This article was written by Michele Langhans, an 8th grade science teacher at Lanier Middle School.
How do we meet all of our curriculum standards, provide authentic experiences, and use technology in our schools today? For me, I use project-based learning (PBL) with a twist. And when I say twist, I mean TWIST: Teamwork With Innovative Skills and Technology. This is our PBL program at Lanier Middle School. By using PBL, I can meet the needs of all students. I am not going to write about the “how-tos” of PBL–Buck Institute and Edutopia have already beaten me to that topic, and they have done it very well. Instead, I’ll focus on how I use technology to do PBL in authentic ways. (Also see the PBL Communication Center in eCLASS C&I.)
We all know that the students we teach now are not the same students of just a few years ago. Today’s students do not know of a world without the internet, much less the internet in the palm of their hands. They are digital natives, and adults are not. However, if we do not try to keep up with the ever-changing world of technology, we as teachers will become obsolete and ineffective. Thus, I do my very best to keep up with my very active middle schoolers.
Once we started TWIST four years ago, we knew that infusing technology would be a large portion of how we would work with students. Thus, we started with Google Apps. All of our TWIST students received their own Google Apps e-mail addresses and access to all Google Apps. That started our push into using technology. We use Google Drive for pretty much everything thing that we do. We set up TWIST folders that students regularly access.
In the picture above, you will see that we set up TWIST: Edit and TWIST: View Only folders. These folders are then shared with the students. Inside of these folders are where students can find the various projects, information, and resources that they can access from anywhere in the world.
Within the edit folder above, students enter in their Google Apps e-mail and links to their personal TWIST websites. Students maintain their own sites and continually use them to reflect on their own work.
In the view only folder (above) , students can access various help folders for Autodesk and Google Sketch Up as well as TWIST Documents and Projects, which are used with every project (you can see a view only version of the folders here). The TWIST contracts and project proposals that each team must make a copy of, rename, and complete live here. Every team must complete a contract and a proposal prior to beginning their project.
Once the contract and proposal are complete, then students may begin their projects. Inside the project folder, we place everything the students will need: the entry event, a timeline of activities and due dates, project overview, all of the standards, resources, and rubrics.
All of our Google Apps can be linked in eCLASS, our school district’s learning management system, by using either a shareable link or by embedding it into a widget, course content, or discussions.
Google is not the only technology we use for PBL. In order to truly move students into a PBL environment, I have flipped my classroom. As students need more help, I find or create video tutorials on how to use different technologies that are required. Students then have the option to watch and learn on their own or find another platform for their projects.
To get students into their projects quickly, I use Sophia.org and Blendspace.
Sophia is an online platform that was set up by Capella University to provide reasonably priced college courses to the public. Other universities now are a part of the system. It is also a free platform for educators to host videos. Why did I chose Sophia instead of Youtube? Accessibility. YouTube is blocked in my district for students when they are at school, so I needed a hosting site for my videos (at the time, we did not have eCLASS yet). I made my own tutorial videos using my laptop, Screen-cast-o-matic or Camtasia,
I also discovered Blendspace. It is a visual bookmarking system that goes way beyond just websites. Blendspace allows me to bookmark a wide variety of activities for students to use as they see fit: to extend, to remediate, or as to use as reference material.
Finally, throughout the project students practice reflecting. One way that my students reflect is by using Padlet, an online corkboard, and I embedded it into an eClass discussion page. This allows students to continually monitor their own progress, stresses, and successes.
As you can see, we are very active in middle school! Students are always using technology in a variety of ways from the beginning of their projects to the very end with reflection. My use of technology comes from two places: I feel the need to keep up with students and what technologies they are using and will be using in the future; and I actually enjoying pushing myself as well. Modeling life-long learning to students is very important.