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.

Reflections of Edtech 543 Social Network Learning

social media reflection

Integrating social network learning into my course curriculum has long been one of my teaching goals. We live in a digitally connected world and our students have grown up using Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and other social networking sites. My question was always how to effectively harness the power of these sites in a way that was meaningful and beneficial educationally to my students.

Edtech 543 Social Network Learning allowed me to explore various social networking sites and applications and evaluate their usefulness in my classroom. I also evaluated digital citizenship and how interacting on social media affects both my professional and personal image. I now have a greater understanding of how communities of practice, connectivism, and personal learning networks act as a foundation for social networking in a relevant, positive way. Through my blog post on COPs, Connectivism, and PLNs, I gained the understanding that learning is no longer a solitary endeavor. Learning has become a social practice and communication and collaboration are the keystones of 21st century education.

Another component of this course involved participating in Twitter chats and live webinars. Because I engage in both of these activities fairly regularly, I felt comfortable “chatting” with my Twitter PLN. If nothing else, this module allowed me to reconnected with my professional colleagues on Twitter that I had lost touch with over the past few months. In addition, we were asked to form a PLN with two other members of the course and work on various projects together. Completing this assignment helped to expand my contacts and build my social network. In addition, creating a visual depiction of my PLN helped me to analyze how I connect with other people in my learning community.

My favorite assignment in this course required our PLN class group to develop a checklist of criteria to assess the quality of an education-related curated topic. The checklist was then used to individually curate a topic of our choice. Exploring various curation tools such as Storify, ScoopIt, and Pearltrees was invaluable. Each of these tools has advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately I chose to use ScoopIt as my curation tool and student driven learning as my topic for this assignment. ScoopIt provided a simple way to curate content and include a short description of the value of the source. Not only did I learn about curating content, I expanded my understanding of student driven learning and began to seriously consider how I can intentionally integrate student curation into my classroom curriculum.

Finding educational projects that successfully use social media and then curating that content also proved highly beneficial. While finding 10-15 projects that successfully used social media in the science classroom proved to be a bit difficult, I did find two projects that I am hoping to use in my science classroom this year. #Organellewars and ‘Blogging about diseases’ were fantastic.  I am hoping to get my entire science department involved in #organellewars this year when we teach about the cell. We were also asked to develop our own social media policy for our learning environment. Exploring other social media policies and then creating one for my classroom encouraged me to reflect on how and why I will use social media this year.

Our final assignment involved formulating a social networked mini-curricular unit with our course PLN. My group chose to build a Greek Mythology unit using Edmodo and Weebly as our main platforms. Students would also be required to use Twitter, Edublogs, Padlet, Diigo, and YouTube to complete the project. While my group worked extremely well together, I’m not sure that this is a unit I could reasonably use in the classroom. Introducing and requiring students to use so many different social networking sites for one unit does not seem practical. It was, however, interesting to apply the social networking strategies we had used throughout this course.

Overall, I found Edtech 543 to be a valuable course that allowed me to delve into the various uses, benefits, and guidelines of using social networking in my learning environment. In evaluating my blog post and participation and proposing a grade, I would give myself a 75/75. I feel that I met all of the criteria required for the course and wrote thoughtful, informative posts.

Social Media in the Science Classroom

Image Credit – genomicenterprise.com

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.

Social Media Policy


Social Media has become the major source of collaboration among our youth today. I believe it is a valuable tool to leverage in the classroom as well.  Therefore, it becomes necessary for educators to ensure that students are safe and appropriate when engaging in social media activities. When considering creating a social media policy for my classroom, I first examined my school’s technology acceptable use policy (TAUP).  What I found was very limited (see below), so I created a document I could give to my students on the first day of school to ensure that any use of social media pertaining to the classroom was appropriate and acceptable. Prior to engaging on any social media projects with my class, I would discuss the purpose of the project and get feedback from other teachers, staff, and community members. At our annual Back to School Night I would discuss with parents how and why social media was going to be used. Parents, school staff, and community members would all be invited to discuss and view our social media activities. I believe students would be on board with any social media projects as according to the infographic, “The Use of Social Media in School”, 96% of students with Internet access report using social networking technologies.

According to my schools’s parent/teacher handbook, “Access to any web log (blog), forum, or “social network” website of any kind, such as Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, etc. is prohibited unless it is an academic social network such as Edmodo and access is approved by the teacher and purposed for academic pursuits.” Due to the brevity of our TAUP in regards to social media, I created to following document:

16-C-Student-Handbook-Jr-Sr-HighPrintcopy-3.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://20z7iw3yxu5f404v5d42hkse13rp.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/16-C-Student-Handbook-Jr-Sr-HighPrintcopy-3.pdf
Davis, V. (2014, February 27). A Guidebook for Social Media in the Classroom. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/guidebook-social-media-in-classroom-vicki-davis
Dunn, J. (2014, September 21). An editable social media policy for schools that works. Retrieved from http://dailygenius.com/editable-social-media-policy-for-schools/
The Use of Social Media in School. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bestmastersineducation.com/social-media/
Using Social Media in the Classroom. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/using-social-media-classroom