Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The End of CTELE...a PBL in itself?

Goodbye CTELE!
Screenshot by Magda Galloway via Zoom

The semester is almost over and we only have a few more days left of CTELE. This semester has been an extremely challenging and rewarding one, and I have learned so much through this course. Looking back at my 'CTELE Expectations' blog post, I realized just how much I have learned. In my expectations, I was excited but nervous for the challenges in store for us. I knew that this class was a lot like Ed Tech & Design, but more rigorous and more open. While that scared me a little at first, I quickly got into the swing of things.

The ideas in this course were definitely more broad, and that led to challenges at time. There were moments when our group had no direction and felt confused about what we were doing, to say the least. We weren't sure if what we were doing met the expectations for the course, and we weren't even sure if our work was meeting our own expectations. Most everything that we did felt like a struggle, and we often found ourselves working up until the last minute on projects to get them completed. It was extremely challenging to not have someone telling us exactly how to do something.

But then I realized; this was probably the most authentic teaching experience I've had in a non-field-experience class thus far. None of my other classes have really taught me about the process of project-based learning. If you had asked me before this class if I could design a project-based learning unit, I probably would have said yes. How hard could it be, right? Well, boy, was I wrong. It is so hard to plan and implement a PBL. There is an incredible amount of thought and work that goes into it, and I think that it's harder than a typical lesson plan because you have to not only know what you want to teach, but you also have to figure out how to structure it so that your students figure out what they should learn (and not because you want them to learn it, because they want to!).

This was not a spoon-fed course. We were in charge of deciding what to learn, to an extent. The whole semester, in a way, was a PBL. We did little 'projects' throughout the semester that led up to a big project that encompassed our learning for the semester: how to create a PBL from beginning to end. Let me sum up those great 8 Essentials for Project-Based Learning that we've been discussing and see how they fit with our semester:

1. Significant Content: Our content in this semester-long PBL was in fact, how to create a PBL. Because we're going to be teachers, this content was significant for every one of us. We all want to know more/different/better ways to teach in our future classrooms. We're also all Ed Tech minors, so the technology aspect of this course was also relevant and interesting for all of us.

2. A Need to Know: I'll reiterate the above idea; we wanted to know this stuff. PBLs are becoming a more popular way to teach and are an extremely effective way to teach students. Students are more engaged, learn more, and do more than in a traditional lesson. We all want our future students to learn in the best, most effective way possible. We need to know this stuff.

3. A Driving Question: I'm not sure there was an explicit driving question, but there definitely was a Driving Idea: the idea that we had to figure out how to create a quality PBL that would integrate the 8 Essentials, Technology, etc. Maybe our professor even had a driving question written down somewhere that she never showed us. ;)

4. Student Voice and Choice: This class was filled with choices for us. Other than creating 'something' at various points during the semester, everything was pretty wide open. Our entire PBL was our choice, from the topic to the grade level and everything in between. Even more concrete mini-projects that we completed were very open; I think back to the personal presentation at the beginning of the semester. There was so much choice that some students didn't even know how to proceed. It took a lot of self-direction to figure out how to create a presentation without many, if any, requirements, but everyone did it and every presentation was different and awesome. The flipchart project had a few more requirements, but was still very open as far as what we actually created. As long as it supported our PBL, we weren't limited. My group chose to do a flipchart on summaries, but we could have made it about movie-making skills or how to collaborate with classmates. We had choices about what we could create, and we could voice our concerns to our professor and she adjusted things accordingly. If we needed extra time to complete something (like we did with our PBL), she heard us out and was flexible for us.

5. 21st Century Skills: This goes farther than just technology. Yes, we were using current technology to support and advance our learning. But we were also collaborating, problem-solving, and communicating. We were learning about our environments, problem-solving, being creative, and exercising our digital literacy skills. We learned how to self-monitor and use critical-thinking skills.

6. Inquiry and Innovation: We were constantly changing what we had created. Our PBL at the beginning of the semester had a whole different focus than our final PBL did. As we learned things, we integrated them into our PBL. We ran into problems that we had to figure out. We had to refocus and reassess our own ideas about PBL before we could continue. We had questions, found answers, then had more questions. This semester was an example of real inquiry; we were constantly thinking of new questions to solve and ways to solve them in order to learn about and create a genuine PBL.

7. Feedback and Revision: As I've said before, we were constantly revising our work. As soon as we'd create something, we were revising it to make it better. Sometimes that took direction from our professor, who helped give us feedback to steer us back on track, or some extra collaboration between our group to figure out what we should do next. Our professor was good about giving us feedback on the things we did in the class, from the concrete presentations we did to the work time we had in class to work on our PBL. She would come around and ask us to tell her about our ideas, then let us know how she thought we could make it even better. Our PBL probably wouldn't have come as far as it did without this feedback. We also had many opportunities for revision during the semester, thankfully; if we had turned in the original PBL we created? I cringe at the thought.

8. Publicly Presented Content: Our final task was to compile our PBL in a web presence, either a website or a blog, so others could access and use our PBL. It's amazing to think that other teachers with experience and students of their own will read our PBLs and potentially use them in their classrooms! We also presented our PBLs to our classmates, so we could see what our peers created and get ideas and insight from each other.

You can check out our PBL website here! Enjoy!

I have learned so much from this course throughout the semester. I feel far more confident about creating a PBL, and have had wonderful, authentic practice in creating one. I wish that more classes integrated PBL, but I hope that more do in the future (and it looks like they will)!

It's been a great and insightful semester! Thanks, CTELE!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Perks and Problems with PBL

Photo by flickingerbrad,,
Our class is drawing to a close, and we're almost done with our PBL projects. Throughout this semester, I've learned so much about Project-Based Learning, and I feel very confident that I can find the resources to implement PBL in my classroom someday. I think that it is a valuable tool and a beneficial experience for students to be involved in, as well as a more meaningful learning experience than traditional instruction.

With regards to my group's own PBL, we struggled a lot. Only in the last few weeks has our PBL really become focused and meaningful. We started our PBL by creating an activity for our students to complete, rather than beginning with the standards we wanted our students to meet and designing an activity that satisfied the standards. We did our PBL backwards from the beginning, and it wasn't until the 8 Essentials for Problem-Based Learning was introduced to us a few weeks ago that we really started to understand what a PBL should look like and how to structure our own. We struggled a lot because of this, and it took us a lot of extra work to redesign our PBL to align with the 8 Essentials.

Now that our PBL is wrapping up, I feel like our group finally has the right idea with project-based learning and how to structure it from the beginning. If we had known where we were going from the start, I believe that we would have better managed our time and project. As it were, we didn't have much direction or knowledge about what we were doing until it was almost too late to fix it (we did our best, however!)

I've learned that PBL can be an exceptional learning tool in the classroom, and I definitely want to use it in my classroom. I think that with the proper guidance, patience, and determination, teachers can create quality PBLs that benefit their students. They do, however, take a lot of time to prepare and plan, and if you aren't careful, they can lose focus very easily. It can be very difficult to keep your PBL aligned with the standards and focus on the content, not the activity. It is also important to align your PBL with technology standards and concepts (like the SAMR model, 21st century skills, etc). Like my group learned, PBLs have to be very carefully planned and needs those 8 Essential elements to be effective!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Chatting with the Expert

Photo by UNI Instructional Technology,,
Last week our class had the opportunity to connect via Google Hangouts with Deb Loftsgard, a certified Project-Based Learning instructor in the Starmont school district. Deb teaches 7-12th grade Social Sciences and bases her instruction around PBL. We got to hear about her work and knowledge with PBL, then we were able to ask her questions about our own PBL units that we're creating to get some feedback and tips for how to make them better.

Deb explained to us the process that she usually goes through to plan her PBLs. First and foremost, you have to start with the standards. Figure out what is important for students to know or do, and stick with them. Don't have more standards than necessary, but do include standards if your PBL covers them.

From there, develop a driving question. This is what gets students interested and excited in the topic. A good driving question brings students in, and creates a need-to-know for students so they want to find the answer to the question. You also have to create an assessment plan for students that describes the purpose of each assessment during the PBL process (though Deb said that most of her assessment is formative).

After you create a driving question and assessment plan, then it's time to create the activities. Too often people try to start with the activities for a PBL lesson, and this leads to lessons that just have the students doing 'things' that aren't tied to the standards. These activities have to be meaningful and rich learning experiences for the students, otherwise you're wasting their time and yours. Students should have an active role, choices, and opportunities to problem solve.

I thought that is was so incredibly helpful to have Deb 'visit' our classroom. Our class had so many questions for her and I feel like we all really got a clearer picture of what a PBL should look like after talking with her. I'm excited to finish my own PBL project and practice this skill to use in my own classroom someday!

A good checklist for PBLs is the 8 Essentials for Project-Based Learning. It describes the things necessary for a quality PBL, and you should make sure to follow this when creating your PBL! It's very helpful and a great tool to keep you on track.

You can check out Deb's page for her class's PBLs here!

Also, to see the notes that our class took from out chat with Deb, check out our class's wiki.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Team vs. Individual Work

Throughout my college career, there's been a lot of individual work and group work. At times, I've been pleased and frustrated with my experiences with both. I recently had a discussion with a friend where I mentioned how all of my classes this semester have the class split up into table groups, with lots of collaboration and teamwork. She thought this was very odd since all of her classes were the opposite way. This really caused me to start thinking about the collaboration that happens in my education classes and if I enjoyed this way of learning or not.

As I began thinking, I remembered how a few years ago I was extremely shy and didn't enjoy collaboration or working with other people very much. I preferred to work alone when possible and didn't enjoy the times when I was forced to do group projects or rely on others for my success. This isn't my outlook now, however. I enjoy the collaboration that goes on in my classes and most times I'm very pleased with the outcomes of my interactions with my classmates. Sure, there are still times when I work by myself. However, I value the teamwork and relationships that I am making with my peers and am learning how to collaborate with people, which will be valuable someday in my teaching career.

I think that I can use dogsleds as an analogy (we'll see if it makes sense :).

Photo by Uryah,,
A single dog pulling a sled has nothing wrong with it, in fact, it's very functional. The dog can run fast and pull its passenger to where they need to go. They can navigate easily and react to the rider as necessary. If that's the purpose of the rider, one dog can serve their needs quite nicely. In the same way, individual work can be great for a certain situation. Some things can be quickly done by an individual and don't require other people to get accomplished.

Photo by Accretion Disc,, 

On the other hand, a team of dogs serve a different purpose. They may not respond to the rider as quickly as a lone dog, but they can pull a large load of cargo or multiple passengers. They have more stamina than a single dog, and they work as a team to carry the sled where it needs to go. Likewise, with group work, a larger load can be carried. More work can be done because the task is split up between members. Each member has a distinct contribution to the group, and the group as a whole is often able to do more than an individual working alone would be able to do.

Now that I've had so much experience with team work, I am learning to value it more than I ever have before. I still value individual tasks, and I think that they have their place. However, depending on the situation, group work and individual work both have distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Collaboration is an amazing tool that can work to teachers' advantage, but it can be time consuming and difficult to perform effectively, as described in this blog post by the NWEA. What do you think? Is collaboration the way to go?

Monday, April 7, 2014

ITEC Technology Fair

On Friday, April 4, I had the opportunity to attend the ITEC Student Technology Fair on the UNI campus. The ITEC Technology Fair was for students in grades 3-12 who had developed projects involving technology. It was amazing to see some of the projects that students had worked on! These students were so incredibly creative and passionate about their projects. 

 I spoke with two young girls who had created and designed a website for their school’s TAG program to try to make it more accessible and engaging for students and parents. One group of boys had created a LEGO robot and had a demonstration of how they used software to program the robot to move. Two girls were in the process of using a complicated program to make a game from scratch where the user could take care of a dog. One student had designed a house using CAD software, and another had written his own Java code to create a working calculator. There simply wasn't enough time to view every project with detail, but the students that I spoke with were extremely excited about their projects and were so happy to share what they had created with their audience. It was a great experience and I wish that I had gotten to spend more time with them!

There's me! ^^ :)

Photo credit to UNI Instructional Technology,

One thing that I realized as I was speaking to one of the younger presenters was that these could be my students someday (and someday will probably be very soon!). My 2nd graders or 5th graders or whatever grade I end up teaching will be involved with technology and will likely be even more comfortable with technology than I am! It is important for me, as their teacher, to foster that technological development and to encourage them to use their imagination to create amazing new programs and projects using technology. My students could invent something that could change the world, and it’s my duty to help them achieve that!

Check out Dr. Z's blog post about the ITEC Technology Fair!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Promethean Ponderings

Photo by kjarrett,
During the last few weeks in class, we've gotten the opportunity to play around with a Promethean board and the ActivInspire software that it uses. I had never used an interactive whiteboard in such depth before, so it was a great hands-on experience for me and my classmates. I took a short workshop on Promethean and ActivInspire last year, but there were so many people in attendance that there simply was no way to let everyone play around or make flipcharts to try out on the board.

 To get our feet wet with Promethean, we created our own flipchart (ActivInspire's version of a PowerPoint, in a way). Promethean is the physical interactive whiteboard part of the system, and ActivInspire is the software to create the flipcharts and activities that you display and interact with on the Promethean board. It was definitely a trial-and-error process when figuring out how to use ActiveInspire. I personally only watched a few tutorials, then went right to playing around with the tools and figuring out how I could manipulate the program to get what I wanted out of it (However, there are tons of tutorials and tips on Promethean's website especially for ActivInspire, called ActivTips).

Another resource that was available to my team and I was Promethean Planet. There are lesson plans, flipcharts, games, homework assignments, etc, etc, etc, and all for free. I found a lot of great examples of flipcharts and lessons that can be created or downloaded for the Promethean board and used in your classroom. Some of them are extremely well made, and I was very impressed by the creativity that people have used to make these resources!

Screenshot by Erin Mulder
Our flipchart was created for 6th grade and was centered around teaching how to write a summary and evaluating/creating story endings. When creating our own flipchart, I wish that my group had gotten more creative. We found several examples that we really liked and created a flipchart that I'm very proud of. However, I feel as though we could have made better use of the interactive whiteboard. The activities that we included were ones that could have been done on a whiteboard or PowerPoint. The one activity that I felt was unique to our presentation was our use of the ActivInspire clickers. We were able to add a survey/quiz element to our flipchart, and we had clickers that were synced to Promethean so that students could vote for the answer they thought was correct. It was really fun to see it in action and see how easy it was to use, especially since none of the other groups used the clickers in their flipcharts.

In my future classroom, I hope that I have the opportunity to use an interactive whiteboard. I know that most schools have some version of them (Promethean, SMART Boards, Mimeo, etc.) in classrooms, and I'm excited to learn about the possibilities of using interactive whiteboards. There is definitely a learning curve, with any technology, but I'm confident that I can get comfortable using interactive whiteboards and learn how to use them in more creative, productive ways. This project really let our class explore with ActivInspire and get a feel for how we can use flipcharts in our classes with Promethean!

If you'd like to download my team's flipchart for viewing in ActivInspire, click here!