With the advent of CCSS and NGSS many teachers are feeling the pressure to embrace project based learning. In a PBL environment, students work collaboratively for an extended period of time, attempting to solve a real world problem or challenge, gaining knowledge and skills along the way. In this environment, students have choices in how to approach the question and are responsible for asking questions, finding resources, sharing information and applying what they learn. In this environment there is room for revision and reflection throughout the project. The project run culminates in a public product shared with the community at large.
With all of the intangibles and flux that occur during a PBL run, teachers are often overwhelmed with the enormity of managing a project run. I know I was. You see, I have been using PBL as my main form of delivery for almost a decade to teach middle school science and engineering. Now in all honesty, my first couple of years doing PBL were not particularly stellar. I would assign the project, kids would get to work, I would check in and give feedback (which was usually ignored) and come presentation day I would get a mish-mash of products, maybe a couple of really good ones, but not often. I had read the literature, been trained and “checked all the boxes,” so why was it so hard? I often felt like giving up, and basically saying PBL is just not for me.
However, I am at times stubborn. I had seen the beautiful examples presented by BIE and High Tech High. The literature I had read made sense to me. I knew that there had to be a way to make this PBL business work. Around that time, Amy Wong (who then worked at SVEF) introduced me to Edmodo, and that changed my approach to PBL runs. Edmodo provided me with a safe place for my students to interact, work collaboratively and organize their work, manage the run, and submit work for feedback. It also gave me access to a network of educators that shared my passion for PBL, and that were willing to be my partners as I bounced ideas and asked for help when I got stuck. I was no longer doing PBL by myself! Let me tell you how Edmodo and PBL work together.
Project Ideas: This is usually the hardest part of a PBL run. Trying to find a PBL experience that fits into your standards and schedule sometimes feels like going down the internet rabbit hole. However, Edmodo provided the answer for that with the spotlight feature. Teacher-authors like Chef Carrie Snyder-Renfro, Brad Bielawski and Christi Collins, to name but a few, have taken it upon themselves to post their PBL experiences in ready made packages, requiring little to no tweaking.
Entry Event: Most of the time, my entry events consist of an engaging video that I share and discuss with the whole class. However, as it usually happens in middle-school, I have some students that are ready to discuss and have their voices heard. At the same time, I have students that are not as ready to take the risk of participating in the class discussion. That is where using Edmodo as a back channel for the entry event comes in. I post the video up as a note, and students can chime in to the discussion by posting their thoughts as replies, even days later! Edmodo’s threaded discussions give a voice to all my students.The entry event Edmodo discussion also allows my students to determine several pathways to explore within the project. I collect those ideas and create an Edmodo poll to gauge the students’ interest in each. Using Edmodo polls to narrow down the list of possibilities to a mere four or five makes my project run more manageable.
Managing the Project Run: I place the students into Edmodo small groups (that they get to name themselves) based on the results from the poll. Each small group gets its own Edmodo folder of resources, which includes a project management form or access to a Trello board and differentiated materials. As the students work, finding their own resources and creating documents, they post them to their small groups. Since everything is housed on Edmodo, it is easy for me to visit a small group, look at what they are doing, and decide whether there is a need for a workshop or some guidance. With Edmodo’s integration of GaFE and Office 365, it does not matter what platform the students are working with; I can always see, open, review the work, and provide feedback. No more guessing what the students are doing or if the “research” will culminate in a ho-hum product.
The Product: In recent years, Edmodo has partnered with many of my students’ favorite platforms to develop products, providing a single sign on. This means that I do not have to worry whether they will “lose their work” because they forgot their password. This simple, but powerful feature can make all the difference. My students use the Edmodo single sign on and publish to Edmodo in places like Thinglink, Hstry, Tackk and Exibi, all within their Edmodo accounts. Now, this does not mean that if it is not an Edmodo partner we don’t use it. For other products, my students publish the work and attach the link to their Edmodo assignment, ready to be shared with the community during student exhibitions.
Feedback: I already spoke a little bit about providing feedback directly on the student work during the project run, as notes or using GaFE and Office 365 integration. But how do I handle the final feedback and grading? Edmodo comes to the rescue again with ForAllRubrics. This app pulls my student rosters from Edmodo, and allows me to create rubrics, grade with a few clicks and distribute the graded rubrics back to the students all within Edmodo. No need to create individual accounts or worry about passwords and emails.
Now that I have shared how Edmodo has become my PBL partner, you may be interested to read about some of my PBL-Edmodo successes. I invite you to visit my two favorite ones: Organelle Wars and AyeAye Need You. I would love to hear about some other ways that you have found Edmodo useful in your own PBL runs. Can’t wait to hear your ideas.