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.

Edtech 542 PBL First Reflection

Project Based Learning (PBL) is a topic I have been interested in for many years. As I am more than half way through the MET program at Boise State, I am thrilled to be taking the course Edtech 542 Technology-Supported Project-Based Learning.  The first two weeks have included class introductions and an overview of PBL. The course utilizes the website Buck Institute for Education (BIE) as a key source of information. I have followed the BIE website for a few years and used some of their resources. It contains a wealth of information that I am looking forward to exploring. I am eager to learn how to effectively transition my classroom from a direct instruction approach to a student centered/student directed environment. As the course progresses, I hope to gain a greater understanding of what BIE refers to as the Gold Standard of PBL.

Social Media in the Science Classroom

Image Credit –

Below is my curated content on social media in the science classroom.  While I found some fantastic examples of social media being used effectively, I was surprised at how difficult it was to find actual projects.  Most sites simply listed ideas of the ways social media could be used but did not give specific examples of projects.  I extended my search beyond science and looked at a few STEM projects. The projects I did find involved using Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Blogging sites to build a science lesson or unit.

Pearltrees – Social Media in the Science Classroom

#Organellewars and ‘Blogging about diseases’ were my two favorite projects.  I am hoping to get my entire science department involved in #organellewars this year when we teach about the cell. Upon a recent check of Twitter #organellewars, I noticed the Tweets have continued all through this past spring. The blogging about diseases inspired me to think about how I can use a class blog as an instrumental part of my science curriculum. I believe writing should be a central part of all academics and blogging is a great tool for critical thinking and reflection. Both Skype and Facebook would be interesting ways to open up the classroom to other parts of the country and world. Unless I found a really fantastic example, I do not believe I would use Snapchat in my classroom. The few projects I located using Snapchat offered little educational merit. This project opened my eyes to some great opportunities to bring social media into the science curriculum.

I would love to hear from other educators in the comments below about how they use social media in their science lessons.

Project or Problem-Based Learning

Annotated Bibliography – Project Based Learning

Project-based learning (PBL), sometimes called problem-based learning, has been a topic I have been interested in for the past few years.  Last year in my science classroom, I redesigned our school’s traditional science fair to fit the components of PBL.  Students, working collaboratively with a partner, were asked to:

  1. Write a driving question focused on making a change in their world
  2. Conduct research
  3. Write a research paper
  4. Create an informational action poster (Infographic)
  5. Create a presentation either in Powerpoint or Google Slides
  6.  Present their work to an audience

For the most part, things went very well.  The students (and the teacher:) concluded the project by writing their reflections of the entire process.

I chose project-based learning as the topic for my annotated bibliography because I hope to incorporate more PBL activities into my curriculum this year.  As I read the articles, it was interesting to note the various views of what PBL is. The core elements were basically the same, however, not all projects included all the components of PBL. I enjoyed reading the different studies ranging from a kindergarten class in the US to an undergraduate online class in Taiwan.

Two tools that I used to complete my annotated bibliography were Diigo and Zotero.  Zotero is a tool to help users collect, organize, cite, and share research sources. APA citations were a requirement of this assignment.  Zotero made that requirement fairly simple. Diigo is a social bookmarking, research, and knowledge sharing tool that I found very helpful.  Users of Diigo can upload articles, highlight, add notes, and share their annotations with other Diigo users.  I found this tool extremely helpful as I read each of the articles. Both Zotero and Diigo are web-based devices that I will continue to implement in the future.