learning from their peers and students are not exposed to being set up to transfer skills from subject to subject. Now UWC have a digital literacy blog which empowers teachers to share their experiences. The structure allows teachers to easily follow blog posts from all or just from a specific teaching section, for instance middle school. In reviewing examples it is apparent that this has become not only a forum for best practice or an honest reflection on less than successful attempts. The site also provides teachers with a starting point for considered dialogue on related issues – for example the post on the association between violence and video games. So I believe that the construction of such a blog for teachers at my school would better integrate effective digital teaching and learning.
Although the above mentioned blog would produce an interesting conversation starting point it would not provide the opportunity for teachers to consider issues in a more in depth but collaborative manner. For this reason process modeled by the ASB research and development teams in the “Power of the journey” sessions held throughout the morning of Thursday 23rd February would appear to be another element which I would like to introduce at my school. Teams formed around a number of topics had the opportunity to complete in depth research with the goal of presenting an informed opinion on future use. Without a required implementation outcome it appeared to provide an opportunity for honest discussion. Whilst the need to present findings provided a motivational timeline as did an influential audience that the teams felt would respond to the suggestions made. Having seen a number of research and development team members presenting in more detail about how they are already using elements of their research in their classes it would also seem that the process also accelerates implementation if taken on.
So in conclusion, to improve the integration of the one-to-one program in my school I would like to see:
- The identification of the key objectives of our one-to-one program
- An annual questionnaire designed to measure how well the objectives are being achieved
- A digital literacy blog to share best practice between teachers
- The construction of research and development team which can look into selected aspects of educational development
- The R&D process to have a clear influential audience that are required to act on the findings
I hope my own continued conversations at school will allow the implementation of these ideas.
The classes I would quite happily allow someone into to evaluate the technology integration in my classroom are those that I have had a key role in designing the related unit. In these my classroom displays effective technology integration due to the fact the technology is seamlessly embedded in my expectations of the actions and outcomes of the students and me. For example my “flipped” year 12 physics class which both provides the students with a new approach to their own learning and also allowed for the further use range of online simulations and mastery questioning.
There are also lessons, sometimes in units I have designed and sometimes not, where I am taking a risk and trying out something new. I recognise that it is not yet happily embedded but I am being informed by the experience which makes it invaluable for future technology integration
However, there are also lessons where prefer that no administrator is going to visit whilst brandishing Lisa Nielsen’s (The Innovative Educator) interesting technology integration classroom visit rubric. These lessons are more often than not units which I did not have a role in developing. Yet as they do comprehensively teach the required scientific content I do not feel the right to criticize.
I have been thinking about the best way to encourage technology integration throughout the department I am a member off. Here I feel that the way forward is by modelling best practice. This means by placing it at the core of my own unit planning and therefore exposing others. Yet for this to be successful I cannot just drop it into the unit planner and expect people to follow I know that I will also have to support those how find technology challenging and accept that it is not always for everyone and offer other pathways if necessary.
With all this in mind I am about to start creating a new energy transfer unit for year 11. My present idea is centred on a project based unit where students create and analyse the energy transfers within their own Rube-Goldberg Machine.
Now what is interesting here, and I recognise in myself, is that I have become very lost in a quite a non-technology focused idea here. So I intend to ask my school’s own technology support team in on this planning to provide their own perspective and help me see beyond my out of character blinkers. So I will keep you informed on how this all progresses as we move forward.