PBL Edtech542 Final Thoughts

What do you know understand best about Project Based Learning? What do you understand least?
I understand that PBL is a pedagogy that supports inquiry-based, student driven learning. Teachers become facilitators and students take center stage in the learning process.
The area of PBL I struggle with the most is time management and meeting curriculum goals. I would love to incorporate more PBL into my science curriculum but I worry that I would not meet all of the content standards throughout the year.
What did you expect to learn in this course? What did you actually learn? More, less, and why?
I was pleased that we created an entire PBL unit from start to finish. It was very helpful to do it step by step through each stage of the process. I also liked that we used a website template to create the project. I would have liked to see examples of an entire course based on PBL. It would be interesting to see a course syllabus and view how the content is covered throughout a school year using inquiry based learning.
What will you do with what you have learned?
I would love to shift completely to a PBL environment in my classrooms. This summer I am going to work on Student Choice Boards and I am thankful for a school administration that supports PBL.



Why Peer Review?


Critiquing another’s work has been an educational strategy for decades but why peer review? According to Edutopia’s Larry Ferlazzo, “Research has shown that peer review, done well, results in improved student writing and learning about writing” (Ferlazzo, 2016). As students write, create, and ideate, discussing and reviewing one another’s work can improve performance and outcome. A peer may offer a different viewpoint or suggest an alternative way of expressing an idea. Students then learn to self edit and revise their own work. Peer review may also assist in generating new ideas for the reviewer.

Many digital tools are available to assist with peer review. Two tools that may be helpful are WebPA and Peergrade.

WebPA is an open source online peer assessment tool that enables every team member to recognize individual contributions to group work. This tool can be extremely helpful to instructors assessing group work. Often times teams of students are given one grade for the entire group even though some group members may not have equally contributed to the assignment. WebPA can ensure that all group members are graded fairly.

Peergrade is a free online platform to facilitate peer feedback sessions with students. The instructor creates an assignment including feedback criteria. The students then submit their work. The website then automatically assigns work between the students, ensuring that everyone will get feedback. Students both give and receive feedback for the assignment. Finally, the instructor receives the complete overview of the quality of assignments and what feedback was given.

One caution however is that in order to been done effectively, the process of peer review itself should be scaffolded. An instructor cannot expect students to accurately and fairly review a final culminating research activity at the end of a school year when no prior peer review has taken place on smaller tasks. Effective peer review begins with the instructor modeling critiquing strategies and then allowing students to practice these strategies on small activities throughout the year.  Then when asked to review a major research paper or project, students will have developed the skill set required for such review.

Peer review can serve as a valuable learning tool in the classroom. As educators strive to move toward authentic assessments, students reviewing other students work brings that goal closer to reality. Adding peer review to an instructor’s toolbox brings 21st century skills closer to being realized.

Ferlazzo, L. (2016, March 30). Peer Review, Common Core, and ELLs. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/collaborative-peer-review-core-ells-larry-ferlazzo-katie-hull-sypnieski


Reflection : Why Our Projects Need It


Both student and teacher reflection methods are important considerations when finalizing a PBL project. According to Anthony Cody in Making Time for Reflection in Our Projects, “When we reflect, we can make personal connections to the learning process, which increases ownership of our new knowledge and skills” (Cody, 2018). As learning takes place, new information or processes can simple fill our mental files cabinets or it can become ingrained in our learning and teaching repertoire. John Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience” (Cody, 2018).

There are many reflection questions we can ask of our students. Most important are questions that ask them to reflect on the process of their work, what they are most proud of, what they could improve on, and what have they learned from the project. These type of questions help students take ownership of their learning. Reflection can show evidence of student learning and gives opportunities for growth. Asking for student feedback shows respect for their opinions and gives the students’ voice credence and validity.

As teachers, we should also reflect on our work. Modeling the reflection process for the students demonstrates that teachers are also learners willing to take risks. Reflecting during the course of a project helps the teacher understand what is going well and what needs to be improved upon next time. A teacher may choose to jot notes down as the project progresses, keep a calendar of activities and changes to be made, or blog about the project as it concludes. Whatever method (or methods) a teacher chooses, making time for reflection adds to the authenticity and validity of a project. Reflection should be a part of an ongoing journey, not the destination!

Boss, S. (2012, November 28). PBL Teachers Need Time to Reflect, Too. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/project-learning-teacher-reflection-suzie-boss
Cody, A. (2018, March 21). Making Time for Reflection in Our Projects | Blog | Project Based Learning | BIE. Retrieved from https://www.bie.org/blog/making_time_for_reflection_in_our_projects

Planning, Preparing, Products, and Performances

pexels-photo-273222.jpegThe four P’s, Planning, Preparing, Products, and Performances are key to the development of an effective PBL project. Part of the planning stage is preparing the project tasks and detailing them for the students. Creating an entry event that will grasp the students’ attention and draw them into the project is the first step in planning. Thereafter, each project task needs to be carefully prepared so that both students and fellow instructors understand the requirements and expectations.

Scaffolding instruction so that each student is equipped to complete the expected tasks is vital to effective PBL. Each student may need support in different areas and it is the responsibility of the instructor to manage the needs of the individual as well as the needs of each group. Additionally, students need a fair amount of structure while progressing through PBL. Without structure, students are likely to wander aimlessly through the tasks, often getting sidetracked. A well-prepared student or group will stay on track and produce a much better product than an ill prepared or unguided group.In PBL, the instructor’s role shifts from the transmitter of information to managing the process of learning.While voice and choice are also vital to a successful project, students should be given clear guidelines as to what is expected.  In her article Scaffolding in PBL, author Jamie McKenzie explains eight characteristics of scaffolding:

  1. Scaffolding provides clear directions
  2.  Scaffolding clarifies purpose
  3. Scaffolding keeps students on task
  4. Scaffolding offers assessment to clarify expectation
  5. Scaffolding points students to worthy sources
  6. Scaffolding reduces uncertainty, surprise and disappointment
  7. Scaffolding delivers efficiency
  8. Scaffolding creates momentum

The timing or pacing of PBL can often be a struggle for the facilitator. As I am developing my PBL Ecology Project, I am clear on the tasks that I want the students to complete and the scaffolding that needs to take place. However, until I work through the project the first time with the students, the time required to complete the activities may vary from what I expect. I tend to underestimate the time needed, especially if additional scaffolding or mini-lessons are required.

Clearly outlining the products and performances that will be required in a PBL unit helps ensure that the students’ work does not simply get graded, returned, and never looked at again. “A culminating event is the end activity that showcases the content learned and skill development that has taken place during the unit”.  A PBL project will almost always end will some sort of presentation that will involve an audience of more than just the instructor and classmates. The hard work and dedication that the students have put into the project should be highlighted and celebrated.  Parents, administrators, and people from  the community may be invited to view the presentations.

Scaffolding in PBL

PBL Ecology Project – Assessment

pexels-photo-462360.jpegWhen thinking about assessing PBL, instructors need to remember that it is an ongoing process throughout the unit. Unlike traditional instruction that usually concludes with a paper and pencil test or “final project”, facilitators of PBL are using formative assessment to guide learners along the way.

The PBL Ecology unit that I am creating will have a number of learning objectives that will be assessed following the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Two objectives I will focus on are:

  • Objective 1: Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS):
    MS-LS2-1. Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.
  • Objective 2: Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS):

MS-LS2-4. Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.

Formative Assessments:

  • Prior to beginning their research, students will be given a Google Form assessing prior knowledge. This form will help to guide the students as they focus their topic and begin research.
  • As students are conducting their research with their groups, a rubric will be used to monitor their progress.
  • As students are conducting their research with their groups, they will record their progress in reflective journals using Google Slides. The instructor will use a one point rubric to evaluate the journal entries.

Summative Assessments:

  • Students will have a choice of creative a journal article or a public service announcement (PSA) as their final product/performance. This will be assessed using the attached rubric.

An important consideration in planning both formative and summative assessments, is the instructor’s role. The instructor serves as a facilitator of instruction rather than a director of instruction.  Therefore, the students role shifts as well. Rather than being fed information and then preparing for a test in which they demonstrate their acquisition of the knowledge, in PBL the students take an active role in directing their learning. Assessment comes in the way of peer review when working in groups and self reflection in the form of journals or learning logs. It is desirable during PBL for learning to be a iterative process and hopefully learning will continue long after the “project” is over.

PBL Reflection – Writing a Driving Question

This week in EDTECH 542, we were asked to demonstrate our understanding of and write a driving question for our projects. A driving question, sometimes called an essential question, is much different from many of the questions posed in a typical classroom Driving questions go beyond simple recall or even basic research.  They require sustained inquiry and cannot be answer through a simple Google Search. According to “Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding”, there are seven defining characteristics of essential questions.  A good essential question :

  • Is open ended
  • Is thought provoking and intellectually engaging
  • Calls for higher order thinking
  • Points toward important [relevant], transferable ideas
  • Raises additional questions
  • Requires support and justification
  • Recurs over time

The driving question I have chosen for my project is “What happens to an ecosystem, and all of the factors in that ecosystem, when the environment within the ecosystem changes?” This question fits the above criteria in that it:


  • Is open ended – It does not have a single, final correct answer.
  • Is thought provoking and intellectually engaging – It can spark additional discussion and or debate.
  • Calls for higher order thinking –  It is not a recall question and cannot be answered through a simple Google Search. On Bloom’s taxonomy, it requires analysis, inference, evaluation, and predictions to be made.
  • Points toward important [relevant], transferable ideas – It can be applied to cross curricular subjects such as math, economics, and humanities.
  • Raises additional questions – On going discussion and/or other issues may be initiated by the question.
  • Requires support and justification – Students will have to find evidence to support their findings.
  • Recurs over time – The question is an ongoing issue that can be revisited again and again.


Sub Questions that can be derived from my driving question are:

  1. How do living and nonliving parts of Earth interact and affect the survival of organisms?
  2. How do different organisms get the energy they need to survive?
  3. How does energy move through an ecosystem?
  4. Why is the cycling of matter important to life on Earth?
  5. How do biotic and abiotic factors shape ecosystems?
  6. What factors affect global climate?
  7. How do ecosystems change over time?
  8. What factors contribute to changes in populations?
  9. How have human activities shaped local and global ecology?
  10. How can we (humans) change our behavior to help protect our planet?

Throughout the project, students will work their way through the driving question and subquestions in order to create either a magazine article or PSA as the culminating activity. Here is my project website (work in progress).

PBL Ecology Project





Edtech 542 PBL Week 2

As this course continues into week 2, students were directed to develop a website for their PBL course project. Using the provided template, I began to develop an ecology project for high school biology students. Creating a website will give teachers and students a resource for all stages of the project.  I selected our unit on ecology because it will be our final topic in 9th grade biology.  At that point in the school year, I hope to have scaffolded instruction and given students the tools necessary to complete a project based learning assignment. My initial plan is to assign heterogenous groups of 3-4 students each.  Students will be given the opportunity to choose and species and ecosystem that they are interested in investigating. Students will be charged with the task of researching the effects of a declining population on an ecosystem and then either writing a journal article or creating a Public Service Announcement to present their findings and possible solutions to the problem. My goal is to use 21st century skills to build content knowledge and an appreciation for the impact students can have on the world.