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Implementing Project-Based Learning:Challenges and Solutions

by Miriam Bogler  8/18/2016

Estudiantes trabajandoAccording to the Buck Institute for Education,there is forty years of accumulated evidence that the instructional strategies and procedures that make up standard-focused project-based learning are effective in building deep content understanding,raising academic achievement and encouraging student motivation to learn. Evidence that have greatly contributed to a growing number of schools adopting or considering to adopt PBL. When looked at more carefully,the number of schools that are successfully implementing the method is quite small (1%). In  most cases,schools attempts to use PBL,leads them to give up on the experience altogether. In this series of blog entries,I will try to look at the challenges of PBL implementation and discuss ways to improve student and teacher experiences,that can eventually lead to success.

What is project-based learning

Project-based learning is difficult to define because  the term is broad and far reaching. It is sometimes used interchangeably with Problem-based learning or included under other umbrella terminologies,such as the inquiry-based approach. The main elements of the approach,which values “learning by doing”,center on students looking for solutions to non-trivial problems by asking and refining questions,debating ideas,making predictions,designing and planning experiments,collecting and analyzing data,drawing conclusions,communicating ideas to others,and creating artifacts. Other key features include collaboration between students,and multi-discipline investigations that relate to the real world. Advantages include the development of 21st century skills,improved academic achievement,self-discipline and increased motivation to learn.

What are the main challenges

Practicing project-based learning at school,aligns what students are learning with the needs of the modern workplace,making it a desirable objective for schools to pursue. Yet,a large number of failed attempts lead a growing number of teachers to give up on the practice altogether. The two most significant challenges are teamwork,an important skill that holds the potential for conflict and free-riding by students,and the difficulty experienced by teachers and students in adapting to non-traditional teaching and learning roles. Other important challenges include demanding workloads for teachers and students,superficial gain of content knowledge,lack of clear implementation guidelines,lack of focus on identified learning outcomes,a lack of trained personnel that can lead PBL,and lack of adequate professional development to train PBL. Continue reading Implementing Project-Based Learning:Challenges and Solutions

How Can Education Address Its Most Pressing Need

By Miriam Bogler    July 19,2016

Deep LearningEducation is flooded with buzzwords. Those usually represent trending methods or subjects that everyone is talking about,due to their potential to transform education. Some of those words are project-based learning,problem-based learning,critical thinking,21st century skills,and deep learning. These words are interesting because everyone is talking about them and try to do them in their schools,yet no one knows exactly what they really mean and how to best implement them.  The pursuit to engage in them has a powerful driving force –the shifting needs of the new digital economy,dictating a new set of skills,that schools are still trying to figure out how to teach.

The Skills Gap

As time goes by,the urgency to close this skills gap increases. In an article published by the Seattle Times recently,titled:“Deeper Learning:More crucial than ever,and yet too rare,” the reporter attending an Education Writers Association conference,was informed by Harvard Graduate School of Education associate professor,Jahl Mehta,to the need of mastering deep learning because,he said: “The economy has shifted….these are skills that everyone needs.” In a 2011 report by McKinsey &Company,they claim that the use of big data will create huge growth opportunities,that might fail to materialize,due to a shortage of talent. The United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills,as well as 1.5 million managers that know how to use big data.

PBL Scarcely Adopted

As buzzwords usually go,most schools are trying to be part of the conversation by either adopting or implementing those methods in their schools. Most schools declare in their website some sort of implementation of project-based or problem-based learning or any other trending methodology that everyone is talking about. Yet in most cases,all that is left of the effort,is the narrative on the website and many feelings of frustration that teachers experienced while trying to make project-based learning work in their classroom. Despite mounting evidence that project-based learning is effective in building deep understanding,raising academic achievement and encouraging student motivation to learn,only roughly 1% of US schools are committed to teaching with it and according to a national study,only one in five classrooms in high school learn deeply. Why is it so difficult to implement project-based learning or any of the trending methods that the education world is engaged with.  Continue reading How Can Education Address Its Most Pressing Need

Did the OECD Turn Against Technology?

By Miriam Bogler      October 16,2015

GreatTeachingThe headlines about the latest OECD report were loud and clear:“Computers do not improve pupil results.” These controversial headlines were the outcome of a study published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) examining the impact of school technology on international test results such as the PISA test taken in more than 70 countries. The study concluded that investing heavily in school computers and classroom technology does not improve students’ performance and that students using  computers and tablets very often tend to do worse than those who use them moderately. For an organization such as the OECD,whose declared mission is that people of all ages can develop the skills to work productively and satisfyingly in the jobs of tomorrow,this conclusion sounds almost like blasphemy. When looked at only from the perspective of these headlines,it sounds as if the OECD does not believe in advancing into the 21st century and that they joined the ‘going back to the basics’ movement. Continue reading Did the OECD Turn Against Technology?

Do We Really Need Testing to Learn?

By Miriam Bogler      August 22,2015

TestingI don’t like tests. I have never been very good at it. I get extremely anxious in tests,making me forget half of the things I studied. Throughout the years I got used to them and performed better,but I never thought much of them. I could never understand what was the purpose of doing them when a few minutes after taking the test I forgot everything I learned. Tests were brought to my attention again when I heard that parents in some communities have formed “opt-out” groups,removing their children from federally mandated and district-required tests because they thought that their children were tested too frequently and spent too much time taking them. My doubts about testing surfaced again,particularly because modern jobs require employees to have a new set of skills,such as critical thinking,problem solving,creativity and collaboration,that are difficult to assess with traditional tests. Assessment does not stop when we graduate from school,it goes on differently. In the workplace,we are assessed based on the items we produce and the skills we applied in producing them. No one quizzes us at the end of the day to see how much we learned that day. Nonetheless,learning happens daily and it accumulates to a body of experience that helps us perform our jobs better. So,if the ultimate goal of school is to get kids ready for careers,why focus on tests that do not result in assessing the skills that society values today–entrepreneurial capability,effective communication,rapid application of recent scientific advances in new products and processes,and creativity. Continue reading Do We Really Need Testing to Learn?

Why We Need to Think More Like Programmers

By Miriam Bogler      July 17,2015

TeachCoding
Computer programming is hot again. Not like in the 80s,when Seymour Papert’s Logo programming became popular for several years and then declined when the education world failed to see the evolving technological revolution that was taking place in daily life. This time the movement to teach kids to code carries with it a sense of urgency. Around the world,students of all levels of education are getting acquainted with the basics of coding. Estonia is teaching first graders to create their own computer games. In England,all students are exposed to a revamped computing curriculum focusing on new programming skills starting at age 5. In the United States,Code.org has persuaded 28 million people to try programming in its “An Hour of Code” program. The reasons mentioned most are practical in nature,such as students’ future career prospects or finding qualified workers for the technology industry,as well as big reasons,such as the country’s economic competitiveness. However,one of the most important reasons for learning programming relates to improving problem-solving skills and enhancing creativity–skills that are in great demand these days. As Steve Jobs once said “Everybody in this country should learn to program a computer…because it teaches you how to think.” Yet,this is the least-mentioned,studied,or understood reason. Continue reading Why We Need to Think More Like Programmers

Changing Old Habits is Difficult,But Necessary to Stay Competitive

By Miriam Bogler      June 18,2015

StudentsInFinlandAbout a month ago I was intrigued to read that Finland was about to embark on one of the most radical education reform programs ever undertaken by a nation state–scraping traditional “teaching by subject” in favor of “teaching by topic”. It was big news because Finland is the first nation to realize that they need to rethink education to equip students with the skills that are necessary for industry and modern society. As revolutionary as it may sound,it was not a great surprise. In the 1970s,Finland’s leaders realized that in order to modernize and be able to be competitive,education reform was the only thing that could save their country from being left behind. They understood that a higher level of excellence could only be achieved with highly educated teachers. What followed was a complete reboot of their teacher training colleges,making them so highly competitive,that only the best and the brightest students were accepted. These days they are one of the top scoring nations in the PISA test and many countries have made pilgrimages to Helsinki in the hope of identifying the secret of their success. What drives them there is the understanding that unless they put more effort into improving education and instilling students with the skills necessary to compete in the global economy,they might be left behind. Continue reading Changing Old Habits is Difficult,But Necessary to Stay Competitive

Why is Problem Representation So Important for Problem Solving?

By Miriam Bogler      April 23,2015

We are constantly faced with problem solving situations at work and in daily life,which makes problem solving one of the most important skills that students can learn. In an economy that heavily Problem Representationrelies on expert thinking and complex communication,the need to posses those deep learning skills,which consist of problem-solving,critical thinking,communication,collaboration and innovation,is essential. Schools have tried several approaches to address the need,most important of which are project-based learning (PBL),social media,and games. Each proven by research to be effective in improving learning,but neither has generated the learning outcomes that improves student ranking on the PISA test from its current average state to the top. In most of these approaches,the process of solving problems is not directly attempted. It is assumed that students will have to solve problems,as part of their engagement with these methods. However,the fact that in a deep learning study conducted by the American Institute for Research,students did not show improvement in complex problem solving,communication,and conceptual understanding,indicates that something is missing in our approach to problem solving.

Why has the field of education largely ignored how to learn to solve problems? One of the main reasons is because most contemporary research and theory in problem solving claims that problem solving skills are domain and context specific (Jonassen,2004). That means that within a domain or a context,problems vary in terms of their structuredness,complexity and dynamicity. Christine M. Massey,one of the NRC committee members and the education director for the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science at the University of Pennsylvania,says that “it’s not the case that you can just practice up a set of generic skills and apply that in a certain area. You have to do it on top of a well-founded knowledge base. We really just don’t know how to get that cross-discipline deep transfer.”Schools don’t find it feasible to teach so many types of problems especially complex problems,which also explains why most common problems that students solve in schools are well-structured problems–consisting only of few variables compared to the multiple variables and factors that an ill-structured problem consists of. Continue reading Why is Problem Representation So Important for Problem Solving?

The Quest for Deep Learning

By Miriam Bogler      March 10,2015

About a week ago,while searching on google,I discovered a website that intrigued me. It was the site of New Pedagogies for Deep Learning–a global partnership between education experts,schools systems, philanthropic and private sector organizations and hundreds of schools around the world. Their hope is to gather the experiences of all that are involved in this effort to learn how to make education more relevant to the needs of today’s students. For those of you who follow education news as I do,it is quite evident that deep learning has captured the attention of education stakeholders around the world. In this new 21st century economy,employers have been loudly expressing their need for highly skilled employees that can solve problems,think critically,communicate and collaborate effectively,and be innovative. Schools,scholars,and different organizations are diligently looking into methods that can improve student learning and instill students with those deep learning skills. I have followed this topic quite extensively and have looked at it from different angles. In a series of blog entries,I will discuss my journey into the different aspects of deep learning and based on research and articles I read,I will lay out the methods that have the best potential to improve learning. Continue reading The Quest for Deep Learning

Why Did I Create Project Pals

By Miriam Bogler      October 24,2013
Project Pals Analysis

The Project Pals Application

As an advocate of project-based learning,my students were always busy working on projects. While observing them work,it always occurred to me,that there was a fundamental flaw in the way they were approaching problems. Instead of engaging in an investigative process of discovery that leads to deep learning,they approached it as a process of searching information for the “one right answer.”An outcome,which is greatly influenced by an industrial age education system,that fails to instill critical thinking and collaboration skills,so essential for the workforce of the 21st century. These days,as our education system starts waking up to the benefits of project-based learning and 21st century skills,we are witnessing many new effective methods that can turn our students into critical thinkers.  Yet,a student’s ability to tap into a generic approach that they can always turn to when faced with a problem,is still to be desired. Such a set of guidelines can provide students with the means to simplify and organize information,better understand what they learn,store it more effectively in long term memory,see the big picture and discover relationships within the data. Realizing this,motivated me to start Project Pals. Continue reading Why Did I Create Project Pals