PBL – Assessment FOR Learning

Assessment in my PBL unit on Heroism is weighted heavily on  assessment FOR learning strategies in order to provide students with opportunities for self reflection and inquiry. Assessment for learning encourages self analysis and provides motivation and the spark for students to strive to learn and do more. Providing students with clear criteria in the form of a rubric allows students to consider their own work against benchmarks of achievement. By providing opportunities for peer and teacher feedback throughout the process, students develop a sense of importance in the project while encouraging drafting and revisions. A well crafted set of assessments can motivate students to learn and is not simply a yard stick for measuring what they have learned.

The summative assessment I have built for this project is a rubric that sets out standards for all elements of the development, production and presentation of the final project which is the biographical documentary on their chosen hero. This allows students to know, going into production what the benchmarks for success are and motivates them to reach the highest levels. However, the creation of the artifact does not truly represent the ultimate goal of this unit which is really illustrated in the driving question:  What inspires ordinary people to do heroic deeds? It is through the creation of this video that hopefully reveals the answers to the students and also forces them to question themselves, asking Do I have a hero within me?


542 – PBL Unit in the Making

This week I was able to decide on one of the three ideas for a unit and sketch out its basis building blocks. The concept behind the project is to kindle the potential hero in ninth grade language Arts students, by exploring the characteristics of true heroism. This project will use a fictional character as the spring board into the investigation of heroism; however, it is the discovery of real everyday heroes and their stories that will emphasize the possibility that we can all be heroes. The unit explores the idea that traditional societal heroes are wrong because they organize their life around heroism. Just as childhood heroes are wrong because they posses supernatural talents. Most heroes are everyday people and the heroic act is what is unusual.

The project will use a combination of class collaboration to develop initial ideas, individual investigation to develop a tribute website to a living hero, and ultimately small grouping of students will produce a biographical documentary on a living hero of their choice.


542 – PBL Brainstorming

At this point early in the course we are to be considering a topic and approach for PBL unit development. As with all the other classes I have taken at BSU, I have tried to create projects that are applicable to my teaching areas with the intention of implementation. I have use the PBL approach with my Language Arts classes, although without many of the details evident in the examples I have seen over the past few days. In Language Arts I have used this approach to try and make real life connections to thematic study in literature with some success and would like to further explore this concept.

Some general ideas I am considering in the Language Arts 9 area are a deep examination of thematic elements relating to humanity and human nature as explored in the short story Dr Heidegger’s Experiment. My idea is to have students formulate a driving question based on a theme analysis of the story then work toward the creation of a documentary video.

In Language Arts 10 a connection between heroism and the main character Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird could lead into an investigation of the true qualities of a hero culminating in a documentary biography on a local hero, perhaps incorporating the MyHero website as a resource and presentation forum.

All of the above ideas culminate in the creation of documentaries. I teach a unit on documentary film making in Media Arts 11/12 and perhaps a PBL unit in this area could focus in on a topic of choice as well as the genre. Using the National Film Board of Canada’s web resource, Beyond The Lens as a opening resource in exploring techniques, history and documentary forms can lead into interest driven groupings and development of a film.

The final area I am considering right now is in Photography. Exploring the power of photojournalism to evoke change through a PBL unit may be effective. Using the James Natchway TED talk as an entry event maybe a useful strategy.


542 – Differentiated Instruction in PBL

In examining the many examples of Project Based Learning units over the past few days one common element in the design of instruction was the consideration of the needs of a diverse classroom through differentiated instruction. I discovered an article on Edutopia that offers some concrete examples of differentiation strategies. In a blog post by Andrew Miller (2012) he outlines six strategies for differentiated instruction in Project Based Learning.

1. Differentiate Through Teams

PBl is by nature a collaborative process and by sometimes grouping students in homogeneous ability levels the instructor can focus his/her attention on the groups that need the most help.


2. Reflection and Goal Setting

Taking time throughout a PBL project to reflect and re-adjust goals can allow individuals to set goals based on their needs and instructor to craft instruction based on these goals.


3. Mini Lessons

After reflection and goal setting instructors can modify and offer mini lessons for the diverse needs of the learner.


4. Voice and Choice in Products

Customizing the products or artifacts developed by students that reflect learning, based on the characteristics and needs of the learner, contributes to the success of PBL in a diverse classroom.


5. Differentiate Through Formative Assessment

Providing ongoing formative assessment is one of the primary jobs of the instructor during a PBL unit. PBL projects offer flexibility for instructors to assess and provide feedback through a variety of ways.


6. Balance Teamwork and Individual Work

PBL units should be developed to utilize both individual and group processes. As Mr. Miller states, “…demanding a 21st century collaborative environment while allowing time to meet students on an individual basis.”


This type of individualized instruction requires careful planning and flexibility by the instructor.



542: Technology Supported Project Based Learning – What is PBL?

Week one in this course has been a good reminder of the key elements of effective Project Based Learning units and why they are effective for students. In looking through the responses to questions from other students in the course there were some clear similarities. Most people emphasized the necessity for projects to address authentic, real life issues while remaining true to the standards and curriculum of the course. Another common thread dealt with student choice and flexibility. Here is my response to the questions this week.


  • Define Project Based Learning. Describe the difference between Project Based Learning and Problem Based Learning.

Project based learning is a constructivist approach to education that combines inquiry, investigation, research, collaboration, and creation, centered around a driving question and culminating in the creation and presentation of an artifact.
Problem based learning involves many of the same strategies, however the end result is limited to solving a problem. With Project Based Learning students must work through problems in order to find solutions that they can apply in the creation of a project. Solving real life problems and applying that knowledge in the creation of relevant, real life projects elevates the importance and gives meaning to learning.

  • Why should teachers consider incorporating PBL in their classroom?

Project Based Learning has become an essential approach to teaching that engages students through maximizing relevance. PBL should not be thought of as something external to the curriculum, rather as a way to deliver the curriculum in a way that teaches concepts at the right time in order to use them in real life situations or simulations.
World renowned mathematician and educator from MIT, Seymour Papert states in an Edutopia video on Project Based Learning that the,
“ …first thing you have to do is give up the idea of curriculum. Curriculum meaning you have to learn this on a given day. Replace it by a system where you learn this where you need it. So that means, you’ve got to put kids in a position where they’re going to use the knowledge that they’re getting.” By actually using the knowledge acquired during the exploration of a concept, rather than simply being tested on it, students are much more likely to gain a deeper understanding and maintain longer retention.
The collaborative nature of PBL is also an essential element of the process that cultivates valuable 21st century skills such as group interaction and communication. With the infusion of technology into PBL students are then given the opportunity to use the endless resources of the Internet, as well as the many technology tools available, in the investigation, collaboration, and production of a project. This process simulates and requires many of the same skills necessary for success in a 21st century workforce.
Perhaps the main reason to use PBL in the classroom is simply because it motivates students. Students choose to explore what is relevant to them in authentic environments with the ultimate goal of presenting an artifact, often to professionals outside of the school community. It is the high degree of relevance that stimulates motivation.

  • What are the essential components of a PBL approach to instruction?

Effective PBL units have several essential elements. They must have flexibility to allow for many learning paths and are cumulative in order for students to generate meaning. The unit must center on a driving question that compels students to explore a real life or simulated life experience and span the scope of many academic disciplines. The effective unit should tap the resources of the community, both virtually and in person and leverage the power of the Internet to access vast resources and primary sources. Within the unit there must be opportunities for students to learn from and with each other and collaborate in the creation of the artifact, putting them in the role of the “inquiring expert.” The effective PBL unit should emphasize student responsibility for their own learning, allowing them the freedom to make choices about what is important for them within the context of the question and also allow for adequate opportunities for feedback and revision. Ultimately the end result of inquiry and investigation is the creation of the project or artifact and its presentation.

Boss S. & Krauss J. (2007) Reinventing Project Based Learning. International Society for Technology in Education.