Technology Integration in Project Based Learning

I just had a weekend TEDx video binge. Does anyone else have these? You start watching TED talks and just can't stop.

It started with  Will Richardson talking about how education has become hijacked by corporate reformers and elected officials who are politicizing teachers as inept who must be controlled with ear buds and note cards to standardize instruction. These people can't seem to understand the difference between test prep and actual "learning". Following this, I saw Andrew McAfee who highlights the disparity between blue and white collar workers in recent decades and how technical skills will give them an edge or leave others behind to flounder. Finally, I saw "Math Munch" which has been developed by some young eager beavers on how math is all around but it not taught and learned in a creative, playful fashion.

A common thread in all the videos is that our current dogma of educational measurement is notoriously antiquated. Assessments are shortly forgotten and learning cannot be applied laterally. We see this all around, yet, we wait for superman, hoping a solution will save us. What I see is that what is being done on a large scale is notoriously unpopular, meaningless and generally a bore.

"In America, no child should be left behind. Every child should be educated to his or her own full potential." President George W. Bush


The irony of the statement above is that our 43rd president was a below average student and still advocated that students "must take the test, because we need to see what they have learned".

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

Enter Project Based Learning
I tend to favor a project-based learning approach because it starts with an authentic task and it keeps students on task, and makes students see the connections between what they are learning and why they are learning it. However, "doing a project" at the end of a unit is not the same as "project based learning". Project based learning requires a dizzying understanding of the curriculum and the end product, typically used in a backwards design or UBD format. Good essential questions to "hook" the students are vital and the teacher must be an extraordinary planner who has a long term vision and timeline.

In the beauty of this approach is also it's limitation. To a teacher that plans "lesson to lesson" and only waits till the end of a unit to decide what to do at the end, having scaffolded lessons may seem like a real burden. Also, the project based approach may allow for more or less depth of the curriculum which a corporate reformer may not favor. "Why do these students learn more and these students learn less?" I imagine them saying.

That's the beauty of it. Formative assessments serve a little "check-ins" for the skills that students need to do the project. Teachers help them through the design process and use learning experiences to learn the content but the product focuses it in meaningful ways.

Technology Integration in PBL
Although every project is different, technology integration has definitely played a role for me in our recent unit in grade 7 science. For instance in our electricity unit, the students are building their own "Mars Rover" out of basic electrical components. The project has a greater aim which is using engineering know how to design and build a tool that can collect information of the surface of an alien world. Mimicking the NASA rover, this project involves:
Students work out a basic series motor series complete with two motors, cell and switch.
Students work out a basic series motor series complete with two motors, cell and switch.
  • Building basic circuits
  • Understanding the difference between a parallel and series circuit
  • Wiring circuits to allow for alternating current and locomotion in two different directions
A parallel circuit modeled in Google Drawing
Students model parallel circuits
Drawing circuits has been a common formative assessment so far in this unit. For instance, when the students were shown some basic circuitry symbols, I wanted to know if they could conceptually diagram how their circuit is working. Afterwards, being able to keep a working diagram but hypothesize how their switch would reverse the current flow later on. A Google drawing became invaluable, because it gave students the opportunity to "test" their conceptual theory of circuitry before wasting valuable time building and wiring it over and over until it did what they wanted it to do. Furthermore, they were able to collaborate and pool their knowledge about how effective that their design was an whether they really understood electric current. This is very demonstrative of constructivist learning principles.

Being able to present and test their theory not only helped groups ask questions of their own, but showed other groups some possibilities of how their circuits could be wired. As a informal formative assessment, it was dynamite and made extension assignments on parallel verses series circuits relevant and applicable to solving their problem.

Students test their understanding of parallel circuits with "infuse learning".
Students test their understanding of parallel circuits with "infuse learning".

There you have it. Technology plays a part in modelling, assessment and I have some ideas of how they could showcase their bots final data collection. Stay posted!

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