As schools continue to work through their experience from school closures during the last academic year, we are also preparing for the unknown of the upcoming school year. Educators are spending time this summer looking for new ideas and different tools that can help with transitioning from the physical space to online learning. When it comes to planning for the unknown, I am looking to use some methods that promote anywhere and anytime learning. Project-based learning (PBL) is something that I believe will work well during this time, regardless of the content area, grade level, or teaching experience with doing PBL in the classroom. With PBL, the learning space itself does not matter which makes it easier to transition.
When looking to understand authentic PBL, I referred to the PBL Works of the Buck Institute for Education. It defines PBL as “a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects.” What makes PBL a good idea for learning is that it is an iterative process that requires reflection. Reflection helps us to move students beyond focusing on the product of learning and instead, focus on the process and their growth. We want students to think about what they are studying, to focus on their “essential question” and self-assess throughout the learning experience. It is important that we provide opportunities for students to share their learning, to check-in and set new goals as they prepare to share their information with classmates and a larger public audience.
As they prepare, a large part of PBL is reflection. We want to provide different ways for students to reflect on their work, offering options that meet student interests and needs and that will help them to build confidence in a comfortable space for learning. With considerations of being in the physical classroom space or learning in the virtual space, we can leverage the different digital tools available to provide all students with something that works for them.
Here are three options that can help students reflect on their work during project-based learning:
Blogging: A great option that does not require technology to be used. Encouraging students to write down their thoughts as they are working on their PBL, will provide them with something tangible to go back to as they plan new goals and evaluate their own work. Having a notebook and even adding in sketches and ideas as part of the process are helpful ways for students to engage more in the content that they are learning. We also have a lot of options available to us when it comes to digital tools. Depending on the grade level, Seesaw, Kidblog, Edublogs, or even using documents shared in Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom can enable teachers and students to exchange feedback and track growth.
With blogging, being able to reflect by looking over one’s writing helps students to set new goals and keep moving on the path toward lifelong learning.
Video Reflections: A few years ago I had a student who decided to record short video reflections as she was working on her PBL. She decided to simply record using her phone and to save them for later just in case she wanted to think through a part of her research again. She didn't have any intention of sharing it with classmates or even with me, however, what she ultimately decided to do was to then post videos on a Padlet. In doing this, she was able to show her reflection and thoughts throughout the entire PBL process. Students can even use their phone to think aloud and talk through their ideas and then go back and listen to it again, which can be quite helpful with the reflective process. It is also a comfortable way for them to build confidence in speaking about their topic as well.
There are of course digital tools that we can use, such as Flipgrid, which I have used with my students. We can also use some of the other platforms out there such as Buncee, where students can record videos in a presentation and share their thoughts or even using a tool like Screencastify, where they can submit a video reflection to their teacher.
Discussion spaces: Beyond teaching the content and creating opportunities for more independent learning through PBL, it is important for teachers to help students to build their online presence and digital citizenship skills. When we find the right spaces, we can offer new ways for students to reflect on their work in class, track their progress during PBL, share their ideas or ask for feedback. We can promote communication regardless of where learning is happening and in doing so, we also help to build student confidence in conveying their ideas and expressing themselves. If we want non-digital options, we can use paper or sticky notes as a way to have students share reflections on not only their own work but also on the work of their peers. I have done this during PD events and have enjoyed the process. But for earning in the virtual space or as a way to extend learning beyond our class period, we can leverage some different tools that promote those conversations and reflections that are important for student growth and for the PBL process. Some options include Padlet, Trello boards, or even using Synth to have students respond to threads for their PBL topics.
There are a lot of ways out there to encourage students to reflect on their learning and for some students, that simply means providing the paper for them to write down their ideas. However, we also have to help students to build the essential skills for not only the future, but that they need now as we are finding ourselves using more technology for our learning experiences. Any one of these options would work well, and beyond using them for part of the reflective process in PBL, there are many other ways to use these tools. We can extend the options available to students for collaborating and communicating with their classmates, their teachers, and even beyond their classroom spaces.