Tag Archive | education

A First Impression of PBL (EDIM502 u01a1)

In reviewing the exemplars of PBL in week one of EDIM 502, I was struck with a sense of déjà vu after reading about and viewing the work of Frances Koontz and her class as they participated in the Journey North activities. Quite a few years ago (dare I say at least 15 to 20?) I was involved in the Jason Project with my fellow fifth through eighth grade teachers at my previous school. That was the closest we ever got to project based learning, though we did not use that term at the time. It was an amazing journey of learning, exploration, and discovery initiated by Dr. Robert Ballard and a team of scientists. Some lucky students across the country applied to be part of the Jason expedition as “argonauts” and got to experience it first hand, though none of our students ever participated in that way. It was interdisciplinary, required us to team teach, took extensive planning on our part as teachers where we had to decide which areas of the curriculum we would be responsible for, which of the learning activities we would be able to incorporate, and how we would bring this experience to life for the students. The culminating activity was a trip to Lehigh University which was one of the hosting sites that communicated live with the expedition and we never knew when we booked our day exactly what the scientists would be doing and what we would experience.   We were in awe of the “technology” used at Lehigh for the live interaction with the expedition, especially since technology was almost non-existent in our classrooms at the time.  

Was that true project based learning according to the definition used today? How did it compare to the three exemplars from week one of the PBL course?

I will confess up front that although I am probably the most daring member of my faculty and the most willing to jump in and try something new, I am still somewhat “jaded” by the fact that so many of the great ideas out there in education sound wonderful in theory but sometimes leave one extremely frustrated in the harsh light of reality. Having been around for so many swings of the pendulum, one of the first things I tend to do when I see video clips of awesome projects being done in a particular classroom is to count the number of students in the room and note the amount of open space they have available. When you work with classes that average around 35 students  and have very little open space this is a reality that cannot be ignored. After seeing in these three exemplar videos that the students shown numbered 20 or fewer, I immediately sense that there would have to be great adaptations made in my school for undertaking similar projects. I struggle very often to see the glass half full rather than half empty!

In each of these projects there was a driving question of sorts, though not the Big Question with global implications as presented in the Apple CBL model, at least not directly stated, although the Monarch project and the related activities on the site are global projects.  Perhaps the articles just didn’t particularly name that or for the younger students that is not part of the vocabulary. It seemed that each of the three derived the driving question from a different source. For Mrs. Huemer’s class in Newsome Park it seemed the students’ interests and curiosity drove the project focus. In Miss Reeder’s geometry class in Seattle it seemed that she set the focus and the goals she wanted her students to achieve and designed the architecture project around that, and in Frances Koontz’s class the questions were derived from the Journey North curriculum projects.

All three projects had the students working in groups and engaged in hands on activities. The geometry students obviously were more self-directed as far as group dynamics because of their age, but the collaborative experience is vital for all age groups and is a very important skill to develop.  Assessment needs to be considered in the planning of projects and assessment was really only mentioned in the geometry project. I imagine there had to be periodic assessments by the teacher along the way and not just at the end of the six weeks. I am concerned about 40% of the final project grade coming from the assessment of the architects, but again, there is probably much more to this than was presented. Having coached students through PJAS (Pennsylvania Jr. Academy of Science) projects and having experts in various sciences be their judges, that can certainly be a flawed process if not screened carefully, but obviously she had developed a relationship with the architects and shared her project goals with them.

Project based learning still needs to incorporate curriculum standards  and Frances Koontz did mention how she was able to work in her language arts standards in the project, and also the idea of multiculturalism.  Miss Reeder’s class apparently scored very high in testing so she obviously did a great deal of preparation and planning to develop a project that incorporated the necessary benchmarks in geometry throughout the course of the project.  She was concerned with skill transfer but in the projects with the younger students that point was not raised.

Although I guessed as much coming in to this course, PBL entails a great deal of planning behind the scenes on the part of the teacher in order to be able to develop activities that will engage students and provide authentic learning with global implications, and still meet state standards. Planning time is definitely at a premium for most teachers and as Mrs. Vreeland noted in the “barrel of worms” article, it does take a great deal of effort. All three exemplars brought in outside experts in the field to speak to the students and interact with them, helping them to see real life application for their learning.

 Although the concept of PBL appeals to me and I see the educational value, it also seems overwhelming and I understand how someone might look at it and say “How would I ever have time to do that?” I can see that without administrative support it may be difficult to undertake. Without a teacher who is willing to work off the clock, waaaaaay off the clock, it won’t happen. But if we want our students to be engaged and to develop a desire to be life-long learners, we have to take baby steps and be willing to give it a go.

I especially liked how Mrs. Vreeland said that “the students know that Mrs. V. doesn’t have all the answers, and they also know that it doesn’t bother her in the least.” We are all students, some of us are just much, much older than others. This student is looking forward to learning more about PBL.


 glass half empty http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffyoungstrom/29620336/  CC 2.0 license

 Robert Ballard http://www.flickr.com/photos/erikcharlton/2302884405/# CC 2.0 license

clock http://www.flickr.com/photos/halderman/2344645773/# CC 2.0 license

Smart People

Following a winding path through various links and blogs, I came across the post by Seth Godin on June 5, entitled When smart people are hard to understand.

Mr. Godin mentions two strategies for handling the situation of hearing a “smart person in your industry”  use a term with which you are unfamiliar. The first is to ask. “Wait, I was with you until a second ago. What does that mean?” The second is to write down the term and then later that evening research it, not giving up (or going to bed) until you completely understand it.

Every industry has its buzzwords, special jargon, tools of the trade.  Since I am in the “education industry” that is the jargon with which I usually am faced. Which strategy do I employ?

I feel each has its place, and the determining factor for me is the setting. If I am in a one-on-one conversation with a colleague, and an unfamiliar term or acronym or Web 2.0 tool comes up, I have no qualms about using strategy one. I am not putting my lack of knowledge out there for the world to see (hence I am only uninformed in front of one person). In a larger group such as a conference session or workshop, I am guilty of feigning understanding at the moment as I make either written or mental notes to find out later what the heck they are talking about. It is my “afraid of looking dumb” position, but also I feel that if the majority of the group understands and I do not, far be it from me to drag down the conversation and take up the group’s valuable time. Of course, there is always a sigh of relief when some other bolder person asks aloud what I was asking mentally. (Thank you brave person!)

I would like to think of those colleagues using the terms I don’t know as more experienced, rather than call them smarter than myself. I assume that is really what Mr. Godin meant. I am finding more and more opportunities for personal learning these days, and so many people who are willing to do the explaining. But one of the things we hope to instill in our students is the 1)the desire to keep learning and 2) the strategies for how to go about it. Okay, that’s two things. Do we give them enough opportunity to ask questions without feeling that that they are not one of the “smart ones”? Are the students most in need of asking the questions the ones who are the most worried about looking foolish? The chances they are making mental or written notes of what they want to look up later are rather slim. Maybe I need to be more open and encouraging in that regard, and not take that head nod to mean, “yes, I get it”.

Serving up excitement – and responsibility

The time has finally come that we will replace the server at our school – and I need to choose one. Awesome! But scary.

When I first began as the “tech teacher” nine years ago, that was really all I did. There were parent volunteers who did the network configuration and the purchasing of hardware. So much has changed in that time, including me. I followed those guys around like a puppy soaking up everything they did, whether it was crawling over a ceiling to drop an Ethernet cable or mapping a network drive. And I learned. And when those guys were no longer available due to work relocation, we picked up the services of a local tech support group. I sat with the tech through every upgrade and problem solving session. And I learned some more. It did help also to take a grad course in networking. So now I am the network admin, and I have chosen switches and wireless routers, laptops and PCs, projectors and software. I control the content filtering and have to trouble shoot with the service provider whenever our network is down, thankfully a rare occurrence.

But now, after I guess about 7 years, our old Compaq is still running fine but just can’t store what we are dishing out. At the time they chose this server 34 GB was a big hard drive. Do I hear laughter? Well, it was! But this year as we were completing our video projects and podcasts, saving edited versions, or in the case of some students saving 12 versions (Save, not Save As!!) we actually were out of space. I scrambled to delete whatever I could to squeeze the projects on, moving all kinds of things, but especially photos and videos, to an external 250GB Seagate I had luckily purchased a year before.

Our tech support company says, better to get one now rather than wait till the current server dies. I can’t imagine having a dead server. How would we function anymore without our network, our Internet access? So I have begun the search, and will get recommendations from them, but the responsibility weighs heavily on me. We will all have to live with the decision for a number of years. It needs to be a good one.

A tech savvy friend whose expertise I admire asked if I would be going with Linux. I have heard great things about Linux but I have zero experience with it. Is there too much of a learning curve? I have no idea. I will likely fall back on Windows (the devil I know rather than the devil I don’t know). So much work will be involved even after the purchase is made. Migrating the softwared apps, rewriting log on scripts, setting permissions, enrolling all the users, mapping new drives….yikes. I was going to try to spend LESS time at school this summer. Maybe the 34GB Compaq can go another year?

And when the teachers come back at the end of August will they have any idea what went on behind the scenes, and why they can still logon as before as if nothing major occurred? If I do this right, maybe they won’t have a clue. Wish me luck!

What was that “whoosh”?

That “whoosh” was the 2008-2009 school year whizzing by. For better or for worse, it’s a wrap. With great chagrin I have realized that this blog site has been gathering dust since the end of 2007, and so I will use my reflections of the past year as my microfiber dust cloth. (Since real cleaning has not yet begun in my real house…virtual houses are so much easier to maintain.)

I suppose the test of whether or not a school year is successful really comes down to the students themselves. Did they learn? Did they realize they learned? If so, was it enjoyable? I do not necessarily mean FUN…but was it satisfying for them? (And, what’s so bad about fun anyway? ) Did they have a sense of accomplishment? Do they better understand the tools at their disposable and how best to use them?

Well, to be honest, I don’t really know. Perhaps I should have asked them instead of just surmising. I could be way off the mark. I assume they feel a sense of accomplishment at creating a digital story, taking it home on a CD to share with the fam, although for some it seemed to be a real chore. Digital story writing has been going on in our school for a few years now. Hopefully we improve each year, and the students are more engaged each year. Thankfully I have no projects to finish with the promise of mailing them out. That was a disaster when I promised that last year.

What did I try that was new this year? I learned to use Jing, and created how-to videos for students to watch in my absence. That is definitely a tool I would like to continue using, and encourage the other teachers to use. The faculty had a session on how to use the free program, but to my knowledge no one but myself really did. Chalk up one failure on my part as tech coach. The horses are just not drinking the water.

We did more blogging using classblogmeister.com (a terrific site, thank you David Warlick), taking it down to fourth grade, and the feedback from both students and parents seemed to be positive. I hope to get more parents, as well as the outside world, to comment on student blog posts. By inserting a Clustr Map I hoped to show the students the power of their words and that their audience could conceivably be global. (Thank you to my dear friend Marco in Sicily who agreed to visit our class blog so we could get a red dot from Italy!) Our dots will increase little by little, but we have kept pretty much to ourselves and so that is an area for further growth.

Mrs. C. and I worked out a great 8th grade project integrating health topics and technology. I hope we do that again next year, learning from our mistakes this year of course. Hopefully the students will remember the difference between a good PowerPoint presentation and one that is positively awful when they have to make presentations in high school. We finished off by using the info presented in the slide show and turning it into a podcast. I have done podcasting myself but this was my first attempt at getting the students to do it. It wasn’t easy, mainly because of our lack of the proper recording equipment. They carried on their conversations each recording into their own headsets, the Audacity file was converted to an mp3, and I merged the mp3’s into one audio track. Four groups done and about four to go. Hope I remember my user account on Gcast so I can upload. I would love to have an omni-directional microphone rather than doing all the individual tracks (I believe that is what my friend in the broadcasting world called it.) But in Catholic school we learn to make do.  If the genie stops by, one of my three wishes would definitely be a classroom set of microphone headsets of good quality and all the same kind. the second would be the omni. And the third, would be for three more wishes.

The third grade video is posted on our school website and students in grades 5 though 8 are now comfortable using wikis. More teachers are using Discovery Streaming and Google Earth. The classroom laptops are more in demand than ever before.

What’s next? Lots of work to do this summer, since the purchase of a new server has to be investigated… updating the network, the website, the billion Microsoft updates that will need to be installed, untangling about 5000 feet of Ethernet and electrical cables in the classrooms, and trying to wade through a stack of professional journals looking for the latest and greatest in tech tools for schools, attending PowerSchool update sessions and doing the many PowerSchool tasks associated with a rollover.  I will hang out with the Discovery gang at Den in Second Life, meeting new people and gleaning many new ideas. And I will listen wistfully to their tales of how great it was to be at NECC. I almost thought I would get there this year since it was in D.C. Oh well. (Hey, Genie!)

Did I hear another “whoosh”? Yep, that was the sound of summer flying by. I am determined to take some time for myself this summer. Then maybe I won’t mind hearing that sound when August rolls around.

Pondering Podcasts

I am feeling with my experiences in the eLearning Web2.0 class that my background is a mile wide and an inch deep. I have dallied with so many read-write web tools and yet I do not feel expert in any. Podcasting is right up there at the top of the list. It is not such a difficult thing to do, in my opinion, at least tech-wise. But the problem is time-wise. Being somewhat of a perfectionist doesn’t help matters either.

I started last February with my first podcast, using GCast mainly because I liked the idea of being able to use the phone to upload a message, and that is exactly what I did for my first podcast. I can’t tell you how many times I re-recorded my voice. Then I became more daring and experimented with a microphone, and improved my Audacity abilities. Even got the nerve to add a little intro and outtro theme music. But I was never completely satisfied with the end result and edited to death.

I began to appreciate the learning applications when I decided to create podcasts for my Spanish students as end of the year reviews. I created three separate podcasts, and in a sense there was a visual element to them, because I placed review activities on the web page for them to view while listening to my voice explain the sentence and the grammar concepts. I was pleased with the results of that. That website is no longer in existence, though the podcasts are still in my player at the olphazul podcast site. I created a separate channel for the Spanish classes. Now how many students actually listened? Well, let’s not go there! I haven’t posted anything for a while, but I have an embedded player on my site. I prefer embedding the player rather than taking them away from the teacher website.I am particularly impressed with Radio WillowWeb as an example of student podcasting in the curriculum. It is evident that the students are well-rehearsed and are very enthusiastic about their roles. Also Mabry Middle School in Georgia has very polished vodcasts which might be the envy of any school. Seems like it is a great PR vehicle for their school as well, though I would love to know what goes into each vodcast before it appears!

I have 2 issues that I need to resolve: 1- the time factor and 2- the permission factor.

Our class size ranges from 30-35 students and half of them are in the computer lab at a time. I have taken time to record student voices outside of my scheduled class time, but that keeps me from accomplishing other pressing tasks that I would have done during that time. Most recently I recorded several students reading a segment of their “guinea pig project” that fourth grade does every year. Then at the end recorded 2 students acting as radio emcees to intro each segment. This involved a rearranging a lot of sound tracks in audacity, but I started to become pretty good with that. Where is the podcast now? Well, no where now, because I have not uploaded it anywhere. I have not given a specific permission slip for podcasting and in a diocesan workshop I recently attended many of the others said they would never post student voices without having parents sign a permission form. (Mind you only first names are used anyway.) My principal, however, sees no harm in just uploading the cast without a separate form. What to do?

For that concurrent workshop in which I am participating, I plan to scan some of their drawings and try the vodcasting angle. Then of course, do I juggle who recorded, whose drawings were included, who is being left out?

Below are some resources I am sharing from the CAPE podcast/vodcast sessions. Maybe they will be helpful to some of you.

Educational Podcast Examples
Stanford University
Lehigh University

Mr. Coley’s Studycast
Student planning for the ColeyCast
Social Studies
Colonial Williamsburg
History According to Bob
Audio Tours of Rome
National Geographic – Walks of a Lifetime
ELA/Literature/Audio Books
Open Culture
NASA Podcasts
National Geographic – Wild Chronicles
Ed Tech Musician
World Languages/ESL
Teach with Grace
Kidcast – podcast about using podcasts in Education

Podcast Evaluation
Evaluation Checklist – Kathy Schrock