Technology as Your Secret Weapon for PBL
Technology as your secret weapon for PBL and other important project based learning topics!
Our students love technology, and -let’s be honest- there is no shortage of options for technology in our classrooms these days! Technology can be an educator’s best weapon and easy to use IF it’s the right fit for you, your students and the learning experience you want to create. If you are looking to “up your PBL game”, or simply looking to explore and experiment with one of the many project-based learning topics, technology can be your secret weapon to success… or it can feel like one more thing to do on your growing checklist and feel completely overwhelming. Drawing from my experience bringing PBL to schools around the world, I want to share with you five secrets for using technology as a tool in PBL to ensure best practices of teaching and learning, that will surely save you time and make your life easier!
Secret 1: Think about your end in mind
PBL is rooted in Understanding by Design, and therefore when planning a project one must always think about the end in mind. As you plan your next project consider what a final product might be-what students can produce to show that they have mastered the required content and skills of the project. As you brainstorm final products for your authentic project idea you can consider how technology can be infused by asking yourself: “how might technology enhance student learning throughout the process of this project?” and “how can technology push my students deeper in their learning by applying or ultimately communicating their learning in a new way?”. In a recent projects planned with elementary teachers from both Foothill Knolls STEM Elementary came up with this project idea that incorporated technology as a lever for deeper learning by having students ultimately produce a published book using the digital website of Shutterfly. For more great tech tools to use in your next project, check out this guest post by 5th grade teacher Camille Nunnenkamp.
Secret 2: Embed technology in formative assessments
One of the least sexy project-based learning topics is “assessment”, but have no fear it’s not as dirty as it sounds! After identifying a final product for a project the next step in project planning is to identify benchmarks for student learning, tied to deliverables. These deliverables are pieces of student work that show the results of scaffolded learning experiences and student progress toward developing mastery of content and skills needed to ultimately product the final product within the project-based learning experience. These deliverables are then assessed by the student, peers and teacher and used to provide opportunities for feedback and reflection to allow for assessment for learning, not just assessment of learning.
When I’m working with teachers I remind them that benchmark deliverables can be traditional in nature, for example quizzes, labs, essays or outlines; or they can also incorporate technology. A few of the most common deliverables that infuse technology include:
-Infographics created on Piktochart to show the collection of student research on a topic.
-Flipgrid to provide students with feedback on benchmark deliverables
-Explain Everything is a great tool for student-product diagrams that can highlight content vocabulary and understanding.
Secret 3: Use technology to make learning authentic
Authenticity is often defined by schools that I support as a tenant of High Quality Project based Learning. Authenticity is the word used to describe the connections made for students between the content they are required to learn and real-world issues, and is one of the most exciting project based learning topics to explore! Students can make connections to the real-world through any number of the following:
-Video conferencing with experts to interview on project content, or ask for feedback on a project idea (Check out skype a scientist).
-To capture observations during field work by using pic monkey to edit photos taken or Thinglink to explain the components of the photos captured.
-Garageband can be a great tool for recording interviews “in the field”.
Secret 4: Let technology be a lifesaver
Every educator knows the importance of organization, and technology can be an incredible tool in this regard for not only teachers, but students and parents, as well. A best practice of PBL is developing a project hub where all content is stored for a specific project-from project overviews and entry documents, to calendars and project resources. Google docs, Evernote and Newsela can serve as wonderful tools for a project hub, by allowing teachers to collaborate by adding resources to help one another, and providing access to students and parents. This hub is shared on day one of the project, during the project launch, and referenced daily~ keeping all project materials in one place and collaborative not only increases student agency, but will save you time and headache by having all project material in one place.
Secret 5: Technology can showcase student work
That’s right, in PBL you are going to need to get your swag on and exhibit student learning with a REAL audience. Technology can help this feel like an “easy lift” by giving you the outlet to get student work in front of a meaningful audience. I love to see social media leveraged both by teachers and students in PBL-either by a teacher or student run class social media account that showcases project processes or by student-created social media campaigns using platforms such as Canva, as a final product. Social media, for better or worse, is part of our daily lives and this generation has a wonderful opportunity to learn how to use it with social responsibility and to advocate for change or educate audiences, so let them share what they know with the world and inspire others!
Jenny Pieratt, Ph.D.. is President of CraftED Curriculum — a leading provider of Professional Development for PBL across the US and abroad. Jenny is a published author and active speaker on Project-based learning. She was a founding staff member at High Tech High North County, a former School Development Coach at New Tech Network, and National Faculty at BIE. You can learn more about how technology can help take your projects to the next level by joining Jenny’s interactive session at Fall CUE, where we will explore how technology can make PBL more convenient for YOU, while also engaging your students in a new way. You can also learn more by following Jenny on social media @crafted_jennypieratt or visit www.craftedcurriculum.com.