Project-Based Learning Easier with Edtech

21 Nov 2013 | Under Instructional Strategies | Posted by | 1 Comment

Project-Based Learning, or PBL, is an exciting, constructionist instructional strategy that puts an authentic challenge forward as the centerpiece of a unit. In a hands-on, group endeavor, students engage in a well-planned process of discovery and assemble a product that demonstrates their content-knowledge. PBL can be difficult to execute well. Students will need ample scaffolding, front-loaded content, carefully chosen groups, explicit instructions, varied assessments and ample feedback. Fortunately, project-based learning is made easier with educational technology.

Edutopia’s Vanessa Vega published a useful review of the research surrounding PBL. The evidence-based keys to success and the known pitfalls are full of opportunities to take advantage of a blended classroom. Leveraging a one-to-one ratio of students to WiFi enabled devices can make teachers’ lives easier while making your PBL more resilient and flexible.

An Online PBL

The most obvious iteration of educational technology’s role in PBL would be to direct students to build a project using their computers or tablets. There are scores of websites, apps and resources that give students the power to build powerful content that can have an authentic impact. Videos posted to YouTube and edited using iMovie, lectures made with Educreations, or websites created in Google Sites are just a few of the ways teachers could construct an online PBL. But for many teachers, this form of edtech will not make project-based learning easier. An instructor will need a high degree of technical confidence to manage a class full of web designers. There are instead ways to use classroom-ready technologies that will not add another layer of obstacles.

Are your students ready?

A skilled lawyer will never ask a question to which they don’t already know the answer. A skilled teacher will never give a summative assessment without knowing how their students will answer. Frequent checks for understanding and other formative assessments will allow an instructor to carefully measure student comprehension well before the “big one.” A project requires students to apply a wide array of skills. You can take a few simple steps to prepare for this and improve your chances for success.

First step is to identify the concepts students will need before the project ever begins. For example, if your ambitious project is to speak at city council meeting about concerns of water contamination, you may want to equip them with ecological vocabulary and frame of reference so they can continue research independently. Give mini projects in advance of the big project to see how students fair in a more independent environment. Revise and retry until you’ve gotten the knowledge and the procedures down pat.

Next, enter the learning targets into your Course / Class Editor in ExitTicket. With a few clicks, you can link the questions in every ExitTicket assessment to the concepts and skills students need. Your class will be accountable for getting proficient in the necessary concepts before they’re qualified to engage in the project. And once they see their scores in each standard turn green, they will have an additional degree of earned confidence.

Balanced Groups

Front-loading your instruction using ExitTicket will not only provide you with quantitative data showing your students’ readiness, it will also give you a better understanding of their strengths and struggles. You can use this data to build groups that have complementary strengths.

A student’s academic performance is far more nuanced than a class average. Parsing their grade into the concepts within your curriculum can give you the insight to match a student that has mastered a skill with a student that needs help with that specific concept.

Assessments and Feedback

Varied assessments are a critical component to a successful PBL unit. A rubrics with language that is accessible to students and referenced frequently is the basis of success. But there has to be more frequent and varied types of assessments to supplement the core rubric. Frequent checks provide the guidance and accountability that maintain your project’s structure.

ExitTicket can help. Ungraded practice assessments about the higher ordered concepts students should be discovering can help nudge students in the right direction while recognizing those that are “getting it.” Polls can discretely allow students to rate their groups and provide the teacher with an essential intervention hotlist. And since explicit instructions are so essential for projects to thrive, it can also be helpful to give students short assessments about the procedures they should be following to execute their group work.

The feedback you can give by including ExitTicket in your PBL is so much richer and specific. Pulling a student to the side and explaining you’re concerned will go a lot smoother if there is data to reference. More importantly, the data is associated to a specific skill. It’s not an issue of being a bad student, it’s an issue of this concrete target. Interventions can happen when they’re needed most and can be about the topic that’s most needed.

Dan Adiletta

About Dan Adiletta

Daniel Adiletta is a licensed teacher with experience implementing 1:1 programs. While guiding an iPad initiative and teaching Computer Science, Adiletta went through numerous response systems until he found ExitTicket. It was exactly what he was looking for and he told his colleagues about it via YouTube.

Giving frequent assessments allow teachers to help struggling students before they fall to far behind because they provide quick feedback. They also give the teacher the opportunity to reteach.

Chanda Jefferson, High School Biology, South Carolina

Kept frequent and fun, real-time feedback can identify where interventions are needed.

Kelly Metz, MIddle School Science, Michigan

Students know where they stand, and can take charge of their learning when needed to understand a certain concept.

Jen Ciok, Middle School Social Studies, Illinois

Prior to ExitTicket, paper-based quizzes, exit slips, and even tests would sometimes go ungraded on my desk.

Robert Rigonan, Middle School Science, Nevada

Today, I ran a professional development my teaching staff at Allen Park High School. It went great. Before today, I have 8 teachers who are using it. After today, the number will definitely increase.

Tim Brown, Mathematics Department Chair
Allen Park High School

ExitTicket has been designed how education technology should be designed: In the classroom, by teachers and students.

Scot Refsland, Ph.D.
LPS Innovation Fellow

We designed and built ExitTicket with the purpose of giving teachers a powerful tool to accelerate student learning – particularly for students entering significantly below grade level.

Louise Waters
Dr Louise Waters, CEO, Superintendent
Leadership Public Schools

Great app to be a more responsive teacher, save time grading, and have students celebrate growth

Mitch Mosbey, First Grade
Promise Road Elementary

Looking for a way to track and monitor student progress? Use ExitTicket student response system for beautiful management!

Lindsay Hudak, Edtech Integration Specialist
Tri-Creek School Corp.

Your app has helped me teach my students how having ‘grit’ leads to success

Kristin Thomsen, 6th Grade Teacher

I saw ExitTicket when it was just barely a functional prototype two years ago. Now seeing it in action recently at the Education For the Future’s Summer Institute, Wow! It’s a real game changer.

Marcy Lauck, Director, National Data Strategies, NLET

I am very enthusiastic about ExitTicket because it fills a much needed gap in our education reform efforts.

Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart

I’ve seen a lot of technology over the years, and ExitTicket is one of the most impactful educational tools I’ve ever seen.

Tim Koogle, Former CEO of Yahoo

I’m a huge ExitTicket fan.

James Sanders, White House Fellow

The power of change it produces in both students and teachers is amazing. The way it handles detailed longitudinal data has never been seen before in a student response system.

Vickie Bernhardt, Director, Education for the Future