PBL – Reflection

My Problem Based Learning journey with my students was an interesting one. One where I feel there was a major outcome which I hadn’t realized was more important to me than the students guiding their own learning. For me, that was the ability for the students to clearly communicate their thinking, learning the key questions to ask when given a problem, and being able to learn from each other, or change their perspective based off another student’s explanation or demonstration. For me, these are life long skills that PBL provided my students the opportunity to develop, so I would say, yes, based off this, PBL in our class was successful.

However, that wasn’t my initial goal. I was using PBL so that my students could guide their own learning by identifying what they knew to solve the problem and what they needed to learn, to solve the problem. I feel that my grade 7 students, who I used in the video, were able to apply their conceptual understanding and prior skills to solve the number of authentic problems I shared with them. (A few of which are documented in the video). Some scenarios I chose enabled the students to transfer their skills to solve the problem, which is what I hoped they would be able to do, and some of the problems pushed student’s learning to their personal next step, whereby their new learning was guided primarily by peer teaching, versus using multiple resources available. For those students who I noticed did struggle, I guided them to go and reinforce that concept through practice, using their choice of resource, while the other students moved onto the next conceptual based authentic problem, and repeated the process.

Each problem had levels of difficulty based on how in-depth the students think and question, therefore given the students level of conceptual understanding I used guiding questions to also differentiate the problem for them. By doing this it enabled more students to be pushed out of their conceptual comfort zone at some point, and make them learn something new to enable them to find a solution to the problem.

According to the SAMR model, the end of unit, predominantly skill driven paper test, was redefined, as the students created their own open ended authentic problem and possible solution, that demonstrated their conceptual understanding of a unit concept. Students chose any form of technology to share their problem with their peers. This provided the opportunity for others to solve their problem, then explain why they got that particular solution. These problems will become a resource for this unit in the future. An example of one problem produced is below.

For me I chose to use a modified form of a socratic seminar for students to discuss how they best learn math. They watched ‘youcubed’, a Stanford University, ‘Solve the Math Problem’ video, then they were given two different scenarios to think about, prior to the discussion. I chose this method versus an interview, as it gave the students the autonomy and freedom to guide the discussion, and enabled them to practice their communication skills to understand their peers perspective and communicate their own learning style using evidence to support their opinions. The results of this discussion were different to what I had anticipated! Overall students thought there was a time and place for both working in a small group and working alone. One comment was, ‘If I know how to do something, I want to work alone so I don’t waste time.’ The second big take away was that most students prefer being taught the specific math skills, then apply them to solve an authentic problem versus guiding their own learning, PBL. This was interesting and as I shared with my students, this will now guide how I work with this particular group of students.

During the socratic seminar I used an app called, Equity Map, which you can see on the iMovie, and this in itself was such a powerful tool. It gives immediate feedback about both individual participation and a summary of group participation in the socratic. Therefore I developed a socratic feedback form on google docs. Each student would not only receive a copy of their own discussion results from the app, but observations and from this information they make their next ‘communication’ goal, to use during their next socratic. Over time they can monitor their growth. It is a very powerful tool in its own right, and one the students love.

I feel PBL will continue to be a part of my math program, however, for the majority of these particular students who aren’t necessarily independent thinkers, this may not be so effective. They may have more success if they apply their skills and concept knowledge to solve an authentic problem, versus guiding their own learning while trying to solve a problem.

During this COETAIL course one benefit for me has been the PLN section, as it has enabled me to find sites and follow like minded people, who I can learn from. It has taken me out of my bubble and introduced me to new resources that I wouldn’t have otherwise found. I have enjoyed the readings and being challenged to think about the ways I use technology and ways I can better use technology to enhance my students learning and my teaching – a win, win situation.

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PLN – Baby Steps Are The Way To Go

Establish your own PLN, and my heart skipped a beat and I didn’t know where to begin. Fast forward a year, and I I have one! My PLN is still in the baby-step phase but I have made progress, however I still have a long way still to go. My theory is, baby steps are better than no steps at all.

For me my PLN has offered me resources in my field that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about. Connecting me to educators halfway around the world so it seems like they are next door. It has given me names of people who are like minded and it has enabled me to follow them and learn from them, which for me has been my biggest takeaway. Yes, all of these are the benefits of having a PLN. The flip side to this is actually finding time to carve out from my day or week to ‘just read,’ to further develop and build this network. I find I refer to my PLN when I am looking for a particular resource or idea, versus just reading for the fun of either broadening my educational or personal interests. So because of this, I am truly only at the beginning phase of having an established PLN. Like anything, given time, wonderful things can happen!

I am part of two main networks. Firstly, Tweeting. I have tweeted a number of times on our monthly NESA Chat using tweetdeck. (Link to an article about the benefits of using tweetdeck) For me I like the idea of immediate feedback and hearing overseas colleagues perspective on a given topic. Some chats have challenged my thinking as to why certain things are done the way they are, or have made me rethink my perspective based on new information I heard or was directed to, to further my knowledge in that area. These chats also inspired me to write a tweet or two after I had read a good article, or found a resource which I thought others might like, as I realized how valuable other educator’s tips / resources / suggestions, had been to me. So I have just begun the process of giving back as I realize there is an audience out there that may find what I think or share, of interest to them.

Pinterest is my second network that I use all the time. Though the question arises as to whether this can be classified as part of my PLN? Edutopia defines a PLN as ‘ …a tool that uses social media and technology to collect, communicate, collaborate and create with connected colleagues anywhere at any time. Participating educators, worldwide, make requests and share resources.’ However, in an article in US Today, the Pinterest CEO states it is not a social media. Therefore my question is, does Pinterest need to have all the features defined by Edutopia to be a PLN, or can it just have some characteristics? After further searching, my decision is to agree with wikipedia, right or wrong, and state Pinterest is part of my PLN as it provides a personalized media platform to share visual resources / articles. This is where I pin my most valuable resources , I have followers, and I follow others. There is a wealth of information being shared here, and I have even begin to create and post what I have created, so another big baby step for me! Sharing my work!!

So for me, my PLN is taking off. Like anything new, baby steps to begin, but overtime I hope these steps will develop into strong footprints.

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Assistive Technology to Enhance A Dyslexic Student’s Learning

Assistive technology (AT) is defined by: Kristin Stanberry, Marshall H. Raskind in their article, ‘Assistive Technology for Kids with Learning Disabilities (LD): An Overview’, as a device, piece of equipment or system that helps bypass, work around or compensate for an individual’s specific learning deficits. Dyslexia is one LD where AT can enhance students access to print or help them express themselves using print.

As I come to work with more and more students who have dyslexia, I wondered what AT was out there to support their learning at school and at home. I found through my searching, there are multiple articles that provide links upon links to AT to help dyslexic students. My big question though was, what was the most effective. However, like all learning, the effectiveness of AT depends solely on it being tailored to the student’s needs, the context in which it is needed and the purpose for which it is used. The ability for it to highlight the student’s strengths and compensate for their difficulties would also be a bonus.

AT could be as simple as downloading and using dyslexie font, or buying an overlays app, to using AudioBooks to ensure the student has access to academic content at their level, therefore eliminating their weakness in reading. Google chrome apps and extensions, web-based tools, desktop software, IOS and Android Apps, there is so much choice, what to choose becomes the question. Therefore Consumer Tips for Evaluating AT products, highlights some questions for parents to consider prior to purchasing an AT product, however I think these are also valid questions for educators to also consider before purchasing products for their students or recommending them to parents.

Jamie Martin, is an Assistive Technology Consultant for Students and Adults with Dyslexia. His website called ‘Assistive Technology Solutions for Students with Dyslexia” I found useful because he identified 5 main areas where AT can help the dyslexic student.

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New AT becomes available all the time, some at a cost, some for free. Even if newer AT products become available, it doesn’t mean that the older ones are no good, as highlighted by some of the examples above. So where does this leave me in choosing what AT will benefit my students? Starting with one app or piece of software and seeing the results, then moving onto the next. Slowly I am building up a bank of options for my students to choose from and try.

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Problem Based Learning, a Gate-Way to Solving Tomorrow’s Problems

In a world where new technology and new problems arise every day, the ability for students to identify what knowledge they need to solve a problem is going to be an essential skill. In relation to math, that means they will need to be able to apply their mathematical procedural skills, and conceptual understandings to help solve authentic problems.Therefore, my goal for my final project is to provide opportunities for my students to practice this skill through PBL (Problem Based Learning) . For me as a teacher, it means I will be modifying the way I teach (refer to below chart), and I want to see if my students prefer the ‘current style’ of learning math, or PBL. I will continue to use technology in multiple ways. Google slides will be used to house resources and present problems to my students, ensuring that I think of the ‘Zen’ slide and use creative commons for any images I may need. Google documents will be the main format for sharing resources with students, some of which will be on-line manipulatives that aren’t otherwise available to them. Examples of videos from a range of sites that will either teach / reinforce concepts for my students will also be made available via this document.

The goal of Problem Based Learning (PBL) as defined by Eductech Wiki is for students to learn about a subject through the experience of solving an open-ended problem. It also enables skills such as knowledge acquisition, enhanced group collaboration and communication to be developed. With this in mind, what I have chosen to do is switch the way I teach my students. Rather than giving them an authentic problem to solve after they have mastered the necessary skills needed to solve it, I am going to give them the problem first, and let them guide their learning by deciding what skills they need to use and / or learn to solve it. At the end I will ask which style of learning they preferred and why.

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Interestingly enough, I was reading an article by Kaplinsky, ‘What does it mean to understand mathematics,’ which highlighted the inability of some students to transfer procedural skills to solve real life problems. This reinforced for me the exact reason why I wanted to try PBL in my program, so my students could actually make this transfer. Therefore, after reading his article, I took a period to implement something similar with my grade 7 students, whom I will be working with on my final project. The results were the same as Kaplinsky’s findings. Only one student out of 7 could solve both procedural and authentic problems, even though they were asking the student to carry out the same mathematical concept. By using PBL as a method to teach part of my units, I am interested to see if it will strengthen my students transfer of procedural / conceptual skills to authentic situations.

Currently for each math skill being taught, there is at least one authentic problem to solve. Students either have direct teaching of a particular concept, and /or they watch a video on the concept, then teach me / peers what they have learnt. Similar to a flipped classroom, except the time taken to learn the content is part of our class time as I don’t believe my students need additional homework. Students then refer to a resource google document, and can choose the way in which they will practice and reinforce that particular math procedural / conceptual skill. The tools can come from online manipulatives such as PhEt simulations, or illuminations or National Library of Visual Manipulatives. Resources include paper / on-line skill procedures, or written problems, or on-line games, or hands on games with partners. After they have ‘mastered’ that skill, they work with a partner, or in a group of three to apply that concept / skill to an authentic problem. I use the google Problem Based Lesson Search Engine, produced by Robert Kaplinsky, for authentic problems. Students always have a choice to use manipulatives, whiteboards, devices, BenQ, any available resource that will help them. I incorporate games where appropriate, or working with a partner, as I believe this increases the engagement factor for the students. As we know, when students work together and have to explain their thinking or reasoning, it helps them consolidate their own learning. Therefore, saying all of that, my major difference as stated above, when implementing PBL is that this process will be flipped. Students will be given the authentic problem first, and then use the resource document to identify any area they need to learn about to solve that particular problem.

As my students are engaged in PBL, I hope to see their communication skills improve as they take an active role in solving the problem. Being aware of what they do know and what they need to know and ways they can solve it, will also develop their metacognitive awareness. From this, I hope they can express how they learn best, and why. I also believe it is important that the students understand where math is used in every day situations. Throughout this the internet will be used as a resource, plus at the end of the unit, students will have the opportunity to work either individually or with a partner / small group to identify and create an authentic problem for their peers to solve. They will present this problem in a digital format of their choosing, so that it can become part of a resource bank for future students to refer to, to learn / practice particular skills.

I have asked my students if I can video them and take photos of their work, and of course they are very excited to be part of ‘my study’, so we will see what results we obtain over time.

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PBL in Math

Working wiser is important to me as a teacher, therefore when it came to what to do for my course 5 project I had two choices. I really wanted to gamify one of my classes, whereby I use, for example, Classcraft. However, as I was looking at my math units, I knew I was missing the part where students could demonstrate the transfer of their learnt skills / knowledge to solve authentic problems. I believe in fate, and as I embarked on my second NESA chat on twitter, someone shared some math resources they found great. It was a eureka moment for me, right time, right place. One resource in particular was Robert Kapinsky’s website. I lost myself in reading his blogs, looking at his resources and for me the penny dropped. This was the last piece I needed to add to my unit – authentic problem based activities which would totally engage my students and show whether they truly understood the concepts learnt. So, I modified a unit by adding PBL as a form of formative assessment.

I have two worries about redesigning this unit. The first, and for me the major one, is that I have included too much PBL. Even though the activities will be formative, I wonder if you can get too much of a good thing? Therefore, like all teaching, modifications to the unit will be made along the way depending on the student’s needs and if the resources are achieving their intended purpose. Also at this stage, most of my PBL activities are coming from 2 or 3 major sources, which is fine, as they meet my objectives for the unit. However, for the future I want to continue to search out further sites that may have great resources for other math units I am developing, plus I would like to begin to create my own. – when time is on my side!!

What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from me was a hard one to answer. I think it is ensuring I have a bank of good question stems that I can use to guide my students to deeper thinking about the problem, or to find alternative ways to solve a problem if they are stuck, so that the solutions always come from them through their discussions with their peers / research and use of resources. Also for me, this unit is making me aware to look critically at the depth of knowledge (DOK) I am actually asking for in the type of activities I am offering my students. I need to ensure the activities are graded from easy, through to the DOK third tier, which I hope they will achieve as they build mastery of their basic skills.

The problem based learning of this unit, will need the students to apply both their new skills and prior mathematical knowledge, to solve authentic problems. It is going to require my students to work collaboratively with their peers over an extended period of time. Currently they work with their peers, but the problems they work on can be solved within short amounts of time and aren’t necessarily multilayered. This is going to require them to actively listen to each other, and explain their thinking and understandings, both orally and in written mathematical form. Therefore the students will need to be flexible and have a growth mindset to be prepared to change or modify their initial thinking based off what they have heard from their peers. I also really want my students to be comfortable and have self confidence to realize their point of view is important. I want this to reinforce for them the idea that different perspectives brought to interpreting a problem often leads to more creative solutions.

For me I am excited to implement this unit, as I believe being a problem solver is a skill all students need now and in the future. As I re-read this post I haven’t really mentioned the use of technology, as for me it is just part of our class, it is a tool used by me for so many things, and it is a tool used by my students as a resource of information, games, and for sharing, to name a few. Technology is used effortlessly as part of our everyday class, which to me, is how it should be used.

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I’d Be Lost Without My Devices

Out of interest, this week I made the chart below which shows some ways I use my devices (iPad, MacBook & BenQ Interactive Screen) in my class. I know this isn’t it all, but as I was making this, I realize I do rely heavily on the use of a device and the internet, in my classroom.

Besides google docs & google drive which I use all the time, the Confer app and Hapara service are two items I couldn’t be without. Confer, because it is my form of record keeping. This link goes to a short Youtube video explaining how the note taking app works. Two highlights of this app for me, is the ability for me to make comments, then sort them by various categories and secondly it enables me to add photographs of my students work to support those particular comments. Hapara is also key to my management of digital work / information dissemination to my students. One feature I really like is it allows me to view the document my students are working on in real time, which enables me to record immediate feedback as I talk with my students. It is also a great way the students can collaborate together, for example on the same google doc or slide show.

‘Tech breaks’ caught my attention as I teach my students to work for 15-20 minutes maximum on their homework or study before they need a 5 min break so they can remain alert and productive. As part of this 5 minutes, I encourage them to schedule their ‘tech break’, so then while they are focusing on homework their mind hopefully isn’t wandering and their work is accomplished quicker. In an article by MIT about study habits, it states, “Turn off your phone while studying and on when you take a break.’ I couldn’t agree more. There is a time and place for everything.

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Me in the Future…

Will education as we know it change because of technology? What might my teaching look like for me as a teacher in 5 years time compared to how I teach now? Big questions to answer, and this week really gave me cause to pause and think, what is important to me as an educator to install in my students. I believe for me, my end goal is to provide skills and strategies for students in an engaging, meaningful way so they are enabled to continually learn and try new things throughout their lives. How I hope to achieve this, will probably alter often. If changing the physical classroom features to positively impact learning, then yes, I would love to teach in that new physical environment. If the latest theory in the best pedagogy at that time is different to my own, or a new way to incorporate technology into everyday teaching is going to advance the learning of my students, then again yes, I hope I may have that opportunity to try and implement these things in a meaningful way. If technology in education continues to develop the way it is currently, I am hoping that gamed based learning is a common feature in future classrooms. The high engagement factor, transdiscipline approach, possible real life scenarios, problem solving, motivation, customized learning… do I need to go on, that I believe may be provided through game based learning is something that I want to experience with my students, sooner rather than later. We already know how ‘addicted’ some students are to internet games, bringing that into the educational setting can only be a win, win situation in my eyes, if it meets the needs of that particular student, at that given time.

Not everything will be different. Some fundamental teaching principles will remain the same. That ‘teacher impact’ on students everyday life will remain as important as ever. One of my students said they didn’t think we would need schools in the future, but according to Hatties TED talk entitled, ‘Why are so many of our teachers and schools so successful?’- I think my job may be safe!.

I think, Hattie summed it up perfectly when he highlighted the fact that it is the skills of a teacher that enables students to become life-long learners. 3 points were highlighted for me, which are fundamental to good teaching practice.
Know where your students are at
Identify their next step and what it looks like
Challenge them and through regular feedback enhance their growth and motivation to keep learning

I am excited to see what education in the future looks like, and how we as teachers are prepared for it, and how we as teachers prepare our students for it!

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Yes to Games & Play

Play is vital for normal cognitive, social and emotional development, as quoted in The Power of Play in Learning by Tina Barseghian. From when our children are young, all we as parents do is encourage our children, to be curious and to explore their environment and learn through play.

Yet somewhere along the way as our students move up through different education systems, play and in many ways, curiosity has been drummed out of them. I have been fortunate to work in schools across different continents and I realise that the mindset of students towards their learning differs depending on how their culture values education. As a result, the mindset of the students changes dramatically, from that of curiosity, wanting to explore and think for themselves, to one of, just spoon feed me, tell me what I have to do, and heaven forbid don’t make me think! Two sides to the learning spectrum, but they are definitely out there, and I have taught them both. Therefore as a teacher, however much I love the idea of having a game based classroom, I think my students would need a specific mindset for it to be successful and I would need a lot of time to learn and create one to make this a successful option. Before embarking on this, I would love an opportunity to actually see an educational game based classroom in practice.

A few years back I had looked at the flipped classroom and totally agree with the idea of school time spent talking and problem solving, however for me, I have a problem with the at home learning piece. I truly believe students work hard enough during the school day, they need to go home and give their brain a rest, therefore take their time to enjoy life, play, relax and interact with friends. Adding another ½ hour to an hour, or more of homework so they can learn a skill to be able to apply the next day at school wouldn’t work for my students. Saying that though, my students do have access to videos / songs etc that reinforce the concept we are learning, so it is a resource for them to go back to, but it is used during the school day, not out of it.

Therefore what can I do in my classroom? These readings just reinforced for me the need to continue to incorporate ‘play’ in the form of hands on games or digital ‘gamified’ skills. It can be as simple as using cards to make a game to recap place value – hands on, with high engagement. I used a couple of games from the NCTM Illuminations website with my class this week, where the students played in two teams to use decimals to reach a particular value. The engagement, competition, excitement, collaboration, reinforcement of a combination of math skills, was awesome. They all came in the next day asking to play again – now that is the type of learning I want to see continue in my classroom, and I do believe learning through play and games is one way to go and one that I can easily continue to implement.

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PBL & CBL Still Relevant Today.

Often when you hear ‘Past,’ in reference to education, it conjures up negative connotations, as in, it has been and gone and now there are new things to move onto to stay ‘current’. Yes, PBL or CBL have been around for years, however there are components of these two pedagogies that I feel are current today, and will be current also ‘tomorrow’, therefore should not to be thrown out with the bath water. The whole notion of students being at the core, constructing knowledge by exploring and answering an authentic question / challenge or problem, through the process of problem solving remains key. Initially that problem may have been personal, or within the school environment, but now because of technology, not only may the problem look different to include global problems, but also the members of the collaborative group to solve these may include people from around the world, versus initially it may have just included classmates. Also through the use of the internet, the ability to access knowledge from a variety of sources, is at the tip of anyone’s fingers . So I believe parts of the framework for both PBL or CBL remain relevant, but new dimensions can be added, as new technologies open up new opportunities.

I agreed with the article, Introduction to Project Based Learning (Buck Institute for Education), when it said students need explicit teaching of specific skills, and PBL or CBL provides the environment for the application of those specific skills. I believe part of those fundamental skills, irrelevant of the topic, include the ability of a student to ask questions, as part of becoming an active listener and team member. Hence, I found a couple of sites which give sentence starters students can use to guide their thinking through the problem solving process. They are, Bloom’s Taxonomy critical question stems and DOK questioning stems, both of which I will use to build up a bank of question guides with my students as we enter PBL.

As I was thinking of ways to scaffold standards based PBL or CBL for my students, I questioned my role, and how I would guide this learning. I found Tom Wujec, TED talk, Got a wicked problem? First, tell me how you make toast – highlighted for me the importance for students to use visual representation (ie. cards / sticky notes) when defining the components of problems and it also reiterated for me, the power of collaboration when solving one.

Ken Robinson’s TED talk, How to escape education’s death valley, made me think about ways in which to include diversity, ways to enhance curiosity and creativity in my students when planning for the implementation of PBL or CBL. All good things to consider during the planning stage.

So PBL & CBL may be classified ‘past’ but they still hold relevance today.

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“Resources’, is the key word that came to my mind this week as I was reading the various articles. These readings couldn’t have come at a better time for me as I have been looking for resources to support my current classroom practice to include project based learning into my blended learning environment. I continue to explore these resources to find those ‘aha’ ones!

Currently the on-line gamified resources the students can use are only A on the SAMR model. For example, below is a section of math options focusing on place value. If a student needs to build their skills in this area, they have a choice as to how to reinforce /learn it, e.g. paper, on-line, or hands on partner work.


When reading, Connecting Project-based and blended learning, it reinforced that my next step is to add the project-based learning piece to the above. This I think will take the technology usage to the next level on the SAMR model. The comments in this article regarding the Khan academy videos, made me stop and think. Yes, some are skill and drill, but as most of the students I engage with are LD learners, some students need that form of repetition and immediate feedback at an explicit teaching level before they can move on to the application of these skills in their learning. Gamified resources are awesome because they have that engaging factor, but I have been struggling to find interactive sites that take my students learning to a higher level of thinking and application to real life problems. Therefore if anyone has some great suggestions, please share!

My next decision to make is whether to use project-based learning prior to or after my students learning of the basic skills….

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