Posts Tagged PBL
Today I attended a whole-day symposium on ‘learning and teaching in collaborative environments’, aka the LATICE program at QUT.
At the start of the day I was really excited to hear some of the speakers referring to the new learning rooms in the uni as ‘PBL rooms’. I had previously known these rooms as ‘collaborative work spaces’, or ‘CWS rooms’, but I was all too happy to change my terminology – how handy, I thought, to suggest PBL as a recommended pedagogy for such rooms!
Unfortunately, as the day went on it became clear that most people using the term PBL were referring to ‘problem based learning’, not to ‘project based learning’ (which is my preferred teaching style). I say unfortunately not because I have any beef with problem based learning – I think it’s great, in fact. But PROBLEM based learning is just one way to organise learning experiences.
And the ‘which PBL do you mean?’ problem doesn’t stop there:
I have written a little before about the nature of ‘play based learning’, and think it’s important to draw on ALL of the above PBL models in a balanced teaching approach. I’m open to hearing how this may not be the case in other disciplines/faculties, but in the Education sector we certainly have to be across all three approaches.
The issue of nomenclature here is far from trivial. As frustrating as it is, I think we may need to complicate the cute ‘PBL’ acronym to enable practitioners to distinguish between the approaches. I could suggest:
- PmBL (problem based learning)
- PjBL (project based learning)
- PlBL (play based learning)
…fully realising that this just looks clumsy to some!
Any other suggestions for a way forward on this?
See, problem– and project– based learning differ importantly in the sense that a learning project should not have a pre-determined outcome, whereas a learning problem often does (imagine here a student working through a well-worn math problem). The difference between project– and play– based activities is also important, as learning projects do get assessed, whereas play is supposed to be low stakes and, well, playful.
One thing is for sure – we simply ought not go on giving presentations where we drop the ‘P’ term without qualifying which one we mean!
So…which PBL do you mean when you say PBL?
I just came across this excellent 10 minute clip from the RSA Animate series. It was put up in 2010 and has had over 9.6 million views on YouTube, so some of you may have seen it the first time around. The clip is called Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, and is an animation of a talk by Dan Pink.
I’ll be adding this clip to my English Curriculum Studies reading list next semester – a way to link with my students’ other studies in ed. psych.
I’ll also be making a bigger effort to bring in those concepts – mastery, purpose and self-direction – to explain the pedagogical strategies involved in project-based, play-based, inquiry-based and challenge-based learning. I’d be grateful for any insights about this that you folks care to drop as a comment here!
Enjoy the clip!
Teaching at university can be tricky, mostly due to the emphasis on summative assessment.
Since starting this position in 2010 I have been attempting to infuse the unit I coordinate with greater amounts of project-based learning. However, in a context where students have little time or incentive to engage with classwork that isn’t formally assessed, it has been hard to reward things like student project work.
After three semesters of teaching English Curriculum Studies 1 I decided that a radically new assignment was in order.
Students used to do:
- Assignment 1 – Personal teaching philosophy statement and resource analysis
- Assignment 2 – Report on video lessons and learner needs observed
- Assignment 3 – Junior secondary English lesson plans
All of these assessment pieces were completed individually – no collaboration was required and no public audience was utilised.
From this semester onward, students now do:
- Assignment 1 – Personal teaching philosophy statement and resource analysis (same as before)
- Assignment 2 – Junior secondary English lesson plans (now completed in small groups of 2 or 3)
- Assignment 3 – A range of CHALLENGE TASKS published in a portfolio <– SCHMICK NEW TASK!
The New Task:
Many of the key ideas about inquiry-based and cooperative learning that I am working with can be found in a book extract provided by Edutopia: Teaching for Meaningful Learning by Brigid Barron & Linda Darling-Hammond.
Here is a brief extract – some words about project-based learning:
“Project-based learning involves completing complex tasks that typically result in a realistic product, event, or presentation to an audience. Thomas (2000) identifies five key components of effective project-based learning. It is: central to the curriculum, organized around driving questions that lead students to encounter central concepts or principles, focused on a constructive investigation that involves inquiry and knowledge building, student-driven (students are responsible for designing and managing their work), and authentic, focusing on problems that occur in the real world and that people care about.” (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008, p. 3; my emphasis)
What I’ve done in my new task is to create a poetry ‘project’ as one of 10 ‘challenges’ that students need to complete.
After trialling a poetry project last semester, I know that students see value in, and engage with this kind of learning. But, at the end of the day, students felt let down because the work they put into their projects didn’t ‘count’ towards their final grade.
Once I started messing around with a new assignment that gave them credit for their project work, it was too hard not to design a whole suite of ‘challenges’ that they could choose to take up! So, that’s what I’ve done – students decide what grade they want to get, and complete the number of challenges needed to obtain it.
‘Challenge-based learning‘ as a term has not gained as much traction as ‘project-based learning’, but I think there is something to be said for the difference in terminology. In my teaching context, students are completing a ‘project’, but there is a minimum standard they have to reach to be able to ‘pass’ the assessment. Also, there is less focus on a ‘driving question’ than a PBL task would have – more of an emphasis on the products needing to be made. Hence my use of the term ‘challenge’ in the overall task.
OK, the easiest way to show you the assignment is to share copies of my assignment sheets:
A matrix of challenge tasks is provided for students to choose from in assignment 3.
Students will receive a grade for Assignment 3 based on the number of challenges completed:
- 4 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = PASS
- 6 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = CREDIT
- 8 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = DISTINCTION
- 10 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = HIGH DISTINCTION!
Note the peer assessment component of this task. This is something I am especially proud of, for a number of reasons! Not only am I hoping that this will result in a more sustainable marking practice for me (I will be checking/validating the peer marking, but no re-doing it), but it is also a strategy for getting the students to learn how to share their work and act as ‘critical friends’. I also think that having anopther preservice teacher assess your work in this context can be seen as providing an ‘authentic audience’ for student work.
The student portfolios for this task are due next Friday, so I’ve yet to see how this new assessment plays out in real life.
One idea I have bubbling away about the teaching methods chosen is that ‘project-based’ learning can perhaps be broken down further as being either ‘inquiry-driven’ or ‘challenge-driven’ (and maybe even a third category, ‘play-driven’). But that’s a hierarchy that I’m still thinking through…
There is a lot going on here, I realise. But I’d seriously LOVE to hear feedback from my critical friends, including any students that end up reading this post 🙂
If you have any questions to ask, shoot them at me too! Obviously I’m quite proud of what I’ve constructed here, but in a few weeks it will be time to reflect again on how to improve for semester 2, so as they say…bring it!
This post is a culmination of a week or so of talking about play-based education. If that’s its official term for it? I don’t know. I must declare my rookie status in this field, which means you should feel really free to jump into the comment s section below and school me on what I’ve missed!
Thanks to @malynmawby, @vormamim, @biancah80, and @benpaddlejones for their ideas via twitter and email. You can read more about @malynmawby ‘s experiences with play-based learning here, here and here.
Play-based Learning: Another PBL?
Despite these terms being used fairly liberally (along with inquiry-based learning), I don’t seem to often come across material that explores the differences or similarities between these terms. I mean, I’m sure we could all take guesses about it, based on what we know about the words chosen; what is a project? what is a challenge? a problem? an inquiry?
Well, while you’re pondering it all, here is some more information to add to the learning theory soup.
States of Play
An overview of the elements of play presented by the National Institute for Play (based in California) outlines seven “patterns of play”:
- attunement play
- body play and movement
- object play
- social play (including ‘rough and tumble’ play and ‘celabratory’ play)
- imaginative and pretend play
- storytelling-narrative play
- transformative-integrative and creative play
And here is a really excellent TED Talk by Stewart Brown, who argues the physiological importance of play:
After listening to Stewart’s TED talk, the idea that I keep coming back to is this:
If the purpose is more important than the act of doing it, it’s probably not play. (Stewart Brown, TED Talk 2008, at ~6 mins)
Which begs the question: by trying to pin down a definition of ‘play-based learning’ to use in my curriculum theorising, am I contributing to WRECKING IT?
Play in the curriculum
In my quest for answers I came across some interesting material relating to motivation and mastery.
This puts me back into territory that is a little bit psych-y, and I know such approaches don’t always sit well with post-structuralist curriculum types like myself. But I resist that 😉
Writer and researcher Katherine Cushman lead a Practice Project for the non-profit group ‘What Kids Can Do’ (http://firesinthemind.org/about/) asking the question ‘what do kids already know about and do well?’.
When adults openly explore our genuine questions about getting to mastery—and include young people’s knowledge and experiences in that exploration—we model the expert’s habit of taking intellectual and creative risks. We demonstrate that we, too, always have things we need to understand better, and things we need to practice. We teach kids to approach any lack of understanding as a puzzle: stretching the limits of their competence, continually testing new possibilities and seeing how they work out. As they expand their knowledge and skills, young people, like us, will discover even more challenging puzzles they want to tackle—not just outside school, but as part of it. (K. Cushman, Fires in the Mind p.10)
In light of this, play strikes me as a form of ‘intellectual and creative risk taking’, essential to building the habits of mind and the resilience needed to seek out and tackle new puzzles.
Who is playing?
Concepts about transformative play have been utilised by the Quest Atlantis project, and a lot of my Tweeps are currently going bananas for Minecraft. These are rich sites and communities tapping into discourses about educational play.
However, I rarely hear any critical views about play or games, and I guess that’s what makes me itch to interrogate this field.
The reflexive dilemma
Listening to a talk by Julian Sefton-Green during his recent visit to QUT, I was conscious of the points he made about the field of ‘out of school learning’, which often involves elements of play.
His research has found distinctions between school and out-of-school learning tended to set up binaries that actually maintained the boundaries around ‘official’ curriculum, and other project and play based activities happening outside of schools (the binary of formal and non-formal learning, for example). His review of the literature showed how debate about not-school environments in the UK is often bound up with techno-utopianism and generalisations about the public school system.
In relation to this, he poses the ‘reflexive dilemma’ that we face in thinking about all of this. That is, the more we reflect on learning experiences, the more we formalise them. In our quest to ‘optimise’ all learning experiences, the learning is more carefully arranged and disciplined.
Which brings me right back to that TED talk – by naming ‘play based learning’ and trying to give play an official role in curriculum, do we run the risk of ruining play? Will the act of ‘doing play’ become just another ‘strategy’ for learning?
In short, how can we develop play as a habit of the mind without over thinking it and taking the fun out of the act of play? And, will defining the difference between all of the different PBLs etc help us in this endeavor, or just get in the way by drawing boundaries that don’t need to be there?
So many things to blog about at the moment…transmedia and transliteracy, the Gonski review of school funding…but in the thick of Semester 2 teaching I find myself inexorably drawn back to curriculum studies.
And goddess, please bless Bianca for coming through with a new blog post about Project Based Learning (PBL) to stimulate my thinking this week!
I have been trying to work out how to formally incorporate PBL into the structure of my unit English Curriculum Studies 1. This week I think I have a solution, which I’ll outline below. But first, to answer Bianca’s question: when I proposed this structure in a comment on her blog she asked:
Did you design the assessments or the pedagogy first?
And that question, RIGHT THERE, is our chicken and egg, am I right?
Because, as Bianca rightly points out, school teachers find it very challenging to engage in “inherent ‘assessment for learning’ within the rigid ‘assessment of learning’ framework already in place”. So, while it might seem logical that your pedagogy will determine your assessment, the ‘reality’ of teaching and learning puts this possibility beyond reach for most.
For some schools their ‘rigid assessment of learning framework’ is tied to NAPLAN exams, for others it is focussed more on Year 12 exit credentials. And in schools that claim not to be driven by external assessments, rigid assessment frameworks can still be constructed by Heads of Department (or others) who seek to place multiple additional constraints on teachers’ planning (e.g. “you MUST have a half yearly exam!”, “every Year 9 class must write an essay in term 1”)
The curriculum places constraints on assessment and pedagogy too, and I could start talking about the Australian Curriculum here. Instead I’ll show you what I built for the university semester context, and try to answer Bianca’s question from there.
Here is the draft outline for my unit in 2012:
- Weeks 1-4 focus: Inquiry based learning (assessment = critical/reflective essay) assessment as learning
- Weeks 5-7 focus: Project based learning (assessment = project + review of pedagogy used in class project) assessment for learning
- Weeks 8-9 focus: Challenge based learning (assessment = make lesson plans for English) assessment of learning
I can safely say that for this unit, I started with the assessment. Literally, I have adopted an existing unit with existing assessment pieces that take at least 6 months to get formally changed. So, while I have been tweaking each assessment piece each semester, I’ve been teaching it for 18 months now and a full overhaul of the structure is now needed to fully incorporate PBL and other constructivist approaches.
Beyond that initial point of departure though, I have oscillated between a pedagogy focus and an assessment focus each time I plan and change something in the unit.
I would say my major points of development around pedagogy and assessment were:
- Reviewing the balance of assessment FOR learning and OF learning in the existing unit. In the university context it is only possible to mandate summative assessment…so I had to reconsider my approach to build a learning environment where the learning process was valued.
- Reviewing the first summative assessment, which was a critical essay, gave me the idea to make the relevance or ‘connectedness’ of the opening weeks of the unit more apparent. Students now do a range of inquiry-based activities to help them engage in the scholarly material, motivated by the need to interrogate their own perspective.
- Activities planned for the first few weeks of the unit were redesigned around a new assessment that focussed on the students personal teaching philosophy. This increased the potential of the assessment to be FOR learning, I thought.
- Teaching the new opening to the unit was really affirming, but showed up the weaknesses in the pedagogy of weeks 5-7. A PBL approach was therefore introduced to ‘liven up’ this part of the unit. This coincides with the time in semester when students begin having heaps of assignments due, and I felt they needed a pedagogical experience that was less ‘intense’, and enjoyable enough to get them through the ‘hump weeks’!
- The PBL appraoch worked really well, but the students put a lot of work in that wasn’t rewarded in assignment grades. So I am now redesigning assignment 2 to include ‘project participation’ criteria so students can get their work on this counted in their final grade.
- aaand…MOST recently: because the final assessment of creating alesson plans really has proven a ‘challenge’, I’m going to use this to explore Challenge based learning. I see this as being the same as Project based learning, but where the outcome does not have to be presentation to an audience. Instead, the project outcome must ‘meet the challenge’. Think Mythbusters 🙂
You can see how thinking about assessment and pedagogy are totally bound together – thinking about one always raises questions for the other. Or, it should!
I’m still searching for material that can explain the realtionship between Inquiry, Project and Challenge based learning. I’ve tried to use them here in a complementary way, but tbh it’s been tough to find sources that relate the approaches to one another. I started off this process thinking they were slightly interchangable. Now I can see that each one is informed by a respect for ‘learning by doing’, but has its own unique flavour. But are these three the only three? Do they sit in a hierarchy of some kind? Are there other ‘Something-B-Ls’ out there that I don’t know about??
If you do, please add a comment! (I hope this helps someone out there!)
The more I delve into curriculum materials in Queensland, the more I find references to ‘inquiry based curriculum‘.
Does anyone have any materials that outline the relationship between (evolution from?) constructivism as a learning theory, inquiry based learning as a general pedagogic approach, and more specific approaches such as project based and games based learning?
Or did using the terms ‘learning theory’, ‘general pedagogy’ and ‘specific pedagogy’ just then pretty much do the job?
I desperately want to explain these ideas to students next semester, but am wary of leading them to believe that newer ideas are intended to replace the older ones, when my message is rather that they should be building a complex pedagogy.
Or is this wrong too…connectivism, anyone?
(This definitely needs some kind of graphic representation eh? Anyone up for a prezi collab?)
Adopting an inquiry approach ensures that students have the opportunity to examine concepts, issues and information in a range of ways, and from various perspectives.
The inquiry approach values the skills of creative and critical thinking, informed decision-making, hypothesis building and problem-solving. As our society becomes increasingly complex and the role of the citizen becomes even more vital, these skills provide the foundation for discerning citizenship.
Students are encouraged to become active investigators by identifying a range of information, understanding the sources of information and looking for bias in it. They are thus better able to evaluate data and to draw meaningful conclusions which are supported by evidence. Rather than examining an issue from any one perspective, students are challenged to explore other possibilities by applying higher order thinking skills in their decision-making endeavours.
(QLD DET, 2008, ‘Implementing the QCAR: Curriculum‘ accessed today)
Stepping it up this week a bit in the ‘modelling-best-practice’ stakes…
It occured to me that as I am advocating the importance of studying texts and their traditions to…well basically, the development of human society as we know it, that I’m not doing enough of this in my own university classes.
Last week I got a real buzz relating the theoretical material in this unit to contemporary texts and practices, namely to the story of Terminator II and to the ‘Pirates vs Ninjas’ meme. So this week I am using another text as a way to relate to theory, this time going into even more depth.
I have chosen the film Pleasantville. I am going to use this film to explore ‘critical literacy’ and interrogate the resistance to critical reading of text in secondary English.
Yes I am.
Now, to construct the learning experiences.
In the lecture I am going to focus in on metalanguage, showing students how historical paradigms of English curriculum (skills, cultural heritage, personal growth, critical-cultural) have been revisioned in two more recent literacy frameworks that have had significant influence on contemporary English curriculum – Luke and Freebody’s ‘Four Resources’ model, and Green’s ‘Three Dimensions’ of literacy (which we have already been using at length). I’m also going to rock their world by showing them how subject-specific pedagogy relates to more general theories of pedagogy, such as the ‘Productive Pedagogies’ that are used here in QLD, as well as to theories of learning such as Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.
The two hour tutorial though. Hmmm.
My message in the coming weeks will be to embrace ‘workshops’ as well as individual and group ‘project based learning’ as alternative approaches to lesson organisation. I want them to start thinking about how we traditionally do “class” and what learning experiences are encouraged there. As I’m electing to ‘put my money where my mouth is’ this week I suppose I should give them a taste of this too…but what to do?
Perhaps I will split the two hours into a ‘workshop’ and a ‘project’. Will I have time for both? I’d like to also screen the first ~20 minutes of the film in class, giving me 30 minutes for the rest of the workshop.
That leaves ~50 minutes for students to complete a seperate project. But what?
I’ve been watching Bianca do this – I know I need to start with a driving question or challenge…
…and thus I am away to make coffee and have a think about this.
Ideas welcome x