Friday with Bianca!
I find myself sitting in a lecture by philosopher David Chalmers (it’s titled ‘The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis’) and realise that once again I am behind in writing my weekly post for edmodo – where do the hours go?! The layout of the room (a university lecture theatre) contradicts the focus of this post. It puts me in an uncomfortable and uncertain mood. I plan (as my title suggests) to blog about a student-centred, inquiry-based style of learning that seems anathema to the arrangement of this philosophy talk. And it prompts me to question the legitimacy of my vision for education. If a student’s learning career culminates in a university education – an education still mired in content transfer, hierarchies and exam-driven assessments – then am I not doing my students a disservice by using Project Based Learning? But then I reflect on PBL (which is not anti-expert, but rather pro-expert and encourages both the seeking of experts as well as the development of expert-like qualities) and I remember that the top tier of university study is student-centred and inquiry-based. Cool.
David Chalmers is a very clever guy who uses very impressive logical/mathematical formulas to present his ideas about artificial intelligence and the relationship between consciousness and technology. I am not nearly as clever as David Chalmers, but I can offer an equation that I have much faith in:
PBL + edmodo = Awesome
This formula has been proven in my class over the last 6 months. PBL is my favourite thing at the moment, and if you’ve read my personal blog you’d think I had the words edmodo and PBL tattooed onto my brain. (I don’t, I promise!) PBL is a tough nut to crack when you’re working for a public school with limited resources and the pressure of external standardised tests breathing down your neck. PBL is hard because it requires quite a lot of planning as well as quite a lot of guts – you need to have faith in yourself as an educator and faith that your students will ‘go with’ your radicalised view of teaching and learning. Getting your students to work in small groups to complete a project that will be shared with a real-world audience is pretty daunting. But it is made so much easier, and made so much better, thanks to edmodo.
To make this post as user-friendly as possible, I’m just going to give you my ‘Top 5 reasons why PBL + edmodo = awesome’:
- PBL is about collaboration: Students work in small groups to conduct investigations and complete products. The small group feature in edmodo means that students can name their ‘team’ and communicate openly about their project within their own ‘private’ small group.
- PBL is about formative and summative assessment: Students (and unfortunately many teachers, parents and administrators) often see the end product – the ‘assignment’ – as the main focus of learning. PBL encourages students and teachers to see the acquisition of skills and knowledge as being on a continuum. Both formative and summative assessment can occur seamlessly within edmodo. Teachers can observe the contributions students make to their team or class group simply by looking at the edmodo group. I have been using the assignment feature in edmodo to set tasks throughout a project as well as at the end of the project.
- PBL is about creating products and conducting investigations as a team: As students grapple with the over-arching question for the project (e.g. Should art imitate life?) they complete small ‘products’ such as blog posts or posters as well as ‘investigations’ such as research reports or slideshows. Edmodo acts as the hub for sharing completed products via links, file uploads and embeds. Students can also quickly and easily share resources with the class or their team on edmodo, helping them to more successfully complete products and investigations.
- PBL is about real-world audiences: This is my favourite part about PBL. We hear so often that the world is shrinking because of our increasing connectivity, but often it is hard for teachers to harness this connectivity in the classroom. At the heart of PBL is a connectedness to the local and global community, encouraging students to interact with community members as they work on ‘real-world’ problems and projects. Edmodo, as a private and secure learning platform controlled by the teacher, means that experts from around the world can be invited to join students in their virtual classroom as temporary group members. Alternatively students can set their questions to the experts as ‘public posts’, share the link and await feedback.
- PBL is about planning for success and reflecting on learning: A big part of PBL is empowering students to work independently and interdependently. Projects are completed because students set goals each lesson and reflect on their learning. I found that using paper goal-setting sheets was impractical, bad for the environment and distracting. Edmodo solved this problem. At the beginning of each lesson, students add their learning goals to edmodo in a direct post to me, and at the end of the lesson they add a ‘reply’ to this same post reflecting on whether they achieved these goals and why or why not. It has been SO successful that my students no longer require prompting to plan and reflect.
I hope that this post has helped at least one teacher decide to take up the challenge of project based learning. Your students will love it – the planning stages are tough, but once you hand out the task, create the teams and set your students up on edmodo, you’ll be ‘hands-free’ teaching before you know it!