Join me in reading about my journey towards a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology at Boise State University.  My Learning Log will be a place to reflect on and store the artifacts created as part of this degree.  It will also be a place to receive comments and critiques from fellow students.

Final Project and Debrief

I am a little sad that our time in EdTech542 is over. It was intensive work to take this course over a summer semester but it is very satisfying to view the finished project.  I chose to complete a project that was initially built from history standards (of course other standards are also addressed) to prove to myself that I could create a valuable project in a subject other than math (my content area). I learned a great deal through the process and now it is time to debrief.

The project website is Germans and Rockets?

What do you know or understand best about Project Based Learning?What do you understand least?

The most challenging areas of this course for me were the Driving Question and creating assessments that really addressed the content standards. I struggled making the assessments leading up to my final project as I worked through this course. I feel like I have a much better understanding of how to “guide” students through the content standards to reach the final project outcomes that I am really trying to teach. I am still working (and understand least) how to include collaboration outside the school setting. The students in our school are still fairly new to using technology for learning (they are great at using technology to play). I feel like I still have a great deal to learn about allowing students more choice and also planning projects that really reach beyond the classroom.

What did you expect to learn in this course? What did you actually learn? More, less, and why?

Wow, I expected to learn how to put together a Project-Based Learning task. I learned so much more. As another student in the course said, I really wish I had taken this in a regular term because I feel there was so much more I could have done with more time. I thought I knew what a driving question was but I learned so much about what makes a good driving question. I learned to keep it interesting and not to state my outcome directly in the question. I learned there is a significant difference between a driving question and a learning outcome. I learned so much about the process of planning the lesson. I learned to use my assessments to guide my students through the material to the final project. I think a real “ah-ha” moment for me was the realization that if the teacher has all the right assessments in place, the final outcome will be a quality product that requires minimal correction when grading. The materials provided on the Bie.org site were so helpful as I planned out the project.

What will you do with what you have learned?

I started this process sure that I was creating a project that our sixth grade students would use this year. I am not sure they are ready. I am especially not sure our sixth grade teachers are ready. I work as the educational technologist at my school. I plan to show the teachers this project and use it to encourage the teachers to integrate more technology in their lessons in the hopes of working up to a project like this. I know that some of the teachers will be very resistant. I hope to build some smaller projects that might allow teachers to see the benefits of PBL and hopefully we can work our way up to larger projects such as this one.

I gained some extremely valuable skills through this project. I can’t wait to use them to help my fellow teachers develop engaging projects for their students.

Reflect and Perfect

It is so hard to believe that the summer semester is coming to an end. I must say, this is the reflectimageonly summer course I have taken and it was a bit intense. The time passed in a whirlwind as I also prepare to take my youngest son to college for his freshman year.

We were asked to reflect on three questions as we think about post project reflection and its importance:

Who will you involve in the process?

At my school, I am very fortunate to work under the Director of Curriculum. She is an amazingly intelligent woman who has been a mentor in many ways. Following the completion of the project, I will be working with her to evaluate the project and tweak any issues she may see. If we have the opportunity to use this project, I would also include the teachers who led the project to determine what worked and what didn’t. I don’t think you can get an accurate assessment of how the project performed without actually having students work through the project. It would be great to get feedback from students, maybe a google form, to find out what they like and didn’t about the project. It would be interesting to get their opinions.

What will your process look like?

As I mentioned above, it would be wonderful to have feedback in the form of a survey from the students. The process might involve a meeting with the teachers who ran the project, the designer of the project (me in this case) and the curriculum director along with the results of the survey to discuss any changes that might be made. If we are able to include museum curators from the Space and Rocket Center, it would be helpful to get feedback on their opinions of the exhibit proposals that were submitted by the students.

Is it just a one-time assessment?

I don’t think this is a one-time assessment. The project can continually be improved by revisiting the results each time the project is used. With each different group of students, the teachers may find different results that would allow improvement in some area. A project-based learning task is a growing task that can continually be improved upon.

I am please with the project that I have created during this class. I do believe that there is always room for improvement. Giving students the opportunity to complete the task and provide feedback will be the most useful next step.

Managing the Process

This week we were asked several questions: pblpict

With regards to Project-Based Learning, will my role in the teaching learning process change?

For most teachers, the answer is “yes”. Most teachers teach they way they were taught. We stand a lecture or walk around and assist students on work as they work individually. The role of the teacher in Project-Based Learning is more of a facilitator and/or manager. The teacher is a guide so to speak, leading the students through the process. I sometimes think of the bumper guards they put down when really young children bowl. These bumper guards keep the ball from going in the gutter. The teacher is there to guide the students through the process and keep the students from wandering “off in the weeds”.  The teacher must also act as a manager helping the students groups work out problems and issues that might arise.

What are the skills of an effective facilitator?

For some teachers, the role of facilitator/manager may prove to be difficult. It will take some level or effort to move away from the “sage on the stage” model to the “guide on the side”. In a blog post by John Larmer, he addresses the importance of “knowing the students”. He stresses the importance of pre-assessing to know what your students know before beginning the project. Formative assessments throughout the project are also important to determine if you should move forward to spend more time on a particular skill. Another important skill is the ability to “guide”.  It can be difficult for some teachers to “guide” students to think and answer questions rather than just providing the information. Allowing students to stretch and grow and search for the answers is an important skill. Infusing excitment into the project is led by the facilitator. Making the entry event something exciting that will get the students to buy-in on the task. Developing quality rubrics that allow students to know exactly what is expected provides students with the knowledge to create a project that meets the teacher’s requirements.

Will the students develop the competencies and skills needed to be successful?

If the teacher developing the PBL task clearly matches the activities and assessments to the standards that are being taught then yes, students will develop the competencies and skills they need. Through the guidance of the teacher and the formative and summative assessments students are led through a process that allows them to discover and practice the skills for the task. Students learn much more than just the content skills being addressed. They learn many important 21st century skills. They learn to collaborate with others, to think critically as they investigate, to communicate with other classmates as they work together, and to be creative and innovative in developing their project.

What changes will you need to make in order to become an effective facilitator in your PBL unit?

My greatest area of weakness is patience to wait on students to make the discoveries they need in the project. For all my teaching career, there has been pressure to cover the material required. There always seems to be a frantic push to get all the required standards covered. Taking the time needed to allow students to work, guiding the students through the learning process and allowing them to research and discover without directly providing the information is something I need to work on. Allowing the freedom to collaborate and work is important. I am excited to implement my first PBL task. I know I still have much to learn but I know the benefit to my students will be worth the effort.



Larmer, J. (2016, January 29). Gold Standard PBL: Scaffold Student Learning. Retrieved July 30, 2016, from http://bie.org/blog/gold_standard_pbl_scaffold_student_learning

Planning and Preparing

This week we had two options. I choose to read the article by Jamie McKenzie: Scaffolding in PBL. This has been a rough week as I tried to align my assessments with the standards. I scaffoldingwanted to branch out in this class and try a project outside my subject area which is math. I choose History. I also wanted to stay with the standards that the sixth grade teachers where I work use. This has proven somewhat difficult and I have some rethinking and reworking to do over the next week. I know I can make this project better. It may require extended time on the planning calendar and possibly the deletion of some standards as I may have been optomistic about what could be covered.

I enjoyed reading the article on scaffolding and thinking about the process as it relates to my project. There are eight ideas that the author addressed.

  1. Clear directions – I feel like the material I have included has clear directions but I need to work on clarification of how the teacher is directly addressing some of the historical content knowledge.
  2. Clarifies purpose – The project has clear direction and the student is aware of where the task is leading.
  3. Keeps students on task – Students have the freedom to work their way through the material in the path of their choosing but in the end, everyone ends up at the same place. My project does allow students some options as they work through the material but these are sixth grade students so those options are limited.
  4. Assessments clarify expectations – I have tried to make the rubrics for this project very clear so that students know exaclty what is expected. I am either missing assessments or I need to tweak my rubrics to better evaluate the historical content knowledge from my standards. I am reading articles and working on improving my assessments at this time.
  5. Points students to worthy sources – I have included very specific sources for the students to use in their research.
  6. Reduces uncertainty, surprise and disappoinment – Reading this article made me realize I need to work back through my plan to ensure that all the components work as I intend.
  7. Delivers efficiency – I need to make sure there is no “fluff”. Does the work provided guide students along and channel them through the learning process.
  8. Creates momentum – This idea was fun to me. A great project will be much like a funnel. The driving questions, subquestions, and tasks will pull the learner through the project, building momentem and excitement as the approach the final goal.

I am learning a great deal as I plan out this project. At times I have been very frustrated because I know what I need to do but I am struggling with implementation. I feel I would have been much more comfortable with a math project but I chose to step outside my comfort zone and it is a great learning process. I have some work left to do. Here is the current project link:  Germans and Rockets?

Planning Assessments

This week our job was to plan out our assessments for our PBL activity. This proved to be a assessmentimagefairly time consuming process for me. I began with the end assessment using the final outcomes I wanted to assess from each student as my guide. As I planned my assessments, I did some research on what is included in an effective assessment.

In planning assessments for the project, it is important that the assessments are fair. Students should only be assessed on material that has been presented to them and they have had time to review and reflect on. It is also beneficial if assessments are engaging. I realize not all assessments can be “fun” but especially with all the options of Web 2.0 tools available, it is often the case that there are more interesting options than a standard paper and pencil assessment. Assessments should map to the learning goals established for the project. Grading should be clear for all assessments. Rubrics are a great way to allow for more open-ended assessments while still meeting the learning goals for the task.

For my summative assessment, students are developing a proposal for a museum exhibit. I spent a good bit of time determining what the important elements of this task look like. I developed a the following rubric: Culminating Project: Museum Exhibit Proposal.

Formative assessment is a very important part of PBL.  These are the guiding assessments that will lead students toward the culminating project. For this project we will be using Padlet for brainstorming together as a class and also in our teams. The students will also be keeping a Reflective Writing Journal as they work through the resources provided to answer the unit quesitons. The Reflective Writing Rubric will be used to evalute their journals. I am still in the process of developing some of the other formative assessments that will guide my students towards their goal.

Self and peer evaluations are very important parts of PBL. In an article for Edutopia by Michael Hernandez, he says “Self-evaluation is an especially important piece of the summative evaluation because it taps into higher-level thinking and awareness of the material, process, and final product.” As teachers work to teach 21st century skills, the cricital thinking necessary for reflective thinking and writing in a valuable method of assessment. Along with the culminating museum exhibit proposal, students will be asked to complete a Self-Reflection on this work which will allow them to reflect on both the good and the bad of their proejct. This will also give students a voice as the project winds to a close.

I am excited to see how the completed assessment plans comes together. I am excited at the idea of using these assessments as a way to gently guide my students through the learning process for this particular PBL.


Hernandez, M. (2016, June 06). Evaluation Within Project-Based Learning. Retrieved June 22, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/evaluating-pbl-michael-hernandez

Writing a Driving Question

This week we were tasked with writing the driving question for our Project-Based Learning drivingquestionactivity.  This sounds so simple…..but it is much more difficult than expected. What makes a good driving question? A good driving question is open-ended and requires students to consult numerous sources and synthesize information to reach an answer. This question isn’t easliy answerable (not googleable). The question is provacative and draws students interest while also being challenging. The question also much be consistent with the standards being addressed in the project. My question…..

How can immigrants change our lives?

I hope that the first thought students have is “I don’t think they do?”  The question is provacative in light of the news around our country about illegal immigration. The students in our area have some personal experience because many have seen the high number of Mexican immigrants who have come to the surrounding area to work. This question is consistent with the standards for U.S. History 6th grade “Critique major social and cultural changes in the United States since World War II.” and will also lead students to research “Analyzing consequences of immigration for their impact on national and Alabama economies since World War II”.

We followed our driving question with subquestions designed to lead students through the task. The following set of questions are designed to lead student in the direction neccessary to address the standards chosen for this project.

  • Did social and/or cultural changes take place in America after World War II? If so, what caused the changes?
  • What was Project Paperclip?
  • What was life like for the German scientists and their families before they came to America?
  • How did the German scientists impact space exploration?
  • What did the city of Huntsville look like in 1945 vs. 1960?
  • Choose three German scientist who were part of Project Paperclip and describe their contributions.
  • How did these contributions change the economy of Huntsville?
  • Were American, especially Huntsvillians, happy to have the Germans in America?
  • Were there any concerns about these German scientist? Why?
  • Did the German scientists make advances in areas outside space exploration?
  • What do you think Huntsville would look like without the contributions of the German scientists?
  • What do you see today in Huntsville that is here because of the German scientists?
  • What do you think it would be like to leave your home and move to a foreign country?

Our final project for the week was to create a Concept Map using the web tool of our choice fo the project. I am completely in love with LucidChart for projects like this. I find it easy to use and I love the way my charts look when I am finished. It is also easy to share the complete project in several formats. I really felt like my subquestions all fell into place as I mapped them out. See my chart below:

concept map 542

Research and Choosing a Project

This week in EDTECH 542 we spent time researching Project-Based Learning. We watched videos that demonstrated what project-based learning looks like in action. I spent a great deal of time looking through some resources provided by our teacher as well as my own web searches for examples of project-based learning. Some of the great sites I visited include:

BIE: Project Resources
Teach 21 Project-Based Learning
University of Rochester Medical Center – Life Sciences Learning Center
Better Lesson

As I researched the projects that are available online and considered the essential elements of  project-based learning that we read about during the previous week, I began to think that I wanted to try and find a project that I could apply to the community around our school. I am fortunate to live just outside Huntsville Alabama. huntsville2We are home to many great hi-tech, space, and defense businesses. Redstone Arsenal, Marshall Space Flight Center, Hudson-Alpha Institute for Bio-Technology are just a few of the businesses based in Huntsville. I am fortunate to work with the teachers at my school as an Educational Technologist. In this position, I work with all grades K-4 to 12th, which left me open to find a project for any grade. I discovered several interesting projects that I wanted to research further. “Family Secrets” was a great project that asked the question “What would you need to know in order to agree to participate in genetic testing for a potentially fatal disease?” I thought this might be a great project to tie in with the genetic testing that takes place at Hudson-Alpha. I decided this project might be a bit ambitious for my first attempt. I also looked at a project called “Global Goals” but I wasn’t completely sure which class at our school would be ready to take on this task. The project that resonated most with me (and the one I could envision using with our students) concerns immigration. “Immigrants: On the Move with the American Slide” is a project that asks the question “how immigrants have been influenced by the American culture and how the American culture has been shaped by immigrants?” I also found a single lesson from the Alabama Lesson Exchange, America in Space: German Voices From Huntsville, Alabama. Although this lesson does not contain all the essential elements of a PBL, I hope to incorporate the immigrants project and the German voices project together. My essential question still needs some work but it ihuntsvilles something along the lines of “How did bringing the German scientists to Huntsville as part of the space program of the 1960’s affect the culture of Huntsville?”  I think this project will fit best with our 6th grade class. I will be posting more information about the journey to building my project as we progress through the class.