Monday, April 12, 2021

Project Based Learning Q&A #PBL

I've decided to start a series of posts based on the common questions I get from teachers about Project Based Learning. There are some commons problems that teachers encounter when using PBL in the classroom and I thought I would help address them. Also, there are some misconceptions about PBL that some teachers have that prevent them from embracing it in their classroom. I will also talk about those and hopefully clear up confusion about them. 

Problem #1

"I feel like I don't have anything to do when students are working on their projects."

There is this feeling that teachers that use PBL in the classroom are not "doing" as much as teachers using a traditional lecture approach to instruction. This is both correct and incorrect. During PBL in the classroom, you should not be spending much time lecturing. In a sense, you are doing less in terms of lecturing and that is why it might feel like you are not doing as much. 

During PBL time in the classroom, since the teacher time is not dedicated to lecture, it should be dedicated to engagement and conferencing. While it might not be possible to conference with every student in one class period, it is possible over multiple periods. Start with the students who might need more attention and work your way around the room. The conversations are good for helping students fine-tune their project or get support in other ways from the teacher. It is also an opportunity for the teacher to get to know the students a little better as they explain their approach to the project. You will find that you are busier checking in with all of these students than just standing and talking to the class for an entire period. 

The difference in these two approaches is they type of engagement that happens in the classroom. 

The teacher speaking and the students listening is passive engagement. Even then, you cannot be sure if a student is even passively engaged because they might be looking at you, but you can't be sure their focus is on what is being said. Passive engagement does not work for many students. They need something more from the class if they are going to be successful. 

When the students are working and the teacher is moving around the room, you have active engagement. Students are researching, designing, building, and are otherwise engaged in different ways. The teacher is physically moving around the room and engaging in conversations with students to learn about their projects and offer support as needed. You can see if students are actively engaged because they will be doing something or talking directly to you. 

Project Based Learning is about giving the students the chance to explore and learn in ways that are meaningful to them. As a teacher, it is important to fight the urge to just become a passive member of the classroom during this time. Get up and engage the students in their work and you will find that you are "busier" than the times you lectured for the class. 

Come back and check out new posts on PBL. If you have a PBL questions, send it to me and I could make it the next post! You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @TheNerdyTeacher. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Who is an authority in STEAM? #MakerEd #PBL #EdChat

 There was a tweet sent out by an awesome educator, Scott Nunes, that sparked an interesting sharing of ideas. 

 This was a follow up question to the tweet,

These ideas really had me thinking. For the first question on who is an authority on STEAM, some people responded by naming people they thought were an authority. I took it the question as something a bit more abstract. More of "what makes someone an authority on STEAM".  You can find my thread here, 

Overall, I think the A in STEAM covers the humanities. I think ELA is in STEAM. I think social studies is part of the A in STEAM. I think STEAM is school. Because of that, I do not believe there is anyone that can claim to be THE authority on it. I think there are people that bring tons of knowledge to the STEAM arena, but it is next to impossible to be THE authority. Being an expert in STEAM doesn't make you an authority on it either. I do not have experience in urban/rural STEAM, but there are those that do. How can I be an authority in STEAM for those areas where I lack experience? I have written books, spoken internationally, and worked with schools from across the country on MakerEd, STEAM, PBL, and other topics. I have learned from every group I have worked with over that time. While I think I can help educators on their learning journey, I do not have all of the answers and can't claim to be the THE guy in these areas. Everything I have learned has come from experience and what others have done before me. I am lucky that I have the opportunities to share that learning with others and I make sure to connect people with others that can be more helpful than me. It's important to know that you don't know everything. That is how we grow. 

Ultimately, I warn everyone to be wary of anyone that claims to be THE authority in any field. It suggests that they have very little to learn from others and that is not someone you want to bring into your school/district. 

What are your thoughts? What makes someone an authority on anything? 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Makerspaces in a post COVID world #MakerEd #PBL

As March comes to a close, some schools are starting to think about what the 2021-2022 school year is going to like for their students. One of the things that I hope sticks around is how many teachers embraced Project Based Learning as a strong pedagogical approach to learning during the pandemic. I have been lucky to work with different teachers across the the country that have embraced PBL and have seen the benefits it has for their students. The big questions is, "How do we maintain this positive movement into the next school year?" I think this is where an investment in makerspaces can be a great idea. 

If your school has embraced PBL, focusing on creating a space that supports these teachers and students is a wonderful way to keep the momentum. With teachers and students being able to work more closely next year, there will be a surge in possible project ideas that need to be supported. Having a dedicated space that would allow for a wide variety of projects would be great. By adding tools to a space, teachers will be able to expand the possible project offerings to students. If students have more freedom to choose their projects, having access to a larger variety of tools will help bring equity across the board. Having worked with schools that have built spaces to support PBL, I know what it is like to see students and teachers become more engaged in the process of learning with the addition of these learning spaces and the tools in them. Striking while the iron is hot is crucial. 

If you are a teacher that is excited about the strides you and your colleagues have made during the pandemic and you want to keep the great work going, I suggest you explore the plausibility of makerspaces in your school. There is so much that can be done to support students and their ideas when they have access to a makerspace. Some schools will look at the 21-22 school year as a chance to return to "normal". Other, more progressive schools, will look at the 21-22 school year as a chance to fix some of the problems that became glaring during the pandemic. Dedicating time and resources to support a positive change in instruction and learning is the best thing we can do moving forward. I have seen what a makerspace can do for students pre-pandemic and I know it will be a difference maker post-pandemic. 

If you are interested in exploring makerspaces and have questions, I'd love to connect and help in anyway that I can. If you have worked on setting up makerspaces, I'd love to connect and see what we can learn from one another. 

Have a wonderful day everyone!

Friday, March 19, 2021

Minecraft and Literature #MakerEd #PBL

 I wanted to share a fun project that I created for my students when I had to be out of class for a couple of days. My middle school design students were working on a Design Thinking project, but could not work on it because the world was with me on my computer. I needed something for them to do that would have them think and create. It came to me quickly and I think it is going to turn out wonderfully. 

I gave students links to "The Raven" and "A Tell-Tale Heart". I like Poe and these were chosen for that reason and that they are both very short. I wanted students to be able to listen/read them in class. I used the YouTube videos of Christopher Lee reading them and you can find them both below. 


After reading/listening to these two pieces, students have to choose a scene from each that stood out to them and design a version of it in Minecraft. Students would start with a paper design and then move to Minecraft Education Edition to fully flesh out their design. They would post their design and multiple images of their completed build in SeeSaw with explanations of why they chose the scene and how they built it. Here is the example I created for the students to see what I was looking for from them. 

My sketch is very rough, but it conveyed the idea I had. 

I really thought I did a good job showcasing the eye here. 

The full scene from afar. 

If you want to see my SeeSaw post, you can check it out here. 

These students are very gifted builders and I can't wait to see what they can create using Minecraft Education Edition. I think this is a great way to allow students to demonstrate understanding and meaning of texts in a way that is comfortable to them. Imagine students building entire towns or homes of characters and explaining their symbolic value in the story. Themes, motifs, symbols, characterization, and much more could be discussed in depth through their creations. I think there is so much here worth exploring and I would love to hear how other ELA teachers are using Minecraft to connect their students to the reading. Tweet or tag me @TheNerdyTeacher and we can connect!