Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Moving On

I don’t think I have to modify my plan (meaning change the direction) but I am finding that I need to add to it; producing or presenting more information before teachers begin to use PBL. I realized that before teachers could use scaffolds for creating mini-units, they have to understand what PBL is more deeply. I have started developing fact sheets for teachers for learning about PBL. I am trying to give the essential information about PBL so they can understand in a relatively short amount of time what it is and begin to plan mini-units. I am finding plenty of information and resources, but I am finding it difficult to distill the information into one to two-page presentations that teachers will be able to digest easily, but that also present the information accurately. 

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The first fact sheet I developed is “PBL - Introduction” (see image below) and includes a link to a video that has embedded questions to think about and answer. I hope teachers will watch this first, and then look through the rest of the fact sheet. I decided to included examples and non-examples of projects as a way to make clear just what PBL is and isn’t. I think that will help clarify the significant difference between doing projects (activities) and PBL (projects). I then included some questions and answers that I think teachers will find instructive. I’ve included a print out of the information from this fact sheet to give you an example of how I am trying to structure them. 

I have learned that my expectations are set very high and I need to back up a bit to be sure that the foundational information is present before moving into the project. I tend to move quickly into the deep-end without considering the full scope of prior knowledge that needs to be activated before the real work can start. Stopping to monitor what I am doing, taking time to think about the process, looking at the scope of the work, all of these make me aware of how complex learning is, for adults and for children. Developing a new set of skills requires a lot of practice, and providing the proper preparation is essential for success. The biggest question I have now is about the scope of my GAME plan. Is it even possible to provide enough support for this undertaking without serious and deep understanding of PBL? Is it possible to learn PBL by doing PBL?

Click on the picture below to see the original size of the sample fact sheet.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Planning for Success

To be successful in carrying out this plan I will need resources that will help me guide teachers in producing PBL mini-units. I found an article “Scaffolding Teachers’ Efforts to Implement Problem-Based Learning” by Ertmer & Simons (2005/2006) that not only gave me insight into what kinds of support teachers might need, but also resources to access that could give me more information in the Bibliography. I have decided that I will come up with actual scaffolds to help teachers plan PBL lessons. Because it is such a huge task and there is so much information available to sift through, I think giving teachers success in planning and carrying out a PBL mini-unit will provide the impetus necessary for further work.  I will also provide an Edmodo group that will have links to articles, online resources and documents for teachers who want to look more deeply into PBL.

The scaffolds I plan to start with are based directly on information from Ertmer and Simons’ (2005/2006) article. They are: essential (driving) questions (p. 5), locating/gathering resources (p. 6), creating student ownership of the problem (p. 7), creating a collaborative classroom culture (p. 8), and assessment methods (p. 10). I also want to give a short overview for teacher of what PBL is, why it is valuable for student learning and how it might look in a classroom. Resources I have found that will do this include this web page, What is Project Based Learning (Stanfill, n.d.), this video Project Based Learning: Explained (Common Craft, 2010) and this guide Project-Based Learning Professional Development Guide (Edutopia, 2007). I may distill the information even further to give teachers a clear but concise introduction to PBL. I have found that teachers I have talked to believe that doing projects is the same as project-based learning.

To give an idea of how I plan to scaffold teacher implementation of PBL I will start with designing a worksheet for essential questions. One of the resources listed in the bibliography of the Ertmer and Simons article (2005/2006) provided a list of examples and non-examples of essential questions (Quebec English School Network RÉCIT , 2005). I will use some of those in the initial scaffold for designing questions. Information in Developing the Questions for Project-Based Learning (Kolk, 2011) includes an exercise to determine the enduring understanding behind topics from a curriculum and a quick description of what an essential question is. There are also links at the bottom of the article to Wallingford Public Schools Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions for Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies which provide great examples.
Image found:

I believe to make this plan a success I have to make PBL as accessible as possible. Providing resources to help develop each part of the plan, samples of exemplary components and explanations to give an overview of the whole process are essential to making it accessible. It is a complex process and requires a great deal of adjustment to teaching style, planning and expectations of students.


Common Craft. (2010, December 9). Project Based Learning: Explained. Retrieved from YouTube:

Edutopia. (2007, October 19). Project-Based Learning Professional Development Guide. Retrieved from Edutopia:

Ertmer, P. A., & Simons, K. D. (2005/2006). Scaffolding Teachers' Efforts to Implement Problem Based Learning. International Journal of Learning, 319-328. Retrieved from Peg Ertmer's Virtual Home:

Kolk, M. (2011, July 18). Developing the questions for project-based learning. Retrieved from Tech4Learning Blog:

Quebec English School Network RÉCIT . (2005). QEP and ICT: Making the Connection Through Project-Based Learning. Retrieved from LEARN Quebec:

Stanfill, J. (n.d.). Personal Webpage, California State University, Sacramento. Retrieved from What is Project-Based Learning (PBL)?:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My G.A.M.E. Plan - The Beginning

Setting a game plan to improve personal and student confidence and competence based on the International Society for Technology in Education National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers (that’s quite a mouthful) or the ISTE NETS-T, is a necessary step in continuing my growth and development in the teaching profession.  The game plan or G.A.M.E. plan, suggests that I set Goals, take Action, Monitor progress and Evaluate whether the goals are achieved (Cennamo, Ross, & Ertmer, 2009).  I cannot work on all five standards and be effective, so I have chosen standard 1.b and standard 2.a. The standards are as follows:

1. Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity
Teachers use their knowledge of subject matter, teaching and learning, and technology to facilitate experiences that advance student learning, creativity, and innovation in both face-to-face and virtual environments.
b. Engage students in exploring real-world issues and solving authentic problems using digital tools and resources (ISTE, 2008 para 5)

2. Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments
Teachers design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessment incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in the NETS·S.
a.       Design or adapt relevant learning experiences that incorporate digital tools and resources to promote student learning and creativity (ISTE, 2008 para 10)

I do not currently work as a classroom teacher, but as the Educational Technology Coordinator at our school. This position allows me to work with teachers to support them in integrating technology into their teaching day. This game plan will be somewhat odd, because I am writing it not only for my personal growth, but to help me guide the growth of teachers I work with.  I want to focus my work with teachers such that it helps them positively impact student learning through changes they make to their teaching practice. I also want to insure that the changes are not onerous, but make teachers more efficient and effective. We have had technology available in each classroom for the past two and half years, however there was little professional development of the type that would encourage teachers to use it to do different things. Those who used it just did things differently (Thornburg, 2004). I have not had the opportunity before this year to work one-to-one with teachers as I would have liked. Now I am and I think it is making a difference in how teachers feel about technology and using it in their lessons.

Facilitating and inspiring student learning and creativity through Project Based Learning (PBL) and incorporating digital tools is part of our strategic plan and a focus for teachers for the next three years. Supporting teachers in creating and carrying out PBL is a natural focus for me and based on my reading and understanding should improve student learning. My action plan for these standards will include co-planning and co-teaching PBL mini-units with individual teachers because I interpret “real-world issues and solving authentic problems” (ISTE, 2008 para 5) as PBL.  I think the important part of that statement is mini-units. Designing and carrying out a PBL unit is complex and can take a lot of planning. I believe every bit of the planning is worth it, but trying to complete a long-term project out of the chute is a bad idea. Neither students nor teachers are prepared for the role shifts required for a successful PBL unit, and both must practice the required skills necessary to complete a unit successfully.

I have already begun to work on this plan, and have had the great joy of hearing the teachers I have worked with excitedly sharing with other teachers how much fun, how great, how exciting the experience is. We have a small teaching staff of K-12th grade teachers, only twenty-two teachers. I have had the opportunity to work with five teachers so far. The experience has been wonderful, and I have enjoyed it immensely. Monitoring part of my progress should be fairly easy. I need to look at how many teachers I work with and how many PBL units of any size we complete. I also need to look at teacher and student use of technology, which can also be measured fairly easily with walk-through mini-observations. The most difficult part of monitoring is the impact these units are having on student achievement. I need to evaluate the effectiveness of the plan and that will be a bit more difficult.

I have not yet designed a way to measure success quantitatively. I asked teachers to complete a technology use survey at the beginning of the year. I will ask for it again soon and then again at the end of the year. This will give me a subjective measure of how much technology teachers think they are using, but will not necessarily show if the hoped for additional use of technology will impact student achievement. Being able to isolate reasons for student success or failure is a task beyond my ability and beyond my job. Trying to measure student creativity objectively is also very difficult. I think the measurement focus should be on teacher use of technology, student use of technology, and number of PBL units/lessons taught as a result of my co-planning and co-teaching.  

I believe adding the G.A.M.E. plan to my ongoing work will be invaluable. It will help me focus my work on my goals instead of straying afield. By monitoring what I am doing and looking at successes and failures I will be able to modify my plan, change how I am interacting with teachers, and add or change actions I am taking to make sure I am still working towards the standards I have selected to work on. 


Cennamo, K., Ross, J., & Ertmer, P. (2009). Technology Integration for Meaningful Classroom Use: A Standards-Based Approach. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.
ISTE. (2008). NETS-T. Retrieved from International Society for Technology in Education:

Thornburg, D. (2004). Technology and Education: Expections not Options. Executive Briefing Number 401, 1-12.