Final Reflections of Project Based Learning

Our project is winding down and the link is attached here. This has been an amazing experience for me. Initially, when the class began, I was a little put off by the thought we would be responsible for our own learning. I felt considering the fees and what I was paying (or had paid through military service), I should be getting very focused instruction. I expected that I would not gain a great deal, or if I did, it would be in spite of the lack of visible instruction.

Shortly after beginning the course, we were given the opportunity to join into small groups or do the project on our own. Still not fully vested and unsure of what the composition of my group would be, I moved ahead. Boy, did I ever hit jackpot. I joined a great group of minds.

We all seemed to get excited about the project. As a result, we experience a PBL while creating a PBL. Certainly, this creation was not easy. We spent a great deal of time with each other every Monday night. Through the week, we communicated by text and email. However, the time flew by. It just did not seem laborious. However, I am not living on the east coast, as one of my cohorts, so the few really late nights we had might have taken a steeper toll on him. Considering how we all were energized each time we added a layer, I am not certain I would have had that energy off which to feed if I built a PBL on my own. In hindsight, having a group to work with was the greatest windfall for me in this course.

I would have liked to witness more PBL experiences incorporating Differentiated Learning. In my experience with students with learning differences, talking about it, reading about it and actually incorporating students in the mix are three very different things. I do understand the literature; I would just like to see it in practice.

I will take away a greater respect for use of Project Based Learning and Habit of Mind to create a culture shift. I look forward to the opportunity to help mentor teachers weave PBL into their coursework to make teaching and learning a collaborative experience for all.

Self evaluation of our PBL follows:.

Debrief, Reflect, Review and Revise

Once the event is over, all paperwork is done, and the guests are gone, I have found that most students experience a let down in the same way someone misses the show once the school play is over. The big fun project/labor of love is done and usually it is missed. I would want to create a highlight video of the presentations and reception/project defenses and share that video with the students. That way, they could all see what the audience saw. It is always hard to gauge your own performances. I would want to praise them, as the video should capture the students engaging with the community professionals and executives.

I would also want to share the results of their survey using the data sans names. Once the data is finished I would encourage them to talk about the data and process what could be done differently to make the experience better. Engaging the cohort class and gaining their feedback using the End of Project Survey on our PBL website would be valuable, as well as feedback from the cohort educators.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe, German philosopher and playwright used to ask three questions before reviewing a play:

1) What was the artist trying to do?

2) How well did he/she do it?

3) Was it worth doing? Does it have value?

I think with minor refinement, these questions would serve this project well, although there are many quality feedback forms on the BIE website. I would want to get feedback from some of our guests from the culminating activity. This would help assess the end products and if they could be market-ready and if they weren’t what the projects lacked to make a professional connection. I also think that feedback might be valuable for the students to see and process as well.

A discussion with my collaborators and quite possibly either the Dean of Faculty, Assistant Head of School or Head of School would prove time well spent. We should examine the student, cohort and guest surveys and assess the final products. At our meeting, posting the results would frame further conversations. Exploring the data, we could share our praises and our changes we would like to implement should we do the project again.

I think assessment should happen each and every time this PBL is used. Change is inevitable and that will happen with students, teachers, school, and community populations. As things change, the dynamics change. Self-assessment and analysis of any PBL should occur with each use. In addition, teachers should continually appraise the needs of each group of students to insure they are meeting the needs of the students while addressing the mandates of the school system.

Manage the Project – Week 6 – 542

The group work this week was stimulating to say the least. Tasked to explore Differentiated Instruction, we discussed the concept of RAFTs. It was probably one of our most interesting conversations so far. Both my cohorts are light-years ahead of me when it comes to engaging with technology and web tools. This topic was more in my wheelhouse having spent so much time working with students who learn differently. We discussed various learning differences (disabilities seems to imply there is something wrong with students, when we are just wired differently for processing) and how they might impact on RAFT construction. From a reflective standpoint, it was one of my top moments with this group, as I felt valued. This is not a pity-party, as I have felt valued in other areas, as well. This was different.

I have over twenty years experience teaching the Holocaust in a religious school setting. I have directed numerous plays and mentored students directing plays that were shared with the community regarding the Holocaust. That content knowledge aspect and the solid background integrating theatrical coursework with other departments established my place in our group without my ever having to share what I have done previously.

The difference for me is how I have changed as an educator. I have always enjoyed working on stage with a variety of learners. I repackaged instruction on more than one occasion to reach actors struggling to understand their role or motivation on the stage. I have not always provided them the various tools they needed for success in the classroom. As I have grown, I have absorbed different strategies to accomplish the same goals I had when I started teaching – to help as many young people get excited about learning as humanly possible and to have them want to reach and attain high standards.

PBL is yet another strong tool for changing the culture of a school toward student-driven learning. It is not easy work. Like directing a play or commanding soldiers, a leader or educator must be willing to spend a great deal of time preparing and collaborating. At times, teaching is like herding cats as the students will want to follow their own inquiries. It is THAT moment when it is most exciting as they move to seek and test their thoughts and ideas.

How do you herd them? That is where assessment comes in. I learned as a young officer, soldiers will do what you inspect, not what you expect. Students are no different. Clear instructions, solid scaffolding, differentiated instruction, stimulating content coupled with assessments ending with a high stakes activity will keep students wanting more. In fact, they will value the experience when they have sweated and strained to achieve, as long as they are not sweating the construction of the assignment. Implementing Habits of Mind and seeing the students demonstrate those and the 21st Century Skills in addition to mastery of the content area would be benchmarks to evaluate and celebrate.

Having left the front of my classroom years ago, moving to seating in the round and ultimately to a Harkness Table, being facilitator will not be a new experience. Having more tools in my toolbox will make the experience richer for my students and then for me.

Though I did not share it at the time, I found an excellent slideshare that would help anyone interested in this for the future – and will share with my cohorts.

Here are the notable products for this week:

Culminating Activity

Products & Performances

Differentiated Instruction (at bottom of page)

Reflection Methods (at bottom of page)

Scaffolding – Week 5 Reflection -542

This particular lesson this week was Planning and Preparing with an emphasis on scaffolding our learners. As we clarified where we wanted to end, we analyzed what it would take to get our students there. We wanted to provide the students a vision into our collective passions. Coming from our separate backgrounds, we listened to one another and added pieces to the whole.

One of our strengths is our difference. Viewing from our various experiences, we explored reaching all learners. One of my cohorts is a former teacher and now in IT and a Google Docs trainer. The other, also in IT, is our Spanish, sound and technical specialist. My background is both in teaching Theater and students with learning differences.

So on we went, detailing the specifics we would need in our Teaching and Learning Guide and we discovered areas that contained gaps in reaching our students. Rather than filling with wasted space documents and time, we challenged each other to talk out how to support our students. We looked to reduce assumptions we made about teaching high school students.

Jamie McKenzie addresses that “scaffolding clarifies purpose” (1999) as one of her eight characteristics. Our entry event is designed to evoke emotions since it centers around two unlikely friends during the Holocaust. Through underscoring innocence of the children of the world, even in the midst of great cruelty and prejudice, we start them caring about the future of their world and HOW they should make a difference.

At each level of this project we provide them structure and guidance to keep them focused on their mission. Starting at the end, we have worked backward leaving them materials they will need to build a road to where we want them to arrive. Our assessments are clear as they can be prior to implementation, so our charges know clearly our expectations. We have provided them a class glossary, adding some words we find essential to the information gathering, to use with their class and with their cohorts. We collected the best websites to get them started and information to analyze web information of their own choosing. We have provided them a tutorial on using VoiceThread and two opportunities to use it in the course of nine weeks. The use of Google Docs will encourage Peer editing and contributions so all feel included and heard. Adding a cohort element integrates curriculum and offers written and spoken immersion while providing direct contact with students halfway around the globe as they explore global issues.

I would love to test this PBL. I feel we have built a strong superstructure around their site of exploration and creation. I feel like we addressed all eight of the characteristics McKenzie addressed. All that remains will be the editing and revision that can only take place after a test with high school students.


McKenzie, J. (1999). Scaffolding for success. From Now On, The Educational Technology Journal, 9(4). Retrieved July 14, 2013, from

Week 4 Reflection – 542

Arthur Costa stated in the book Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind, “Educational outcomes in traditional settings focus on how many answers a student knows. When we teach for the Habits of Mind, we are interested also in how students behave when they don’t know an answer”(2008). I feel strongly our project assessments meet the criteria established in Key Principles of Effective Assessment. What I am more intrigued about this week is how to change culture. Assessment can play a part.

In order to make the shift in culture the tasks must be rich and challenging. The Holocaust PBL fits as it connects past to the present and future. This project will be something of interest and intrigue. That said, as I explored 16 listed Habits of Mind as learning outcomes, I realized I found something that could help. The sixteen listed Habits of the Mind are “patterns of intellectual behaviors that lead to productive actions” Costa, (2008). The list is not suggested to be complete. It does represent something teachable and able to be assessed. So the assessments and the actions of the teacher must model the behaviors I want from my students. Consequently, my assessment and my behavior should reflect the six dimensions that are integral to Habits of the Mind:

  • Value: If I want my students to value intellectual behavior over other things, I must be that model. I must value their presence and their time. My assessments must be real and an honest yardstick of their learning.
  • Inclination: I can promote student input on the type and nature of the assessment, teaching them to self-evaluate on their internal scale
  • Sensitivity: I can help model this dimension by channeling their inputs to find the appropriate time and method to chart their journey
  • Capability: I must learn all I can about assessments so I have many more tools in my toolbox. I do not have to know every answer about assessments; but I should know where to find them.
  • Commitment: I must be willing to explore my own work, analyze and modify for successful learning and communication. That includes assessments and structure I set in place. At the end of the day, I am responsible, whether or not I share the journey with students.
  • Policy: If when the going gets tough, I shift to other, less productive habits or assessments, the whole bubble bursts. Teaching teenagers is tough. They expect and demand that you walk the talk.

Costa, A. (2008). Describing the habits of mind. In A. Costa & B. Kallick (Eds.), Learning and leading with habits of mind: 16 essential characteristics for success. (2008). Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from

Week 3 Reflection – 542

Created with

We were busy this week. Found two other cohorts of like mind and interest to do our project. Deciding what we thought we wanted to do was not hard. Deciding what TO do was harder. Starting with the desire to create a unit of the present looking to a better future while focusing on a past event really appealed to me. Also, using the power of technology to have our class cohort with a class/school in another country in real time also heightened my interest.

I still remember pen pals in the elementary school of my youth. I also remember long deployments prior to the internet explosion where loved ones actually wrote letters. I have used SKYPE while my wife was deployed. Yes, it allowed decisions to be discussed in real time. However, until I started this degree program, I never really worked on projects in a synchronous Internet environment. Google Docs, Chat and other devices allow for research and decisions to be nearly instantaneous.

I created a Visual Organizer for our project using It was a pretty simple program once I played with it for a few minutes. I would not rank it as the most amazing thing I have ever done. It is a first, outside of Google Docs and it does the job.

We (my group) chose a state first. Using Idaho High School Education Standards as our roots, we grew our project from there. Once we identified and agreed upon the standards we all wanted to address, we worked on our Welcome and Overview. We moved to the Driving Question and then really began to network. We wrote, rewrote and will likely rewrite in the future as this project evolves. I like how we are integrating technology into our PBL. Since our group is new, we are still in the Honeymoon phase and all seems good. I hope we can keep this up and continue communicating to each other and the PBL continues to grow and flourish.

Welcome page –

Overview page –

Week 2 Reflection – 542

Tasked to read an article on the effectiveness of PBL on diverse learners, I found such an article, byProfessional Development in Inquiry-Based Science for Elementary Teachers of Diverse Student Groups, (Lee, Hart, Cuevas & Enders 2004). I felt strongly that PBL works with diverse learners; but the authors stressed that in order to be truly effective, teacher training must be restructured.

 Effective teacher in-service should relate to specific subject matter and how students learn (Lee, Hart, Cuevas & Enders 2004). Teacher must be trained in their content area, have a variety of effective learning strategies and have specific tools in their toolbox to teach diverse learners, in order for PBL to be successful at reaching all learners.

I truly think that PBL fits my teaching style. I have taught Theatre for many years. It may not be Project Based Learning in one sense and yet, how I have taught it, I feel there are many parallels. I have never embraced those who teach & direct Theatre at the high school level surrounding themselves with adults (moms or dads) to be in charge of each of the areas. I never felt students were doing the learning. I want students to do and be. I want students to have a safe place to fall (or fail) and feel secure enough to dust themselves off and fix what is broken or not right.

David Ashby, Michael Andreasen and I will collaborate on a PBL together. David Ashby and I chatted on Google + for quite a bit tonight. We decided our unit would begin with a study of the Holocaust. Our students will collaborate, or at a minimum, perform with a high school class in Spain. Our students will be high school, and most likely be 11th or 12th graders.  Our students will study the past, analyze and appraise the present and chart a course for the future. Much like the TV show What Would You Do?, we would like them to respond to What Should You Do?.

Our project is not complete and our direction still not quite focused. I have faith we will work well and start completing the puzzle together.



Lee, O., Hart, J. E., Cuevas, P., & Enders, C. (2004). Professional development in inquirybased science for elementary teachers of diverse student groups. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(10), 1021–1043. doi:10.1002/tea.20037