Project-based Learning

my personal reflections on PBL and class experience

About this page

This page will be a reflection on the book "Project-based Learning; using information technology" by Moursund. It is also a journal were I reflect on my class experience, and interaction with my peers and the instructor; Professor. Carr
Project Based Learning: Explained.

Chapter One & Two

At the very beginning, Moursund in his book "Project-based Learning", touches on the theory of Constructivist Learning, a theory that I always liked and tried to apply to my teaching methods. How do students learn? How do I succeed in delivering new information? I always had these questions in my head until I read the Theory of Constructivist Learning. Constructivist views of learning focus on how learners make sense of new information, how they construct meaning based on what they already know. Understanding that students are actively constructing knowledge really helped me a lot in planning for new lessons. According to Good and Brophy (2003) in their book Learning in Classrooms, "...students develop new knowledge through a process of active construction. They do not merely passively receive or copy input from teachers or textbooks. Instead they actively mediate it by trying to make sense of it and relate it to what they already know about the topic" p.398


Later on chapter one, the author introduces Project-Based Learning or PBL. In PBL students are on a path that deepens their knowledge and builds critical thinking skills, and that is what curriculum leaders urge teachers to do. Project-Based Learning is simply about "team", students are working together as a group actively solving problems, using critical thinking skills, and making decisions. The five key factors of PBL, according to my understanding of reading the first two chapters, are critical thinking, collaboration, communication, researching, and feedback. I used group assignments and project-based assignments before, but after reading the first two chapters I have more knowledge on what to expect from students and what exactly my role as a teacher is. I totally agree with the author that teachers need to be a "guide on the side" rather than a "sage on the stage."


Solving any problem in this digital world or working on any project requires digital access to different information technology tools, or IT-Assisted tools. The author touches on a very important conflict that we face in our schools these days: the digital divide. For a successful PBL, students need access to different types of technology because technology enriches and advances education, and schools should integrate technology as much as possible. But at the same time, new technological innovations emerge almost every day which raises a big challenge for educators and schools to keep up with this fast movement. Some schools succeeded in keeping up with this technology movement and some are not, which created a digital divide: another contributor to the achievement gap. Some educators may think that by providing the underprivileged students the same technology access as their richer peers, they then solved the problem and closed the gap, well, I don't think so! This in fact only solves a part of the problem because the problem of digital divide is much bigger and requires more complex solutions. As Burbules (2006) explains in his article Beyond the Digital Divide "…there is not just one divide, but there are many digital divides and at the same time, there is not just one gap to close, but many gaps. The Digital Divide involves the lack of technology that communities have access to as well as social, economic, political, and cultural issues such as poverty and lack of educational funding. The lack of human, social and community resources also defines the divide. Evaluating the research, one can find common factors that foster success and well as common obstacles that hamper success. Lessons can be learned from both success and failure stories." Educators are trying really hard to solve the issue of "Digital Equity" which requires great efforts and needs great understanding of the whole picture. I like this metaphor that describes this issue: "Closing the digital divide is like stopping world hunger. We see success stories and valuable programs throughout the world but we know that there are still many children in the world who will never have three meals a day, much less computer access." What is special about PBL is that this type of project does not require many IT-assisted tools, because PBL focuses on topics that are "relatively independent of any specific hardware or software." What is unique about PBL is that students do not need to learn about all the great tools out there before working on PBL; even teachers don't have to know a great deal about a wide range of computer tools before starting to engage their students in IT-assisted PBL. Project-Based Learning is basically about "learning on the job" students and teachers alike learn from each other and learn by doing. In PBL, peer-assessment and peer-instruction are heavily relied upon.

Today's Class: 9/4

Tonight, the class provided me with insights, we discussed Instructional Design and the basic principles of designing a lesson. After this class, I now have clear vision about my lessons and what approach I am adapting and techniques I am following. Also, seeing the work of my colleagues gave me a clear idea about what my final work should look like. I am really excited to start working on my binder and I cannot wait to see my final project.

Chapter Three & Four

After introducing Problem-Based Learning technique in the first two chapters, Moursund then addressed a very important question that every teacher asks including myself. Where can we find some good ideas for PBL lessons? In my opinion, when looking for examples of PBL, we should always look for a PBL lesson that has worked well for others. Moreover, a key success in these PBL lessons lays in the content itself which needs to be challenging, learner centered, and authentic. The author provided some good examples of PBL in chapter three and the previous chapters, but what really attracted my attention is that these examples are exactly what curriculum leaders are calling for. The major goal of curriculum leaders is to have a generation of students who are problem-solvers, critical-thinkers, and decision-makers. Problem-Based Learning lessons help students to see the parallels between the project and similar real-world projects. As Moursund mentioned in the book, PBL projects "...tend to have many characteristics in common [with real life projects]." This similarity prepares students to real life by equipping them with all the necessary tools and skills needed to be successful with bright future.


Later on chapter three, the author moved to discuss how to choose an age-appropriate PBL lesson to how to develop a PBL lesson by identifying the "big idea" and then use it as a starting point on a particular curriculum topic. What really attracted my attention in chapter three is PBL on digital communication. Nowadays, we have tons of free digital communication tools out there on the digital world, or what is now known as Web 2.0 tools. These free Web 2.0 tools are helping students around the world to collaborate anytime and anywhere which brings a major shift in the way education is provided for students today. One of the biggest shifts that learning specialists Richardson (2006) points out in his book " Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Tools for Classrooms" is the fact that education must be not only socially, but collaboratively constructed. This means that students in a Web 2.0 classroom are expected to collaborate with their peers which is the core focus of PBL lessons. By making the shift to a Web 2.0 classroom, teachers are creating a more open atmosphere where students are expected to stay engaged and participate in the discussions and learning that is taking place around them, as Richardson points out "...the web has the potential to radically change what we assume about teaching and learning, and it presents us with important questions to ponder: What needs to change about our curriculum when our students have the ability to reach audiences far beyond our classroom walls?" Using Web 2.0 tools, in a PBL lesson, can promote critical, analytical, creative, and intuitive thinking.


Chapter four stress again on learning theories viewing PBL lessons as a good example that fulfills what the Motivation Theory calls for. PBL lessons enhance motivation and foster cognitive engagement, and when students are motivated and cognitively engaged they will learn more and probably remember these lessons better. Another theory that chapter four mentioned, is the Multiple Intelligence Theory, a theory that I am one of the biggest advocate of. Students come to school with an ever-broadening spectrum of needs and because of that, educators need to adapt new ways of teaching to accommodate these needs. It is unfair to expect that all students can learn in the same way at the same amount of time. Students come to school with different learning styles and with multiple levels of intelligence. Dr. Howard Gardner’s (1943) in his book Frames of Mind said "Seven kinds of intelligence would allow seven ways to teach, rather than one. And powerful constraints that exist in the mind can be mobilized to introduce a particular concept in a way that children are most likely to learn it and least likely to distort it. Paradoxically, constraints can be suggestive and ultimately freeing." Now how to use this theory in an effective way in order to get the best out of students? Here comes the role of accommodations, and PBL lessons can be viewed as a good example of these accommodations. Educators need to understand that students have different intelligences, different needs, different abilities, and different understandings. PBL lessons can fulfill these needs and lead to high quality academic outcomes.

Today's Class: 9/11

Tonight I reviewed the Learning Style Inventory that I created with Dr. Carr, I really spent some serious time doing this booklet. Even though that I found the inventory questions online, I did not want to use it as is, so I converted these plain questions in the inventory into pictures in order to have something different, something exciting, and most of all accurate. The hardest part of creating this booklet is finding graphics that go with each question. It may sound easy, but it was really time consuming. In this night one of my colleagues "Chris" came and showed us his work, I liked how he saved his all project online it is neat and organized and he incorporated different types of technology into his lessons. I keep having new ideas every time I come to this class and really like how Dr. Carr makes sure that we all exposed to different ideas and have the enough knowledge to carry on this project.

Chapter Five & Six

Planning and designing an IT-assisted Problem-Based Learning lesson can be very hard specially for the novice. Moursund (2003) in chapter five of his book Project-based Learning: using information technology provided very helpful steps to guide teachers' thinking as they develop an IT-assisted PBL lesson. A good starting point is to measure students' skills and knowledge by conducting an authentic assessment that clearly examines students' performance. Knowing students' background help teachers choose materials and resources that best suit students level of knowledge. In my case as a lower-grade teacher measuring my students' level of knowledge is not my only initial problem. Young students in primary grades are usually beginners when it comes to working on projects that require some skills. These students need to acquire these basic skills by working on short and simple projects. Having the knowledge to carry out complex projects that require critical thinking, detailed planning, and allocation of resources does not come over night. Students, and teachers alike, can reach this goal through many years of guidance and experience. Chapter five discussed core problems in IT-assisted PBL lesson, but also provided some insightful solutions. Description of tasks in an outline form is one of the things I love in this chapter along with how to manage time in PBL lesson and build a timeline chart for a project to be carried out over some period of time.


Assessing students' level of knowledge and testing their skills are not the only challenge teachers face in planning and designing an IT-assisted PBL. The first part of chapter six in Moursund (2003) book focuses on challenges that some teachers face while developing PBL lessons. One of the problems discussed in this part is if teachers see themselves as tech savvy or not? This is interesting to me because as Moursund (2003) described it "...the average teacher is unlikely to have a deep mastery of IT or of teaching in an IT environment." So as core step, teachers need to include some personal learning goals and familiarize themselves with educational technologies out there. Moreover knowing the technology alone is not enough, but teachers need to know how to implement these technology techniques in a way that enriches the whole educational experience. As Levine (2011) explained "... technology on its own is relatively neutral: But if teachers and other caregivers are not knowledgeable about ways to deploy key design elements to personalize, deepen and extend learning, we face the typical adaptation cycle in which practitioners place new labels on the same old ineffective practices." So, when planning an IT-assisted PBL lesson teachers should focus on technology techniques that best fit the needs of students and the learning they want to occur for not only their students but themselves alike. The rest of chapter six provided detailed steps starting from designing a PBL lesson up to implementation which is very helpful for me since I am in the process of designing my own IT-assisted PBL lesson. I will definitely come back to this chapter in the future and recommend the book for teachers who are interested in creating their own IT-assisted PBL lessons.

Chapter Seven & Eight

Most educators share the same general goals, hopes, and dreams when it comes to the main goal of education, but this does not apply for assessment. Should standardized tests be used at the end of each academic year as measurements for students' academic achievements? Or should educators make their decisions based on an ongoing performance-based assessment? These two approaches have been dividing educators into two groups; those who support old fashion assessment and those who support authentic assessment. Chapter seven in Moursund book focuses on authentic assessment in IT-assisted PBL lesson. Before making a decision on what approach should be used, policy makers, curriculum leaders, administrates, school principals, and teachers should think first about why do they use assessment? What is the purpose of the assessment? The answer is simple, teachers teach simply because they want students to learn, to love learning, and to strive for more learning. Measuring learning cannot be done by using one way of measurements because students learn in different ways so they need different types of measurements. Standardized tests or as some educators like to call it "uniform tests" really disregard all theories of learning and learning styles not to mention Dr. Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences.

An effective authentic assessment in any IT-assisted PBL needs a lot of planning and tends to improve through time. Teachers can use authentic assessment throughout the year not only at the end of each academic year and not only through writing materials. This kind of assessment usually accompanied with certain goals. Goals where students become cooperative learners, collaborative problem solvers, and decision makers. In authentic assessment, teachers are not evaluating students based on the result of a one day standardized test, but the process of evaluation takes a whole year and takes into account things like students helping other students to learn.

There is no problem with IT-assisted PBL lessons or its authentic assessment approach. The real problem is that changing an educational community is really hard even if an outstanding results and outcomes were presented. Chapter eight focuses on the future of such an innovative approach to learning and clearly sees it as very hard to embrace and will face resistance from various educators. Even though the structure of PBL lessons may differ, the general goals and objectives tend to be similar. The purpose of k-12 education is to prepare students to the workforce. An environment which students will be judged not only on their test results, but also on their collaborative, negotiating, planning, and decision making skills. By adapting and implementing PBL innovative approach to learning, students will be able to function successfully in the demanding future.

Tonight's Class: 10/2

The peer review that has been going through out this class is very helpful and I see it as valuable feedback. The tension and nervous that I developed on the first two classes are really fading out thanks to Professor Carr guidance and peers' discussions and reviews. My binder keeps growing and I started to see the fruit of my hard work.

Appendix A & B

As any educator I learned that the main goal of K-12 education is to have a generation of critical thinkers, problem solvers, and decision makers. Passively receiving information from teachers will never produces such a generation. We want our students to comprehend the knowledge they are receiving as well as actively use this newly acquired knowledge and skills. I like how Moursund differentiated between knowledge and information. Memorizing more information does not provide students with more knowledge. To understand Moursund's point of view, let me first differentiate between knowledge and information. Knowledge is what students already know, it is like a big map stored in students' minds. Students use this map to understand things around them and consequences of their actions. Students also store in their mental map their ideas, predictions, and beliefs. When it comes to making decisions or making sense of what happing around them, students rely on this map not the real world itself. Nowadays we cannot store knowledge in anything but the human brain. Brain is the only thing that is capable of connecting and gathering everything together.

Information, on the other hand, is the resources the brain use to expand knowledge. Students need information to be able to get knowledge, and knowledge is the useful application of the information. Students model information to be useful by using their stored knowledge. So based on this, to get knowledge students need some cognitive and analytical abilities. Students need cognitive and analytical abilities to process information and construct new knowledge based on their previous knowledge (mental map). This somehow relates to the Constructivism theory that says students construct new knowledge based on their previous knowledge. The theory of Constructivism focuses on first-hand experiences, and this is really important because many students can memorize information but they don't actually comprehend the meaning of this information. Project Based Learning, the focus of Moursund book, is actually a way that requires high-order thinking by offering hands-on activities that give students the chance to apply the new information and expand their knowledge.

Project Based Learning offers a chance for students to demonstrate their new knowledge by using IT-assisted tools. I totally agree with this notion, but my concern is as following: Are we relying heavily on sophisticated technology to the extent that we no longer teach our students how to do things mentally? Of course technology increased classroom productivity and improved overall efficiency of efforts, but what about students' mental abilities? Is technology making students mentally lazy? Students are unable to calculate in their heads simple math because of exposure to hand-held technology at a young age. A research shows that students today are worse at math than in 1970s', because as Elizabeth Truss, the Conservative MP for South West Norfolk, describes it"... the development was leaving English children lagging behind peers in other countries that place strict curbs on the use of calculators in primary schools." Technology is a vital component for success and thus technology in classrooms is necessity, but we need to see technology as a tool not as a convenience and this what students need to understand. As far as teachers, they should use technology to help reinforce the concepts that are being taught. Technology will not make students mentally lazy if used correctly, in fact technology will help students master the concepts that are necessary in order to do mental math.

Appendix B in Moursund book is really helpful specially the part about problem clarification process and problem solving steps. Students should learn in school not only about new information but how to use these information in their daily activities. Problem-solving skills is as I mentioned previously one of the three major goals of K-12 education. Teaching students problem-solving skills is not hard. If students are having trouble in dealing with certain problem, teachers can model the problem solving process instead of simply giving students the answer. Teachers need to help students to articulate their problem solving process by giving them indirect solutions or examples that are somehow similar to the problem students are facing. Teachers can also help students to acquire such skill by creating a classroom environment that embraces discourse. A crucial step to successful learning of problem-solving skills is making sure that students are able to define the end goal. This is possible by teaching students to answer the questions of “what?”, “why?”, and “how?” PBL is a great tool that fuel students' skills of problem-solving. This is because PBL follow six major steps that leads to accomplishing the task and solving the problem. These six steps are clearly described in Appendix B. Integrating PBL lessons will have great results that every teacher is hoping for. PBL will transfer students to become effective problem- solvers where they will be able to solve more and more complex problems with greater independence.

Final reflection

I am not sure where to start when talking about the tremendous knowledge I gained from this program. It was an enlightening experience to work under the guidance of such great professors. I came to the United States with a dream to make a difference in education, but I realized that without proper knowledge and skills I will never fulfill my dream. Getting into Seton Hall was the first step that opened that door to that path that will lead me to the achievement of my goal. I started this program in Fall 2011, and from the moment I walked into my first class I felt the love, the respect, the appreciation, and the very welcoming environment. All my nervousness and tension faded away that day and never came back.

I learned about theories in education and how such theories impact academic achievements and the whole learning process. The most two fascinating theories that really caught my attention are the theory of Learning and Learning styles, and the Multiple Intelligence theory. The more I investigate these theories the more I become fascinated by them, I always believed that one size doesn't fit all especially in education. I loved learning about the different kinds of learning styles inventory, I even created my own! I also learned how to read these learning inventories' results to construct successful learning strategies, a knowledge that I will appreciate, cherish, and carry for the rest of my future endeavors. Beside learning style inventory I also learned about how to conduct a successful survey to evaluate not just students, but also libraries. These surveys can be very helpful in measuring the effectiveness of school programs, teaching materials and resources, or even to collect data to make school-related decisions. Conducting surveys to measure the success of any educational program is a necessary step that leads to the creation of an ideal educational environment that fosters innovation and critical thinking, two things we definitely want our kids to acquire.

Through this journey I learned how to make decisions based on solid grounds by reading and closely investigating current issues in education such as budget cuts, digital divide, school dropout, and others that face curriculum leaders every day. Having an interest in improving the overall education system, these current issues that I learned about through many courses in this program will definitely help my future progress. I wrote many papers regarding these issues which expanded my knowledge in how to deal with them. Also, listening to my professors and my colleagues discussing these issues in education and suggesting solutions really enlightened my mind. Also in this journey, I created my own online course right from scratch: an amazing experience that I never thought it would be this smooth. While creating my own online course, I learned how to locate resources, create rubrics, construct materials, and build various ways of assessment and evaluation. I also learned what kind of problems may face an online instructor while teaching an online course, and how to resolve or possibly avoid these issues.

Technology and assistive technology are one of my favorite subjects in this program. To facilitate students learning of content, educators need to meet students' needs and learning styles. Integrating technology through teaching is something that this program really focuses on. Through the program's courses I learned about great Web 2.0 tools that I have been using since the moment they were introduced to me. Prezi, Issuu, Qwiki, Gloster, Xtranormal, Smore, and more are great tools that I really consider a valuable treasure and try to introduce to others. Assistive technology as well is another way to facilitate learning and accommodate students with disabilities needs. In this program, I learned that assistive technology does not need to be big, space consuming, or even expensive. In fact, a tablet's app can replace these assistive devices and give the same result, or maybe even a better result. Social media is a subject that been introduced a lot in this program as a tool for classroom collaboration and communication. Living in the 21st century and teaching digital native students requires teachers to be tech savvy. This program definitely prepares teachers for this digital age by equipping them with all the needed knowledge and skills to be effective communicators and modern facilitators.

Presentation, presentation, presentation! When I entered this program all I knew about presentation is Microsoft PowerPoint. And to be honest with you, I simply used pre-designed slides and entered my text. After taking some courses in this program that focus on presentation and the overall appearance of the work my whole idea of presentation changed. Even though I am a visual person I never paid attention to the potentials of Web 2.0 tools in presentations or even to other enhancing options in PowerPoint. Now, I am never satisfied with any image I find in the Web until I edit it, crop it, resize it and sometimes group it with another image. I learned how to embed videos into my presentation, and how to make my presentation interactive and more attractive to others.

This program made a difference in my professional career and made such a positive impact on my personal development. I can see the potential of the knowledge that I have gained from this program in advancing my career. I am now more familiar with theories of education, especially those regarding students' learning and needs. Current issues in education and suggested solutions are things that I personally practiced through this program. I truly believe that my critical thinking skills improved and that I am now ready to be a decision maker who makes her decisions based on surveys, collected data, and valid analysis. This program raised my confidence and my ambition, and now I can see a more definite picture of my future thanks to all of the professors who ensured the competence of their students.

References

Burbules, N. C., Callister, T. A., & Taaffe, C. Beyond the digital divide. Technology and Education: Issues in Administration, Policy, and Applications in K12 Schools Advances in Educational Administration, 8, 85-99.


Gardner, H. (1943). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences.


Good, T., & Brophy, J. (2003). Looking in classrooms (9th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Infogineering. The difference between data, information, and knowledge. Retrieved October 23, 2012, from http://www.infogineering.net/data-information-knowledge.htm


Kivumbi. (2011). Difference between knowledge and information. Retrieved October 23, 2012, from http://www.differencebetween.net/language/difference-between-knowledge-and-information/


Levine. M. (2011). Transforming teaching for today's tech-savvy young children. Retrieved September 23, 2011, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-levine/transforming-teaching-for_b_1080476.html


Moursund, D. (2002). Project-Based Learning Using Information Technology. (2nd ed.). International Society for Technology in Education.


Richardson, W. (2006). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other powerful tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Pres.