Wednesday, April 20, 2016

EDTECH 542: Topic 9 Peer Review

I often get my students to edit each other's written work. I find that his assists both parties involved as they get to see another example, acquire some new ideas and hopefully see either the correct or incorrect way of doing things.  This feedback is often very powerful. Generally, I limit this to essay assignments but I can now see that this can be extended to other types of assessment as well.

The simplest way I have students edit each other's work is simply to do a "continue/consider"activity.  In other words, I will have each peer review to make note of 2 things that the writer should continue to do (positive reinforcement) and offer two things the author might want to consider doing or changing (constructive criticism).

I would be very interested in learning more about a web-based peer/self-assessment tool such as Web PA.  One of the criticisms of group work is that all group members receive the same mark.  Using Web PA, the group members can influence that mark by reviewing the efforts of group members and honestly reporting to the educator so that they can adjust the mark for each individual student.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

EDTECH 542- Topic 7 Change Role of the educator

One advantage of this course is it has allowed me to plan something tangible for one of the classes I am currently teaching.  This semester I am teaching Social 30-1 (Grade 12 Social Studies) which inspired the topic of my PBL project on overthrowing governments.  Over the last few weeks I actually implemented this with my students so I am in a good position to comment to this weeks discussion questions. Below you will find my reflections on these questions.

  • Will my role in the teaching/learning process change?
Teachers have many roles in the classroom.  Depending on the day, we can be content experts who lecture, test administrators,  guidance counsellors, group facilitators, classroom managers, idea generators and cheerleaders.  I also believe each teacher has a "default" role that dominates their teaching style.  That is to say, teachers are skilled in many roles but each teacher I work with develops a dominant teaching style and that differs with each individual.  Working in a PBL environment though forces us to abandon some of those traditional roles and nurture the facilitator aspect of our teaching personality.  One needs to guide the student through the process instead of merely telling them what to do

  • What are the skills of effective facilitation?
To be an effective facilitator, you need to first develop relationships with your students.  The student that has a relationship with their teacher can then trust that adult and respect the constructive criticism that is offered.  These relationships make the constant reflection and revision painless and a natural part of the process.

  • Will the students develop the competencies and skills needed to be successful?
I am confident they will.  From what I saw in my short experience with my PBL project, my students developed an ownership in their learning I don't always see.  They were able to manage a large amount of information, work cooperatively, use technology effortlessly and produce something they were proud of.

  • What changes will you need to make in order to become an effective facilitator in your PBL unit?
I still have the tendency to over prescribe activities so I think I need to allow more student choice in how time is spent during the PBL unit.  By grade 12, students are relative experts on how a class should be run so I may have them decide how a mini lesson should be taught for example.  Maybe they want to read an article instead of having me explain it or maybe they want to use a simulation instead of a reading.   I teach teenagers and now that I have a teen of my own in my house I have come to realize something very important.  Adolescence is where you try things on your own from time to time while having an adult close by to help if needed.  We were all given the keys to the family car for the first time at one point in our life and I think we do our students an important service if we allow them to direct their own learning from time to time as well.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

EDTECH 542 Topic 6- Integrating Curriculum

When I began my career I was fortunate enough to have worked in a very progressive middle school where integrating curriculum was both expected and celebrated.  All four core areas would embark on one or two integrated units per year.  These projects all concentrated on our curriculum and served as enrichment activities for our students.  It took a bit a of planning and teamwork on the part of the teachers but when we found the natural "fit" in each of our courses, our enthousiasme took over.

For my project on overthrowing a government I see a natural fit with my social studies curriculum and a novel study that could take part in an english class.  I can think of three english activities that would have a natural "fit" with my project.  First, english students could read the graphic novel V for Vendetta by Alan Moore prior to my entry event.  Second, students could do a novel study of the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins where they focus on the motivation, the methods and obstacles much the same as my students are doing.  This could be followed up by a hypothesis exercise where students discuss which form of government would best fit Panem once the regime of President Snow was overthrown.  Finally the reflection essay could be done in english class as writing a variety of text is part of the Alberta  curriculum.

By focussing on the commonalities in curricula, integration can be done quite easily if there is communication and cooperation among teachers.  The result is a purposeful and engaging learning experience for the students.


Alberta English Language Arts 10-12 . Retrieved from, March 6, 2016

Monday, February 22, 2016

EDTECH 542- Reflection on Assessments

This week I developed the assessment plan for my Overthrowing a government project.  I took a curricular approach in developing my assessments. I focused on the learning outcomes from the Alberta Curriculum I work with.  I would target an outcome (sometimes more than one) and would develop the assessment idea to ensure these outcomes were covered.  I would indicate these outcomes in the footer which is something I have been doing for a few years now as sort of a personal accountability measure for my assessment practices.  I can quickly see which outcomes I have dealt with and also which outcomes still need to be addressed.  This also helps assure my students that I am having them do activities they are truly supposed to be doing.

I have thought long and hard about allowing some student voice within the creation of the rubrics I have included.  Although I have created the rubric, I would say it is more of a starting point.  I would like to go over it with the class and have them change the rubric into student friendly language.  In my way of thinking, this would   help develop a deep understanding of what was expected of them and and therefore help students hit the targets I am hoping for.  Students may also be more engaged in the whole process if they feel some ownership on how they will be assessed.  I also assume I will have to give less specific feedback at the end of the assessment as the students will already have a good understanding on what the difference between one grade and the next.  It will be interesting to see how well this works out.

My assessment plan can be found here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

EDTECH 542 Week 5 Reflections

Our goal this week was to come up with the driving question for our project.  In other words, the question that will give the project it's direction and that will focus the energies of teacher and students alike.  Last week when I came up with the idea of my project, I actually named it after my driving question so this week I had to analyze the question I had made and verify that it follows the criteria of an effective driving question.

Driving questions are intended to be open-ended, answerable, challenging, of interest to students, and based on provincial or state standards.  The challenging nature of these questions often spawn more specific questions that need to be answered during the project. When these criteria are met, the result is often a more engaging experience for the students.

I do believe that my driving question, How do we overthrow a government and then maintain power"?" meets the aforementioned criteria and I am excited to see how this will work in practice as I am planning on using this with the classes I am teaching this semester.

We were also asked to create a visual project organizer.  Several online tools were suggested but I chose to try a service called Coggle to create a mind map version of the project.  Coggle was a great find.  It was easy to use and the product it created looks great.  I also plan on using this with students in the future.  An added bonus for sure.

Here is the link to my visual project organizer.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Researching PBL Projects- February 6, 2016

Over the past week I have been searching for ideas for my very first PBL project.  In the process, I have noticed a couple of things.  First, the amount of PBL ideas and the variety of these projects is overwhelming.   There really are no limits in what a classroom teacher can do with the methodology.  I also notice there are more projects geared toward STEM and the sciences than the humanities.  Perhaps this is just my own bias at play but regardless of which website I looked at, there always seemed a separate section for STEM projects.  This doesn’t bother me but as a Social Studies teacher, I noticed fewer potential ideas in my discipline than in others.  

Now that I am exploring these project ideas online, I truly get the sense that PBL will be a good match for my teaching style.  I really don’t like to stand and deliver for very long.  And I work very hard to keep my students engaged.  I try to switch things up activities often during an 80 minute class.  I focus a lot on relationship building so I know my students well and this allows me to have a positive and focused learning environment.  I think all these teaching traits of mine will lend themselves to finding success using PBL

I have been contemplating a few project ideas and have been asking for input from my colleagues.  Around coffee in the mornings, we have brainstormed project ideas on “how to have a revolution”, “how to be a dictator”, etc but none of these seemed to have the staying power needed for a strong driving question.  I am leaning toward a project that is geared towards the political realm of social studies though.  The driving question I am thinking of, will lend itself to sustained inquiry and will help my students understand many if not most of the learning outcomes of our political unit of study in Grade 12 social studies.  The question I am seriously considering is, “How do you overthrow a government  and then maintain power”.  The additional questions that this topic fuels would create engaging learning.  For example, why would we want to overthrow a government?  What overthrow really mean?  What methods are available to the people to rid themselves of a government?  What kind of government structure would you replace it with?  I still have many things to figure out but I really think I can make this idea work.  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

EDTECH 542- Initial discussions on PBL

This past week we were asked to research and answer three background questions on PBL and post our findings in the discussion forum.  Being a newcomer to PBL, I chose questions from the first block of questions which help define what exactly PBL is.  Specifically, these questions were;

  • Define Project Based Learning. Describe the difference between Project Based Learning and Problem Based Learning.
  • Why should teachers consider incorporating PBL in their classroom?
  • What are the essential components of a PBL approach to instruction?

This activity was extremely helpful as I really didn't have a clear picture of the scale of PBL activity. As I read and researched, I began to realize the potential value this pedagogy could be in my own classroom setting.  I am eager to pursue my first "project" as I think my students will be engaged learners.  I also take solice in the amount of research that supports the use of PBL.  

Below, you will find my post:

Although I think I have a good idea of what Project Based Learning is, I have never actually used  a project in true “official” PBL fashion. As such, I thought I would best be served in answering these Group 1 questions in case I have some misunderstandings towards this pedagogy.
Project Based Learning (PBL) is a recent approach to the age old teaching strategies such as learning by doing, authentic learning and critical thinking.  Specifically, PBL seeks to engage students in their learning by having them solve a real or authentic problem. In doing so, they will learn the desired outcomes with deeper and longer lasting learning than more traditional methods.  The Buck Institute for Education captures this notion well when they state “Project Based Learningis a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge” (2016).
Deeper learning, increased student engagement, academic improvement, and the implementation of technology are all some of the many reasons teachers take on this approach to teaching and learning. Evidence shows that PBL allows for cross curricular competencies to develop as well as higher level skills such as critical thinking and problems solving to occur as well (Thomas, 2013).  This wide range of benefits for both students and teachers explains PBL’s growing popularity in the field of education.
Although having students work on projects is nothing new in education, to be considered a true PBL activity, certain criteria must be met.  According to Larmer, Mergendoller, & Boss (2015), a true PBL activity:
  • Begins with a challenging problem or question
  • Cannot simply be “googled” (Sustained Inquiry)
  • Is authentic and “real world”
  • Allows students to have a voice and choice during the planning of the project
  • Incorporates student ( and teacher)reflection on what has been learnt and how it has been learnt
  • Incorporates formative assessment through continual critique and revision
  • Has a end product that is made public

Buck Institute for Education. (2015). What is PBL? Project based learning. Retrieved January 10, 2016, from
Larmer, J., Mergendoller, J., & Boss, S. (2015 ). Gold standard PBL: Essential project design elements  [Web log post]. Retrieved from
Thomas, J. W. (2013). A review of research on project-based learning. Retrieved from

Saturday, January 16, 2016

January 16, 2016 EDTECH 542 Begins

This week I entered the world of Project Based Learning (PBL) as I started EDTECH 542.  PBL is one of those topics that I was aware of but I have never really looked into that closely.  Projects are a regular occurance in my classroom but I'm not sure they follow the Gold Standard of PBL as prescribed by organizations like the Buck Institute for Education.

The first activity assigned was to introduce ourselves and create a self-advertisement where we indicated what we wanted to get out of this course and what we attributes do we have that could benefit the group.  I have included my self advertisement below.

EDTECH 542 looks like it is going to be a very useful course and by looking at everyone;s introductions,  I will be involved with a group of professionals who bring a wide variety of skills and experience to the table.  I have a feeling that I am going to learn a great deal from Dr. Dazhi Yang and my fellow classmates.  Let the learning begin!

"Self Advertisement- Week One EDTECH 542"