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.

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