SOL (2016) 7 a guest blog on project based learning for

SOL (2016) 7 a guest blog on project based learning for 

Today I was asked to create a “Guest Blog” for Derek Gesce – a teacher at one of our middle schools – after a discussion about eportfolios and project bases lead if. His blog can be found at:

I recently sat down with my colleague Derek to talk about eportfolios – something that my school has been using for three years. As so often happens, the discussion led to conversations around assessment and evaluation, and project based learning. We talked about our successes and failures along the way, and I explained my evolution as I look at the reason and methodologies i have used along my own journey – thus began the invitation to share about my view on Project Based Learning:

Why it’s awesome: creates amazing sense of community (as I saw early on when using GarageBand for a class project to create songs for our ‘dads’ with the caveat: I don’t know anything about GB and it was up to the class to help each other out….and they did with experts arising from the unlikeliest of learners!)

It also focuses on other competencies such as Communication, Critical & Creative Thinking…and so much more.

Why it’s needed: so often when I introduce Project Based Learning I encounter a common problem: learners not knowing what they want to learn (not need….though often project based learning means that it becomes a “need to do”) Often my learners have not had authentic “choice” beyond ‘A or B’ (soccer or karate as the saying goes in my learning community) and when they get to choose what they want to choose… can become difficult for them. So I have begun to do more scaffolding (especially with early learners).

What I love is that this comic strip actually came true for one of my learners:

Where to start:

Wonders. Specifically A great “first step” into exploring questions that can have multiple answers….and even better, multiple ways of getting to answers! But the focus is on asking good questions – and especially ones that make you go hmmmmm. The tougher one is letting the silence go. “Wait time” is key – allowing think time and not providing ‘the answer’ which learners are quickly conditioned to expect. There are amazing things to wonder and different “experts” emerge at different times – even how one of my grade one girls suddenly became interested (and an expert) in marsupials! I like using this thinking strategy as part of my library time as I can scaffold and differentiate this depending on the age and experiences of my learners!

Self Organized Learning Environments

This work came via Sugata Mitra – an educationist who came to prominence with his Ted Talk about a Hole in the Wall

Essentially: ask good and interesting questions. Those that don’t make good multiple choice tests. 

The framework is to pose an interesting question (I like using learning outcome statements) and providing a time frame for sharing (90 minutes is ideal – I’ve tried shorter and longer and 90 seems to definitely be “right”). The sharing can be in any method the students want – and have ranged from posters to videos to slideshows. And the groups are….self organized. Might be some individuals and there will be groups that are too big when first starting out. Over time the learners do start to figure out what works best (hint: not always best friends working together). The strategic plans for the learners changes each time – and the process fits in very nicely into eportfolios to show the evolution of communication (and research) skills. 


“If I could give you an hour a week to learn whatever you want….what would you do?”
This is how I often introduce Geniushour. A chance to study anything. And I was thrilled a couple of years ago when one of my learners took inspiration from the earlier cartoon and his own love of dinosaurs to learn about them. 

True, I admit that sometimes learners appear to “waste time” – but I always remember that learners are too frequently trained that if they wait long enough an answer will be provided. When you trust the process, it does work. But it becomes very difficult to assess the “work” in a traditional way – if someone’s passion project is on poetry, sometimes the muse doth not present itself on Tuesday’s at 9:45….. but it can be very difficult to provide a tight timeline for something based on student interests. 

But when you hear (and see) students doing work at home (even over spring break!) to further learning, it’s quite reassuring that we are on the right track. 

Overall: I’ve had two mindsets during my evolution in using projects based learning strategies:

Era 1: embrace the chaos 

Era 2: trust the process (knowing it’ll go at different speeds)

As part of a gradual/guided release of responsibility framework, Wonders are very controlled, SOLEs are more learner focused and Geniushour is completely student owned. 
Deadlines? Wonders are meant for smaller timeframes. SOLEs are designed for 90 minutes per question. And Geniushour hopefully lasts a lifetime – if it doesn’t, was it really a passion project? 

Assessment? Hard to traditionally assess student work in these areas that are based on student inquiry. It is tough to create standards on competencies – we can’t say “by grade three students will show they are creative by _____”. It is easier to focus on descriptive feedback – highlighting what has been successful done/learned and suggestions for next steps. But if you are needing to translate to a letter grade, a portfolio review is a very effective and authentic (as authentic as calculating an average based on a series of tasks) method of evaluation. 

Landy opinion: I like project based methodologies because they focus on individual student learning – not based on completing class-wide tasks and being compared to a cohort segregated based on year of birth, but instead based on schema (background knowledge) and looking for gains based on what the individual has authentically learned. 

Not saying it’s easy…..but it can be completely worth it!!

So embrace the chaos, trust the chaos and let students have some say in what/why/how they learn!

About technolandy

Principaling on the Pacific in Powell River BC Pushing 'technologization' in education: blending technology and curriculum seamlessly. Advocate for better understanding of Anxiety in Education (and use of self-regulation) Utilizing ePortfolios & Descriptive Feedback to personalize learning!
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1 Response to SOL (2016) 7 a guest blog on project based learning for

  1. Pingback: Day 1 (of 185) new learning communities galore | technolandy: site of Ian Landy

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