Lecture as Scaffold for Inquiry

Lecture Rozhen

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We ran across this blog post yesterday, Teach Paperless: How to Lecture in a PBL Classroom, and connected it right away to our Inquiry training sessions. One of the topics we discuss in this module has to do with when to use Inquiry and when it is maybe not the best teaching approach to use.

The aforementioned blog post compliments that conversation so well and gives another example of how teacher-directed instruction (specifically lecture) might fit into Project-based/Inquiry-based learning. It seems PBL/IBL methods have been pigeon-holed as being only student-centered, devoid of any teacher-centered practices such as lecturing. However, as pointed out in the Teach Paperless post, problem- and inquiry-based learning can incorporate all kinds of teaching techniques.

In the PBL model described in the post, the teachers involved offered voluntary workshops as a way to inject lecture into their student projects. As struggles arose, the teachers offered these voluntary workshops to students in order to help them revise mistakes in their bibliographical work. The big idea here is to offer lectures that support the PBL/IBL process for students who are interested in the topic as opposed to forcing the lecture on a classroom full of disinterested students.

How might a “lecture workshop” fit into the IBL unit you are planning? How might one involve students in facilitating these lecture workshops in your classroom? What are some other ways to make room for lectures in an IBL unit? How does this approach make a lecture relevant to students and their learning over traditional lectures?

Brooke Higgins and Zac Early are instructional specialists for the eMINTS National Center.

Project-Based Learning – Resource Links

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Yesterday I shared the basics of what Project-based Learning is and key things to include when planning your own PBL units. Today I thought I might offer some resources to help with planning these types of learning activities and tools that may help when implementing Project-based Learning units for both a facilitator (you) and learner. Since a lot of you are eMINTS teachers I also included some extra technology tools you may find helpful.

What tools and resources do you think should be included in this list? Leave a comment and share your favorite PBL links.

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. You can read more at her blog Higgins Helpful Hints Blog.

PBL – A Facebook Testimony

I admit it, I am a Facebooker. I keep up on what all of my “friends” are doing and of course watch for updates from eMINTS about eMINTS news and blog posts. I must say I was surprised when I saw this status update and knew I had to share it here.

As I read this update, I instantly remembered back to a project a high school History teacher assigned to make a documentary. Who knew that 20+ years later my friend (and others who commented on his update) would not only remember the project of making the movie, but more importantly, what they learned from it. This struck me as just another reason to keep doing what eMINTS has been doing for years…promoting Constructivist teaching!

Last week Zac shared many reasons for using Inquiry and Problem-based Learning in the classroom in his post Room for the Basics. The documentary project reminded me that we might want to share a bit about “The Other PBL” – Project-based Learning.

Project-based Learning is another constructivist based, student-centered pedagogy. Wikipedia describes it as an

“instructional method that provides students with complex tasks based on challenging questions or problems that involve the students’ problem solving, decision making, investigative skills, and reflection that includes teacher facilitation, but not direction.”

PBL is focused around a central question (we call it an Essential Question) that engages  and offers a central focus giving students a purpose for their learning. Teachers structure the guiding question around content and are continually assessing where students are in getting to deeper understandings about that content.

As in life, Project-based Learning activities are long term, learner focused, and interdisciplinary where students learn from addressing real-life experiences, issues, challenges, problems, etc. Students may be given the task to solve a problem or investigate an issue. Like Inquiry, students develop questions that guide their investigations, but in PBL those questions and answers lead them to create something new. Something new could be a tangible product, an idea, a new way of doing something, or even a performance all requiring both lower and higher-level thinking to complete the authentic task assigned.

Because teachers are facilitators and do not give students answers or solutions but guidance, PBL has been shown to improve students abilities to be responsible, self-directed, and critical thinkers; skills essential for moving on to higher educational settings. PBL provides the perfect opportunity for teachers to not only focus on teaching content but also habits of learning like self-direction, collaboration, time-management, organization, critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. Developing these skills in students is essential so that they transfer them on to future projects and then to life.

Common Craft has created a great video for The Buck Institute for Education that explains Project-based Learning.

So as you are planning an upcoming PBL experience for your students remember these key elements to include in your unit:

  • focus around a guiding question (essential)
  • frame the project in a real life context
  • provide engaging topics for your target audience
  • embed problem solving, decision making, critical thinking, and creativity
  • require purposeful collaboration and independent learning opportunities
  • provide a variety of resources, information, and tools (including technology)

What PBL units have you had success using with your students? What might your students say about the projects they are working on in your classroom  20 years from now?

*image used with permission from my Facebook friend.

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center who occasionally finds time to blog.

4ALL: Taking Lessons to Task

Student project

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When planning a unit or lesson, maybe the most important decision we make is writing the task. Sure standards and learning outcomes must be met, but a well-conceived task is how students will achieve academic goals. Additionally, a task that is meaningful and interesting is what motivates students to do their best work.

Tasks should be authentic. Students want to learn, but they also want to learn skills and content that have real-world applications. We are long past the days of learning just for the sake of learning. A motivating factor for students is the authenticity of the task. A tasks “realness” encourages students to attend to the content even more than abstract exercises. Particularly in web-based learning activities, such as WebQuests, authenticity can be crucial to motivating students. Not only can an authentic task motivate students to learn, it also helps in showing them the relevance of academic work.

Creativity is another aspect of effective tasks. When we talk about creativity, we are not only talking about the aesthetics of a project or display. No, what we are talking about is the kind of creativity in the form of innovation. When students are given tasks that require them to creatively solve a problem or devise new meanings of their worlds, they are both motivated and highly engaged with the content. Creativity has a place in education despite traditional education’s tendency to squelch innovation among students.

So, where do we find tasks that are authentic and promote creativity? Well, there are actually several approaches that fit this bill.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is an approach that requires students to creatively solve real-world problems. Students might be charged with solving a pollution issue in their community’s streams or in designing a new library that fills a school’s needs. These tasks require collaboration, communication, computation, analysis, and an understanding of their world in order to come up with solutions that may work.

Inquiry is another pedagogical approach that requires authenticity and some creativity. Inquiry-based lessons allow the students’ questions about natural phenomena that lead to further investigations.  Students experiencing inquiry develop experimental and analytic skills while conducting investigations. Inquiries can begin with topics such as the current socio-economic environment in the US or around the world, the power of lessons to be learned from well-crafted literature, or the best computations in figuring out mapping the quickest route to the top of Mt. Everest.

A third tool that features authentic tasks that encourage creativity is the aforementioned WebQuest. The WebQuest prominently features a task as its core element. This is how all WebQuests are judged. In fact, Bernie Dodge’s “Taskonomy” lays out the various kinds of tasks that elicit the best results from a WebQuest. In short, a good WebQuest task pushes students to dig into content beyond rote comprehension in collaboratively creating something that demonstrates a deep understanding of the topic. For the best list of high-quality WebQuests, visit Quest Garden.

If you are looking for standards to justify authenticity and creativity in your task, there are plenty of standards and learning models that support these approaches. Look no further than ISTE’s standards for student learning. Also, if one were to look at a DOK chart, the kinds of tasks littered in levels three and four can easily be correlated with real-world and creative tasks. If your school subscribes to Bloom’s (revised) taxonomy, you’ll find that creativity is at the top and the real-world skills of evaluating, analyzing, and applying are just below.

What other ideas should we keep in-mind when designing student tasks? Which is more difficult to plan in a task: authenticity or creativity? What is the most challenging part of facilitating learning through authentic and creative tasks?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger with the eMINTS National Center.

4ALL: Student-Centered and Self-Directed Projects

When considering today’s post, I went searching through my Google Reader for articles and posts on student-centered instruction. The first result was a post in the New York Times educational blog The Learning Network. I remember reading the post in May and sort of forgot about it just as quickly. I checked it out again this week and thought it was worth sharing.

The post is about an experimental student-directed learning project. I’ll let the accompanying video explain.

There’s also an Op-Ed piece that goes into further detail.

Besides being stirred and inspired by the stories of the students in this video, one can pick out some valuable lessons in making our own classrooms more student-centered. The students featured were allowed to explore their own questions but were held responsible for teaching their classmates about these topics. Plus, allowing time for their own individual projects which were more ambitious than anything they would typically do in school showed that they had desire to learn, to be better students.

A good starting point for creating a project like this (or one with a few personalized adjustments) can be found in the original post cited above. As mentioned on Wednesday’s post, the New York Times is a great resource for lesson plans. The plan that goes along with this story is designed to help teachers facilitate student-directed projects in their own classrooms.

What do you think of the Independent project? How might this approach work in your class? What concessions would you have to make in employing this lesson?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center and wishes he was able to experience the Independent Project when he was in high school.