Sunday, November 27, 2011

Learning With Your PLN

I often get asked how I learned what I know about technology.  That is not a simple question to answer as there are so many different avenues I use to learn about new technologies or how to use older technologies in newer ways.  I think of the Beatles song "With a Little Help From My Friends".  Now, not all the lyrics support my process but the "help from my friends' part definitely is.  "My friends" are the people in my Personal Learning Network, my PLN.

I use a few different sites to connect with others interested in how to use technology to improve teaching and learning.  The most effective one for me right now is Linked In Groups. I have joined three groups: International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), Technology Integration in Education (TIE), and Wisconsin Educational Media and Technology Association (WEMTA). These three groups provide me with answers to questions I post as well as allows me to learn from others' postings and questions.  If you have not already joined these groups, I suggest you give them a try.  Create yourself an account at Linked In, join these groups, and start adding colleagues into your professional circle.

Another way that I learn about ed tech tools is to search sites like Slideshare and Prezi to find presentations created by others.  Often times, there are wonderful presentations posted there that make it easy for me to quickly scroll through the presentation, stopping only at the points where I will learn something new.

YouTube is another great place to search for tutorials and presentations to learn about any new ed tech tools. Create an account for yourself and you can save favorites as well as subscribe to "channels".  These channels are created by individuals or organizations and are gold mines for learning about ed tech.  For instance, if you subscribe to Google Apps channel, you can get an email each time a new video is uploaded. The same is true for TED talks and many other great YouTube channels.  Check out Michael Welsh's video on Reinventing Education.  It took me two minutes to find this on YouTube.

At times, I use Twitter to find information, although, I have to admit that it is less productive for me.  I use Tweet Deck to easily see others' tweets as well as to follow specific hashtags such as #edtech.  I also contribute by tweeting things I find on the Internet as well as retweeting posts that I think others will find valuable.

While these tools are not the only tools I use to learn on my own "with a little help from my friends", these are some of the key ones.  Look for a future post about how to use Google Reader to stay on top of the blogs you want to read the most.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Problem or Project Based....Does It Matter?

Photo by Tomasz Stasiuk on Flickr
For the past 5 years, I have been guiding teachers as they write problem based learning units.  I often get asked the question, "What is the difference between project-based and problem-based?"  While I know some people use these terms interchangeably, I believe their is a difference. 

In project-based, the students are working on a project with a product as the result of their work.  In problem-based, the students are solving a real-world problem and produce a product to show their solution.  While both approaches involve students working on developing some type of product, the problem-based task is focused more on the problem solving process and less on the product.  As stated on the EduTech wiki:

"Project-based learning typically begins with an end product or "artifact" in mind, the production of which requires specific content knowledge or skills and typically raises one or more problems which students must solve. Projects vary widely in scope and time frame, and end products vary widely in level of technology used and sophistication. Problem-based learning, as the name implies, begins with a problem for students to solve or learn more about. Often these problems are framed in a scenario or case study format. Problems are designed to be "ill-structured" and to imitate the complexity of real life cases."

I find that problem-based tasks are also more rigorous and often involve higher level thinking skills.  If the problem task is well-defined and "ill-structured", students need to work collaboratively with other students as well as experts to figure out the best solution for the problem. 

Designing the problem-based learning task scenario is often to most difficult part of the unit design.  You must begin with the end in mind, determining what you want the students to learn.  Then you must figure out what real-life scenarios would lend itself to this learning.  That is often tough to do.  You might want to contact your local Chamber of Commerce to see if they have a list of experts who are willing to help teachers come up with real-life problems related to the content they are teaching.

In problem based learning, there is a process the students' use to solve the problem.  The Illinois Math and Science Academy has defined the process as shown in this image:
There are also other problem solving models such as the Big6 Research Model and the 4D's.  While the Big6 process works well for initial teaching of researching information to  solve a problem, it seems that middle and high school students would best benefit from using either the IMSA model or the 4D's model.  It focuses more on the problem solution rather than specifically information research.  While information research is necessary when solving problems, these two models seem to work better for older students who have information research skills already.

Our district did a lot of work on problem based learning several years ago. We did a comparison of Big6, Super3 (Big6 for primary students) and 4D's.  While these all will work to some extent, I really like the IMSA model for upper elementary through high school. It seems to give enough guidance through the process without feeling to rigid.  I am teaching a graduate course this spring which is a one-credit introduction to problem-based learning.  As I prepare for this course, I will add blog posts with resources I find. I would also like to know what questions teachers have about problem-based learning.  Please share in the comments below or by emailing me.