Category Archives: EDTECH 542

EDTECH 542, Summer 2014

This is turning into a really long post so I’m putting in links to each week.

Week 1: Identifying what Project Based Learning is

Week 2 reflection PBL, June 22, 2014

Week 3, Reflection…. June 29, 2014

Week 4: Plan the Assessment

Week 5: Scaffolding

Week 6: Changing facilitation strategies, July 20, 2014

Week 7: Feedback given to me, July 27, 2014

Week 8: Final Project and reflection

Week 1: Identifying what Project Based Learning is

June 13, 2014: Week 1 part 2

I just watched a video that is at I think it is the same video that is in the explanation part for this part’s work. We’re learning what project based learning is. In my introduction I warned that I was often cynical and I’m afraid my cynicism is already creeping out. In the example in the video, it was a science teacher who decided to try something new the following week. I don’t know why I thought it was a chemistry teacher, perhaps because I find it impossible to do PBL with chemistry requirements. In our example video, the teacher decides that that week they’re going to study why people get sick from the flu. I have a few problems with this video.

  1. If the course has standardized testing at the end of the course (or in April), the teacher can’t deviate from the planned sequence of lessons.
  2. If he is at a school where all classrooms teaching the same subject cover the same material each day, then he does not have this freedom.
  3. If he is at a school where every teacher teaching the same subject covers the same material each day, then he does not have the freedom.
  4. Was studying viruses a part of his content standards? Is this something he was expected to cover anyway?
  5. By taking a week or longer to cover this single topic, what was he not able to cover in the course? What had to be tossed out?

With one of the Edutopia videos:

  1. Where is the evidence that this can be done in classrooms that are not funded well?
  2. All of the students were wearing uniforms. Even if this was a public school, they obviously have some control over what the students wear, and therefore have made a connection with the students’ parents. What about schools where parents don’t care if their kids go to school? The school is the inexpensive babysitter? I’m not saying it can’t be done there, but showing examples where kids are using equipment that could not have existed at my school because it would have been damaged or stolen does not give me the inspiration I need to do PBL.
  3. I’m not saying kids can’t do this. They totally can. I had my biotech kids doing things I did in graduate school. What concerns me is how we reach the students who are ready to distance themselves from school. The student who is interested in school will do PBL without a problem. Yet we’re saying PBL should be done to capture the kids who don’t buy into school. How do we get PBL into underperforming schools?



Managing Project Based Learning: Principles from the Field


“Teachers typically do not lead instructional activities, nor do they dispense resources, or present material to be learned. Students find their own sources, conduct their own research, and secure their own feedback. “ page 3


I could only dream of doing this. What I need to see is how you can do a totally open ended project without having it cost a fortune. I certainly did not have the money to let every group decide what materials they needed and my students’ parents could not afford to buy their materials.

I did find this part to be true: “Experienced PBL teachers report that they spend very little time

promoting student engagement or handling student misbehavior. Teachers often spend their time participating in projects as peers rather than as classroom managers.“ page 3


What is written on page 5 matches some of my experiences. I found that I could not just let students run wild with a project. I still had to create some sort of goal for them to reach. With the projects that worked, students had control over how they acquired information (I provided resources, too) and what details they did with the information. For the physical science project, they had to have the ball move 50 cm and interact with at least 3 simple machines. For the chemical science project, they did some research and then decided as a small group which aspect of generating the brown cloud they wanted to become experts in. For the crop + country GMO assignment, they picked their crop and country, I gave them a list of things I wanted to see in their websites. Even with this much control and structure, many students had difficulty with the freedom. It is very hard to break the rhythm students expect from classes that in their past were textbook or lecture based.


On page 12: “Avoid bottlenecks between courses: coordinate project schedules

with other teachers.”   I tried to do this at one school where I taught because I like to have students do independent projects continuously. I wanted to have teachers post on a common calendar when they were planning major projects or tests. Teacher freedom stopped this from being able to happen- nobody wanted to share their planned due dates for a reason I’ll probably never know. Then again, I was only 20% of a person so why would any of my ideas have significance at this charter school?



“Collaborative learning promotes time on task as well as friendships across diverse groups, such as race, ethnicity, gender, or school cliques (Johnson & Johnson, 2009).”

– This is assuming the classroom is not already segregated based on diversity because one set of demographics is in my classroom and another set of demographics is in my peers’ classrooms.

” Collaborative learning benefits students across grade levels, academic subjects, gender, ethnicity, and achievement level (Slavin, 1996).”

– Do you mean collaborative learning in general or are my courses now not subject specific?

“Lower ability students tend to work best in mixed groups, medium ability students in homogeneous groups, and for higher-ability students, group ability levels make no difference (Lou, Abrami, Spence, Poulsen, Chambers, & d’Apollonia, 1996).”

– I am actually happy to read this, although I still find that homogeneous grouping of lower ability students works better because the intimidation factor is less present. They may need additional teacher guidance, but that is what my job is. I fear that lower ability students who have become too enabled will utilize a stronger person to do all of the work for them. When there is nobody there who can carry the load, I’ve found that it gets pretty well distributed and if the students want to do the work, they will.


return to top


Week 2 reflection PBL, June 22, 2014

Post a reflection regarding your research this week on Project-Based Learning. What were you able to find? How do you think PBL will fit into your teaching style? Do you have an idea for a project? If so, begin articulating it now.

I found several examples of PBL in biology and chemistry and highlighted a biology one for my post. It was about catching diseases and the spread of contagious ones. In the past I did a project on genetic diseases and considered changing it to fit with this project, but I really don’t want to just redo something I’ve done before.

I don’t know why, but a couple days ago I kept getting exposed to issues dealing with oceans. It got me thinking, what makes an ocean clean? I mean it is the home for so many animals that do everything in it: eat, swim, sleep?, excrete, and even have their eggs fertilized. When we say we need to have clean oceans, what do we mean? Once we determine what a clean ocean is, what can we humans do to make sure we help keep the oceans clean for the animals that live there?


return to top


Week 3, Reflection…. June 29, 2014

Reflect on what you have learned this week, as you have settled on an idea for your project. Comment on the tools you are using or the resources you have reviewed
Respond to the question: Is it still PBL without an authentic audience?

Among other things I learned this week is that the NGSS are not as bad as I expected them to be. I am glad I don’t have to dissect them for real, though, because the way they are organized sends me into a tizzy. I’d have to rewrite the document for it to make sense to me. And why couldn’t they make the pdf document with links to what is listed in the table of contents?

Tuesday’s town meeting was really useful. I love collaborating and it was helpful to have immediate feedback from my peers. I also learned that my body is not ready for me to have a job that requires me to be outside the home for more than a couple days a week. I still hate my idiotic body and the stupid limitations it puts on me. I suppose on the good side is my ability to do physical therapy exercises is getting better. I still can’t walk without falling into walls, though. Plus I did too much and fear the dizziness is going to come back, which would really suck. But enough whining because this is supposed to be my professional log and not a personal one. I just don’t see my professional life expanding like I was hoping it would. Too many jobs want me to be able to lift 50 lbs, at least that is what the job descriptions say. And why do I have to go on site someplace when I can do the same thing from bed on my laptop. After all I did most of my Masters in Ed Tech on my laptop while lying in bed supported by pillows.

Is it still PBL without an authentic audience? I think it is. I think the peers in the class can serve as an authentic audience. I know we always want to show off the kids to other adults. I did whenever I could, but the reality of things is that there are not always adults I can show off my kids to. The year I had the ESL physical science students do projects, I videotaped them giving their presentations. I shared the video with the person in charge of the ESL support center so she could see what ESL students are capable of doing. She was thrilled and the students were amazing. I was never given that course to teach again, I think because I was able to show students capable of thinking, writing a small paper, and giving an oral presentation in English. The papers could be written in Spanish, but I wanted the oral presentation to be in English. Was this PBL? No, not really. It was a large, collaborative project where students worked in groups, designed and created an apparatus that allowed a ball to move 50 cm, drew blueprints that were ¼ scale, wrote a short paper in our tiny computer lab that had the old fashioned Macs, and gave an oral presentation. The requirements were to have three simple machines in their build, the rest was up to them. So in a way it was open ended, but I gave them the direction and put requirements on the final product: the three simple machines.

With the human genetic disease project, once again I only had students present to their peers. I did not have students build websites until a couple years after I started this project so we were still doing paper based communication. I did, however, include the personal point of view component of the project like with what I created when I was a student teacher. The personal point of view component could have been authentic if they chose to interview a doctor, a person with the disease, or a caretaker of someone with the disease. The informative brochures they made could also have been authentic if they were high enough quality to be made available in a clinic. If I were to do this project with students now-a-days, I would have them build websites to communicate their findings. Building a website, by default, opens them up to an authentic audience if they build the websites some place that lets them be seen beyond the school’s firewall.

The crop + country project was the first one that I had students build websites to communicate their findings. These had potential, but these kids were very difficult to motivate, and to get them to do anything outside of class time. They had been way too conditioned with NCLB methods of memorize and barf back on a test to want to learn how to build a website. The folks doing the senior projects did not realize yet that they should have students build websites- they were still in the paper world with the trifold poster boards. It was not until after I had students use Google sites that other teachers at my school realized the computer lab could be used for something other than them having a free period.

So is an authentic audience necessary? In my never humble opinion, no, but what I’m learning PBL to be is a little different than I remember it being when I first learned about it back in 1999 at the JFF conference. What I had been taught is that students create the questions which then leads to the completion of assignments. I think that Backwards Design (UbD) with its driving question method of creating curriculum has been integrated into PBL so that PBL is like Backwards Design that lacks the final outcome being spelled out to teachers. In Understanding by Design, you pick the standards, write a driving question, create the final assessment, and then figure out what you’re going to do to get the content information into the kids’ heads. We’re sort of doing that, but we don’t know what the final assessment will be when we create the learning opportunities for the students in PBL.

I’ve been on the rant long enough for the moment. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts.


return to top


Week 4: Plan the Assessment

July 6, 2014

Assessment is for students.

I honestly don’t know if I am being mindful enough of these Key Principles of Effective Assessment. I would like to think that what I’m designing is for students with enough guidance that they feel comfortable exploring on their own. One of my biggest concerns is that students are just going to go to a Wikipedia to find all their information. I am so sick of students copying and pasting from a Wikipedia that I am intentionally directing them to specific websites they are allowed to use. I know that wikis are not all horrible, but they do the research process for students. I used to not trust wikis, but now that I see how the ones that post to them are probably too arrogant for their work to be incorrect, the ones who post will regulate each other. I also appreciate the Wikipedia organization and its efforts to ensure credibility of what is posted. Even so, I’m not ready to just let students go off to a wiki site to get primary information. Given that I’m setting this limitation, I am still trying to let students have freedom to explore and make their own choices and decisions.

Assessment is faithful to the work students actually do.

The webquest is supposed to assist students in figuring out what is important on our topic and give them enough access to websites so they can choose important features to include in their Venn diagrams. I still need to create “A day in the life of…” and am hoping to incorporate requirements that lets students celebrate what they have figured out about how an ecosystem works. Can they trace carbon through an ecosystem? I am still thinking about how to have them present their stories because I want them to include pictures. I will be looking for websites that cater to students creating their own “books” or stories so the kids can have flexibility with how they present their ideas. I want the storybook to be unique per student because I want them to trust themselves to have ideas and to be able to find information. If this was done in my classroom, they would have the flexibility to collaborate with others to share ideas. I just don’t want duplicated projects.

Assessment is public.

Since it is a Google form, the webquest results can be published if anyone is curious about what is said. I don’t know where students can draw Venn diagrams online. I know I can go places to get a Venn diagram template, but where do they go to actually construct one online for others to see? This is so embarrassing that I have the MET and don’t know the fundamentals of how to have students make their work public without having them scan their work so it can be uploaded into a webpage. I need to investigate the links we were provided in this week’s lesson some more to see if any of them allow for students to draw circles and fill them with words. It sounds so simple that I should already know how to have students do this. Their story is going to definitely be done with an online format. I don’t know which one yet, though.

Assessment promotes ongoing self-reflection and critical inquiry.

Hopefully the summative assessments are going to have these components built in. The TED talk and accompanying project should be group oriented. I intend to use the stories the students write to create their groups for the summative assessment part. Within the summative assessment, students will be doing formative assessments where they maintain an annotated bibliography, do self-reflections, and peer evaluations on a regular basis. These assignments have not been created yet.

A couple links relating to this week’s work:

Our Assessment Page at project template site

Formative Assessment Plan

Summative Assessment Plan

return to top

Week 5:

Reflection Week 5: Option 2: Scaffolding in PBL
July 12, 2014

Scaffolding is important to anything that involves a process. Learning and educating is a process. I am conflicted with what to write in this reflection because I want to go on a rant about how this is how I’ve been teaching for the last 20 years (when I was in a classroom), except with the new PBL, there is a guiding question that is supposed to be the focus of the scaffolding. It is very hard to write this without going off on a tangent, probably because I am so frustrated at the moment.

I rarely choose an easy path; that is not usually my style. If you want me to elaborate on that, just ask. I am frustrated because I chose to try this project using the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which are extremely new to me, and I am finding are very flexible, but not in a helpful sort of way. I am finding it very difficult to figure out which life science standards written in NGSS style apply to my question, if any. I think the hunger issue is very important and can apply to biology, because after all I started the PhD plant pathology program in 1991 with the idea I’d find a way to use biology to feed people. (That ended up with my first Masters degree, the MS in plant pathology.) I still know life science content can be used to help people.

I am trying very hard to refrain from whining about how the last time I tried doing this project it proved to be a failure because I teamed up with somebody who did very little to no work. I don’t think anybody will believe me because he has now pulled out a really thorough project, even though it is not using the NGSS, nor is it a novel concept / idea. If I felt like I had the freedom to go shopping for convenient standards, or do a problem that has already been done a few dozen times, I would probably be further along. The reality is, the scaffolding I will be doing is somewhat unique because I don’t think many people have figured out yet how to incorporate PBL and life science NGSS into a traditional school structure that has standardized life science testing in April / May.

I admit that I was flustered during the first 3 weeks, spent the last week redoing everything, and am now finally able to relax a bit and do a more thorough search online for other people’s ideas. Guess what? I’m not finding much of anything concrete. The webquest page,, came up with zero webquests for science in grades 9 – 12. Most of the other things I am finding are blogs or editorials on how the NGSS are written so that PBL will be natural. The actual scaffolding of a biology project for PBL that meshes with NGSS is not easily found. I have to assume somebody has already done this. I am not so arrogant to act like I’m the first person trying to do PBL with the NGSS in life science.

Now that I see there are not many resources already around to link life science NGSS with PBL, I am going to take more liberties with my scaffolding justifications. Because I thought there are rules that I should be following, my creativity has been suppressed.  I see now that I may have to break a few “rules” because I can’t see anybody having success with them. I am not able to find ideas or handouts I can “borrow.” With this new found freedom, I may actually be able to pull things apart more than I have been. I feel the need to justify why my idea is not so lousy. Perhaps I will create the scaffold that my searching has been unable to discover.

I still want to narrow my question because I want students to focus on an ecosystem way of solving the problem, but I’ve understood feedback to suggest that I’m narrowing things too much. If this is for a biology class, it is not that I can’t bring in humanities concepts, but I also can’t let students avoid doing biology because their focus is only on the humanities ideas. Solving local hunger problems are not usually addressed in life science classes, so it may turn out that in reality, my ideas are just ideas that will stay at that level: ideas. I still have a couple weeks to think about things, so we’ll see what happens. I can’t help but feel like a failure because my question and the standards I want to use to justify it don’t seem to exist as the standards are currently written.

return to top

Week 6: Reflection, July 17, 2014

Not being the sage on the stage is actually my philosophy of being a teacher anyway. I really despise lecturing and found it to be one of the biggest wastes of time. There is so much that needs to be done during classtime that goes beyond merely spouting factoids at kids. So for me, my teaching process won’t have to change much. I am very comfortable tossing things at kids and having them figure it out. I admit that most of what I did with kids was not as open ended as PBL is supposed to be, but I don’t have to be a control freak all of the time. I’m a better teacher when I let the kids teach me things.

Effective facilitation involves trust. There is trust in two senses. First, I have to trust the students to stay attentive and to do their work. The second version is the students learning to trust themselves. This is something I had to work on with some students more than others because they really had to know at every moment they were doing things correctly. I often found myself telling students, “Trust yourself. You’re doing fine.” They were, but they were not able to see it for themselves. I truly felt accomplished if I was able to get a student to trust herself. That by far is worth more than seeing students earn an “A” on a test.

Some students need more time than others to become comfortable with the idea of not doing cookbook science labs. Like with any ambiguous situation, students need reassurance they are going in the right direction. As long as the students are comfortable with the structure and feel secure enough to take chances, they will. When I had students who were not successful, it was often due to a larger picture than what was being attempted in class. With the non-college-prep students with whom I did the “brown cloud” project, lack of success was due more to students not coming to class than they not working during class time. This project was pre-Internet so working on their own to gather information was difficult for many to do. I had lots of books that were appropriate to address global warming and pollution so they could do the research they needed to do during class.  Personally I felt like that project was not a success, but it was not because the students were incapable of doing the work.

The main change I need to make for my teaching style is becoming aware of how to structure an open-ended project/plan. It is very hard at the moment for me to imagine a real PBL unit because of my unemployment and lack of knowing kids attitudes. Even when I was in the classroom 2007 – 2010, kids attitudes surprised me because they had become so much less self-reliant. I had gotten so frustrated with trying to get them to do anything that I made their “final” a project. They had to pick something in biotechnology that we had not been able to cover and create a way to teach it to their peers. I made it as open ended as possible. They had to create questions students would be able to answer while they were being taught, but otherwise it was very open ended. I don’t remember exactly what went wrong other than me being excluded from so many projects. If I did the same thing again, I would need them to tell me daily what they figured out and are doing. The final results were very good. My students who are artists did art and my gaming geeks made a board game. What is sad, though, is that I had spent the entire year trying to get kids to trust me and to buy into the class and even in the end, I’m afraid too few did. Many students who resisted all of the highly structured assignments also resisted the loosely structured one. I just could not win with that crowd.

return to top

Week 7: Feedback, July 27, 2014

Use the resources from this week to assist you as you think about how you intend to debrief your PBL experience. Some questions to consider:

  • Who will you involve in the process?
  • What will your process look like?
  • Is it just a one-time assessment?

Debriefing the project will hopefully not be something new to the students because I hope that I have been getting their feedback all along. While I will see their evaluations of themselves and their peers, which will help me figure out where the structure is lacking, getting direct feedback from students has always been helpful. I usually do an end of project or end of term survey that asks students concise questions about what was done during the activities. I routinely change my teaching methods based on student feedback.

  • Who: feedback from students or other people who were directly involved with the project.
  • What: surveys or informal conversations
  • When: at least at the end of the project. If somehow I can keep in touch with the students after the project or if I get to be their teacher again, then I will continue to pester them for feedback.


return to top

Week 8:

Week 8 reflection to class
***What do you know understand best about Project Based Learning?
If I look at Project Based Learning as Understanding by Design that requires an open-ended project, then I understand what we’re doing. The only problem, of course, is that with UbD, the final assessment is determined by the teacher to be the ultimate way of evaluating student competency in the content.

***What do you understand least well?
How to create an open-ended final assessment that adequately measures student competency in content standards.

*** What did you expect to learn in this course? What did you actually learn? More, less, and why?
I was hoping to learn how I could adapt this process to fit with online learning. This class was in its own way PBL, because we all created something while following a set structure. Was it as open-ended as PBL is supposed to be? Did we actually create projects?

I still don’t know if this could be done virtually for anything other than a virtual problem. We can’t feed people with computers, can we? It is not like they can munch on a keyboard, however could we create a website that got real three dimensional people to do something for people who are hungry?

Because I’ve been a BSU student for three years, I know that collaboration can happen online, so the group-work part of it is not a barrier. Making any product that is not electronic is the biggest barrier I perceive when we have kids do PBL in a virtual classroom. I would love to be proven wrong.

***What will you do with what you have learned?
Oddly enough, I will probably use the Web 2.0 tools I learned, more than any other component of the course.  If somehow I manage to get hired by a school that wants to do PBL, I will certainly pull from this website for ideas. I don’t know if I’ll still be able to access the website because it is trapped in Boise State’s Google arena, but maybe I can find a way to migrate parts of it to my personal gmail account? It would be a shame for this to merely be a memory.

return to top