Portfolio Update

To prepare for this course, I spent the summer transferring my edtech2 site that I created using Dreamweaver CC. Though I learned a great deal from coding this site, I decided that for sake of functionality and ease of editing, it would be better for me to transfer my site to a Weebly. Following the conclusion of the program, I will be moving the site to my domain. Currently all of the relevant artifacts have been linked and added to my portfolio.


This week, I have been getting my EdTech Rationale Paper started. I found that the best way for me to approach the paper was to review the EdTech guidelines one by one and match them to assignments I remember. Since I just reviewed all of my assignments to check accessibility and transfer them to my Weebly, this has been a much easier process than using the spreadsheet.

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Right now, getting the Rationale Paper is my central focus. I am finding that it is easiest to interpret the AECT Standards by looking at other portfolios. I watched the posted videos about the Standards, but it honestly still trips me up a bit. As I am choosing artifacts, it is slowly becoming clearer. I have outlined descriptions for my artifacts for Standards 1 and 2, and I hope to be through all the Standards by the end of the week.

I have not shot any video, but I have been practicing using Camtasia. I have a beautiful new classroom this year, so I am excited to see how I can use the space to create professional videos.



EdTech 542 Final Reflection

This is the final week of EdTech 542 about integrating technology into Project-Based Learning. I really benefit from peer review and workshop processing, so the format of the course led to a lot of development in my practice.

This is my unit, Our Galaxies, Ourselves, created for EdTech 542.

What do you know understand best about Project Based Learning? What do you understand least?

I came into EdTech 542 with some experience in Project Based Learning, but I learned a great deal about the structures in place to support student-driven learning in the classroom. Looking at the Golden Standard of PBL, I can see a clear, research-based rationale for each pillar of PBL. The resources I gained from this class helped me reflect on and define my own processes and fill in gaps I have been missing in my practice.

Before EdTech 542, I based many of my assumptions about PBL on Edutopia and other education-focused online websites. Where I live, it is difficult for me to find student-centered teaching resources in English. This course has provided me with the time and feedback to really push my PBL practice into a better place.

What I understand the least is how to incorporated PBL into a content and skills heavy subject, like mathematics, in a balanced way. I did a major project for each unit of my math teaching (at middle school level) this year, and while my students are conceptually stronger at math, I am worried we did not cover enough ground. Especially because we are living in a memorization and drill-and-kill country, it is hard to justify to parents why their kids are building and reflecting instead of cramming. If you are working in a dedicatedly test-based country, introducing project-based learning is a continuous challenge.

Partially due to this class, I will be pulling back on the frequency of my math projects but increasing the depth and length of a few large scale projects..

What did you expect to learn in this course? What did you actually learn? More, less, and why?

I expected to read through some case studies and look at sample lessons. I honestly expected to spend more time on justifying Project Based Learning as a practice or devising responses to sample teaching scenarios. I was happy to see we spent most of our time actively constructing a PBL unit and exchanging feedback on work that we can later apply to our practice.

What will you do with what you have learned?

I will be presenting my PBL Weebly website and the BIE resources to the staff at my middle school next semester, and I will be incorporating the Our Galaxies, Ourselves units into my teaching as well. My school coordinator has been excited by what I have shown him from the course, and I expect that at least some of the resources and strategies here will be incorporated into other teachers’ practices.




How does PBL translate to parents and administrators?

This week we were asked to consider the challenges to implementing Project-Based Learning, specifically from the point of view of parents and administrators. I am fortunate enough to work at a school that buys in to Project Based Learning, but, even then, I often have to provide rationales to parents and administrators regarding my specific units.

The assessments and student reflections do a great deal of the persuasive work for me, as do the adults interactions with the learners.

Below I have outlined a specific, common issue I have with PBL and stakeholders.


Possible criticisms from stakeholders

In order for PBL to work successfully, it requires a great deal of time to induct students into the process. Activities like building summative rubrics together and repeated prototyping require a lot of time for little externally obvious payoff. To parents and administrators who have not bought into the program, it may look like students are not focusing enough on the standards for which they will be expected to demonstrate understanding. Parents and administrators will worry about test performance, when PBL produces similar testing outcomes to traditional learning.


My response and rationale

In the scheme of things, teaching out of textbooks makes it look like students are covering a lot of ground in terms of content. There are no textbooks that will teach 21st century learning skills better that active, consistent practice within authentic contexts, which is what PBL does, in essence. I teach learners how to be the best learners and practitioners–skills that will enable them to learn any content or skill with positive, productive attitudes. PBL teaches independence and self-directed motivation, which are essential attitudes needed to succeed in the current educational and professional landscape.

Making Driving Questions


That tension, between my teaching goals and their learner drive, creates a rich opportunity for impactful and engaging exploration.

Common Issues with PBL

Making a single question that encompasses an entire unit’s learning is like trying to catch a river in a cup. As I have been working through my experimental units this year, I have tried over and over to get driving questions that engage my students, and, many times, I have had to adjust them when it is clear that my students want to push the learning in a direction different from what I had planned.

Because there are no standards at my international school (there are skills, concepts, attitude and community action expectations from the International Baccalaureate Program), I am free to align my teaching with whatever national or state curriculum I feel suits the needs of the learners at my school. This allows me a kind of instructional freedom not readily available for other teaching programs, but it does leave me with a certain amount of accountability and responsibility.

My students writing down connections between class learning and the core concepts of the unit.

I plan each unit around a driving question, but I prepare only the first few lessons of the unit. I give the students their performance expectations, and we choose activities based on how they align to what they need to practice and show as their learning. This makes it much easier for me to differentiate, though it does make assessment quite challenging.

For this week, I wrote a driving question for my “Our Galaxies, Ourselves” unit:

How does space exploration further the goals of humankind?

The purpose of this phrasing is to address two areas for inquiry: space exploration and application of space technology and discovery. To properly answer this question, students must investigate what we know about space, how we learn about space and what we do with that knowledge and new technology. Please feel free to browse possible guiding questions here: Our Galaxies, Ourselves guiding questions.

To me, a good driving question for PBL meets these criteria:

  • Open-ended
  • Allows for different perspectives and experiences
  • Stimulating or provocative
  • Connects to student interests and/or identities
  • Challenging
  • Implies a “How” or “Why”
  • Communicates a purpose

Within that framework, I believe the question I have created will address relevant standards while providing a framework for inquiry (see website). I feel like this a solid launchpad, but I know that if I did run this unit, I’d want to come back and alter it before the following year.

Researching Sample PBL Units

Looking for commonalities in PBL units seemed like a redundant exercise to me initially because my initial research on Edutopia and BIE.org left me with the impression that there are specific guidelines that all PBL units tend to follow.

I naturally gravitated towards Project Based Learning since I work at an inquiry-based school and I write most of my curriculum. I have never really sat down and looked through sample PBL units from the perspective of using them as they are, though I reference and adapt them to my teaching.

I enjoyed the Project Search provided by BIE. It was easy to use and navigate. Since I have used similar resources for science units, I decided to look at math units.

Because I’m a science teacher first and a math teacher second, I gravitate naturally towards math units that allows student to apply mathematics concepts and principles authentically to scientific contexts. I have also used social studies, economics and other contexts to provide context for math learning.

Looking at the Mathalicious lessons, I can see where I can improve my practice and deepen the level of mathematics used in the projects. At the same time, these look less like whole units, and more like short questions and exploratory problems in a single lesson.

Can a Project Based Lesson be a series of different authentic scenarios? Where do these fit into a larger PBL unit?

To me, the Mathalicious lessons do not match what I see in PBL. They can be incorporated into larger units, but, as they are, they don’t provide ideas for student-directed projects or inquiry.





Introverts and Project Based Learning

I got asked a great question about how Project Based Learning (PBL) can fit introverted learners. This is a commonly overlooked learner population since most teachers are extroverts. In response to that inquiry I wrote out a series of suggestions that I believe can help adapt PBL to introverts (and ELL or ESL students).

Introverts make up a good proportion of my class, and, together, we have developed strategies to allow them recharging time and give them opportunities to participate. I permit students to turn in summative assessments as individual projects, but the formative assessments I give are usually heavier on collaborative work. The activities in my classroom are constantly up for negotiation, and my students feel comfortable giving feedback about specific lessons and larger units.

Ultimately I believe in Universal Design, meaning that a well-designed and appropriately implemented strategy will benefit all learners. Finding those activities that serve the needs of all learners, including providing for social-emotional needs and stretching new,  or unfamiliar skills, is an exercise in finding balance.

Activities that Support Introverts

Digital Wonder Walls

Instead of having to speak in class or directly with other students, I allow for online collaboration. Students formulate questions and then I give them research time to independently or collaboratively search resources for answers.

Post-It Shares

I ask questions and have students write responses on Post-Its and put them on a wall. After all the Post-Its are up, we do a Gallery Walk and students can mark responses they agree or disagree with.


Free Build

For different units, I have provided large chunks of time to free experiments. I give materials and explain the unit outcomes. The students and I come to an agreement on appropriate use of free time. I then allow them to work freely and try out different things. In my experience, they usually work independently in the first build, but by the second build they start to work together and share tips and ideas. This is especially true for the introverts because it is a time for them to work out their ideas and show learning authentically without pressure to perform or contribute in a group. Other kids will naturally look over and see what they are doing, ask questions and try to engage them.

Science doodles

As a formative assessment, I have the students fill out a giant piece of white paper with drawings, comments, notes and cartoons that illustrate their thinking as we move towards the end of the unit. I usually do this after long school breaks. The drawing time gives the kids time to recharge and get focused. It is very much like a free write, but in a visual form. The kids can only use pen and no scribbling out. We draw in 20-30 minute blocks with a gallery walk (looking at others drawings and talking about good points and areas for improvement) in between.

Getting Started with EdTech 542

Technology Supported Project Based Learning

I love being able to directly apply skills I’m learning in EdTech to my current practice as a classroom teacher and curriculum designer. With that in mind, this course on Technology Integrated Project Based Learning (PBL) could not have come at a better time.

With my work developing units for inquiry-based science, math and design classes for middle school, I have found myself naturally gravitating towards Project Based Learning. I have been brushing up against principles of PBL while meeting the requirements of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program, but I have not had time to investigate it in depth and apply it to my practice.

This week, I explored the Buck Institute of Education’s website and started learning about PBL in today’s classrooms. I have decided to document my progress in this Weebly.