Luigi Grifone's Learning Diary
PBL Course - Teacher Academy

This is me, somewhere in Romania a couple of years ago!

Hi there, I'm Luigi and I'm an Italian teacher in Secondary School. I live in Bologna, where I teach Italian, History, Geography and Social Studies. This is my 5th year as a teacher. Previously I was a Comenius Assistant in Bucharest, Romania, where I remained three years teaching Italian, English, Arts and Music.

I'm an eTwinner too and I enrolled on this course because I want to get deeper into Project Based Learning and use it in my school. I hope to get in touch with many teachers all over Europe and to discover new ways of teaching and learning!

This will be my Learning Diary, where I'll write down my thoughts and impressions about the course offered by the Teaching Academy. It's my first MOOC, so I'm ready to start!

Where I live and teach

I live in Bologna, Italy. It's my second year here but I was born in Milan.

During the last two years I worked in many schools because I'm a temporary teacher: I'm involved right now in a huge open competitive exam to become a teacher in Italy. Finger crossed!

This year I mainly worked in this school:

It's a Secondary School named "Marconi" in Casalecchio di Reno, in the surroundings of Bologna.

In this season the city looks like this:

1. What is PBL and why use it
1.1 What is PBL

In this module I'm going to explore what PBL is.

The first important step is to understand that there is a difference between "doing projects" and PBL. In this chart created by Amy Mayer of the friEDTechnology blog I can clearly see the main differences:

I read this article too, "The Main Course, not Dessert", by the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) and I found it very interesting: it's about benefits we could get using PBL as a main course and not only as a sweet dessert after a traditional teaching approach. I got the idea: Project Based Learning prepares students to learn meaningful content and get "21st Century Skills".

NOTE: I'm very interested in this MOOC, I found PBL really attractive. I just ask to myself and to other teachers: is practising these skills the real goal of education? Are we as teachers preparing students to get into the globalized economy? Is it just a question of job, marketplace and economy? Or education is over this?

Anyway, briefly PBL allows:

  • Significant content
  • Critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and communication
  • Teamwork
  • Inquiry and creation of something new (idea, interpretation, project)
  • An open-ended Driving Question
  • A Context and a Reason to learn
  • Some degree of student voice and choice
  • Revision and reflection (feedback)
  • Public Audience (in person or online)

This means high-quality works and authenticity of the project.

In this first section we were invited to watch these videos:

After watching the videos I published my reactions on a Padlet. This is my thought:

1.2 Why use PBL

In this section I was invited to watch this video:

The video was really interesting, the teacher who speaks is highly motivated while working with the PBL approach and outlines all the qualities of this way of working. Remarkable when he says that the teacher is almost invisible to the process because students are involved and work by their initiative. He says he doesn't need to say: "Now you have to do this and this", but he sits down with groups and asks: "Ok, what have you done? How to move further?". This is a flipping attitude, the student is at the center of the entire process.

After watching the video I was invited to identify:

  • why I think PBL is not used more widely in our education systems?
  • What is stopping us from achieving what is outlined in the video?
  • What are the biggest challenges we as educators face and who is stopping us from adopting the PBL approach in our classrooms?

My answers and ideas were published in a Dotstorming and I upvoted responses from other participants too:

1.3 P2P - Reflections on our current teaching practice

In this section I'm going to reflect about my teaching practice, what I (try to) do day by day at school.

Since I'm a temporary teacher I changed so many schools and students during the last 5 years that I can say I did a lot of experiments: probably I'm still trying to find out which are my personal teaching strategies.

I'd like to avoid the traditional set up of classrooms, where the teacher speaks in front of the students and they listen and take notes. I prepare a lot of cooperative activities: I introduce the activity, students work in pairs or in small groups (3-4 students) with team goals and individual tasks, I walk around the groups to check if everything is clear and if they need help. At the end they present their work and there's a moment of (self) assessment.

I try to build up lessons and activities taking care of different needs and interests of students (learning strategies, personal experiences, difficulties) and using a variety of resources (texts, videos, images, etc.). My first purpose is to incude everyone: every student should be conscious of his/her role in team work and of the skills he/she is going to get.

I think a PBL approach would be very useful in my teaching practice since I want to work on critical thinking, cooperation, communication and problem solving.

My personal problem is to introduce acitvities which are motivating to students and which give them a context and a reason to learn.

I know I'm still at the beginning and I need time and experience to develop my teaching practice but I think I'm in the right way to do it!

Class and subject topic I'd use to experiment with PBL: 25 students from 8th grade (13-14 years old); topic: rules and freedom.

I've submitted this entry in a form, it will be shared with two other course participants and I'll have to review and give feebacks to 2 peers.

1.4 Components of good PBL

In this section I watched this video:

It's an overview about the 5 key components necessary to make PBL a success. These are the 5 components:

Here is my thought about the video, shared in a Padlet:

1.5 The Driving Question

Here we're going to explore the importance of the Driving Question, the guiding principle for the entire PBL process. In order to prepare a PBL approach it's important to identify a project question or problem.

It should be open-ended, engage and inspire students by creating curiosity, and be aligned to the learning goals I would like to achieve.

I watched this video to get a better idea of it:

There are different types of Driving Question, as shown by the picture below:

So, there are many types of Driving Question and they are the focus of a PBL approach. But what's the goal?

As John Mergendoller suggests in this article, it deals with critical thinking, a foundational skill for 21st century success. In the same article there's a definition of critical thinking by Roland Case: "Critical thinking is not a different type of thought, a handspring of the mind that vaults above ordinary thinking. Instead, it is ordinary thinking done well, that is, reflectively, with attention to criteria, and with the goal of making a defensible, reasoned judgment".

So, I got the idea of the importance of a good Driving Question (Non-Googleable!) to raise up critical thinkers. But to learn something students must do something: the entire projects should be critical thinking projects. To do this you need:

  • Non-Googleable Driving Questions;
  • deliberative cognitive tasks;
  • support and scaffolding

At the end of this section we are asked to turn some Googleable questions into non-Googleable questions, posting them in a dotstorming.

Here are my ideas for the 2 examples:

1) “What does it mean to be a healthy eater?”

2) “How are airplane wings constructed?”

NOTE: Since this is a course and I'm learning how to do many new things, I've just noticed that I didn't post real driving questions, but I simply changed the question into a request: I think I need to work more on that, simply because the Driving Question should be a meaningful moment of the entire project.

1.6 P2P - Your PBL Design: Formulating your driving question

This is the final unit of Module 1.

Here I have to identify my Driving Question, after I imagined a class and a topic in section 1.3.

Class: 25 students from 8th grade (13-14 years old).

Topic: Rules and Freedom

Driving Question: Does school allow you to decide some rules in your daily life at school?

Learning goals:

1) Skills:

  • Work in team (cooperation)
  • Critical Thinking
  • Digital (researches, creation of videos/presentations to spread ideas)

2) Knowledge:

  • Knowing and understanding school rules
  • Definition of freedom, limits, rules
  • History of school as institution and its rules

I decided to implement this question because in every school where I taught I found a lack of consideration for rules and the importance of shared rules, proposed and felt as meaningful by students too). I believe in the importance of freedom and respect and one of the first steps to work on these subjects is having the opportunity to decide, share ideas and propose common rules. Discussion on rules and their importance is very useful to understand what is freedom and the importance of national laws of democratic countries.

Like in section 1.3, I've submitted this entry in a form: it will be shared with two other course participants and I'll have to review and give feebacks to 2 peers.

NOTE: I received very interesting reviews about my Driving Question: a teacher told me my DQ is not so open-ended and I could change it in "Which rules do you think would be necessary to implement in the school" or "Your chance to rule: what rules are needed in school". It sounds better and I think this feedback was really important to me.

2. Developing effective collaboration for PBL

In Module 2 I'm going to work on Collaboration, the heart of PBL approach.

Learning objectives: how different types of collaboration can be used in a PBL approach and how to develop strategies and activities to promote effective collaboration between students and with actors outside the classroom?

This is the picture I decided to share to give my personal idea about collaboration:

2.1 Twitter Chat: 13th June, 18:30h

This afternoon I'm invited to join this chat on Twitter: it will be my first time on it, since I've never used this social network.

Here's my account on Twitter!

Below my first tweet :)

Well, the chat was funny but too many tweets! I couldn't follow everything and I found it a bit chaotic!

2.2 What is effective collaboration?

Let's remember something really important: a key goal of PBL is not the project but rather the process of building the project. Learning happens while working on the project. And one of the key things students should be learning as part of this process is effective collaboration.

Here a video about it:

Deirdre Butler explaines the importance of shared reponsibility when students work in pairs or in group: this is the main aspect of collaboration, one of the six rubrics of 21st Century Learning. I'd like to read it carefully, maybe after this course will be over!

Then a learning activity is designed in a way that requires students to make substantive decisions together: the strongest learning activities are designed so that student work is interdependent, requiring all students to contribute in order for the team to succeed.

Below the document I'd like to read better:

2.3 Effective Collaboration for PBL inside the Classroom

So, how to achieve effective collaboration between students in classroom? Here's a video showing how collaboration just doesn't happen but it has to be learned:

Teachers should provide students with the environment and the scaffolding to help them to become effective collaborators.

Some tips from this video:

  • Teach the kids how best work together
  • Offer tools to help kids manage time and tasks
  • Use tabletop directions to keep kids focused
  • Facilitate learning by moving among groups

James Fester wrote this interesting blog post: 5 Strategies for Fostering a Collaborative Culture in a PBL Classroom. In a very clear way he explaines how to create a culture of collaboration, something that it's not easy and that requires time and effort to be successful. He gives a few tips to encourage teachers to start this process which allows students to take more control over the pace and scope of their learning.

I watched this video outlining a nice activity to start a PBL process in school:

Then I shared a personal idea/activity to build team spirit or better communication amongst groups on a Dotstorm page. It was full of excellent activities proposed by colleagues and I should find some time to read them carefully!

2.4 Finding collaboration partners outside the classroom

A key part of PBL is establishing a link to the "real-world". This can be done in two ways: by involving audiences or partners from outside of the classroom or even better outside of the school.

Here I'm going to explore two types of collaboration with outside actors: the first is the well-known eTwinning network, that I know and join since a few years.

At the core of eTwinning's pedagogy stands the PBL approach.

This video introduces the importance of eTwinning projects and their link to real world (students from other countries):

The second area to consider here is about involving people from the community in students' work.

Below a video with two examples of successful engagement of outside professionals in the PBL work of students:

A couple of tips I've got from this video to involve people from the community around the school:

  • Elevate engagement by inviting professionals from the community to assess students work;
  • Involve parents with their professional backgrounds;
  • Tap local parks, museums, and nonprofits for educational resources.

Which people from my community me or my students could engage with?

This question opens a door to collaboration with local community and the need of a link with real world and professionals from outside the school. In my experience this is really important for students, they want to be in the world, they feel the need of understanding that what they learn is useful, practical and it's not so far away from their real life.

So, usually I saw great results in collaboration with local libraries, nonprofit associations working in social fields, experts and professionals coming to schools to meet students and explain what they do. Actually I couldn't see much more than this: somebody coming to explain something and then that's it. I'd like to work more on this collaboration and this idea of experts coming to assess student work sounds great, such as the opportunity for students to have this kind of audience while they're working on something and they have to present it.

Two more blog entries are shared in this section, both really interesting: Mike Kaechele talks about Going Public: The Power of Local, Community Partners. Three steps to connect students with local partners:

  1. Brainstorm Potential Partners, sharing our personal list with students too;
  2. Connect to Standards in schools curricula;
  3. Connect to Partners, challenging students to do that.

Finding local partners takes some effort, but the payoff for students is so worth it!

Then, Suzie Boss wrote this post, Get Your Community on Board with PBL, to explain how to involve local communities in PBL approaches.

2.5 Collaboration Tools

In this section a new tool to work on collaboration is introduced by a video. It's called TeamUp and I didn't know it.

This tool looks like useful to build up teams, since this is something I try to do in my work everyday. I was invited to share other tools in a Padlet but I just shared a personal idea about tools and my perception:

2.6 P2P - Building your PBL Learning Design

In this final unit I'm going to edit my Learning Design.

It's the first time I work on it, I just had to introduce my PBL completing some general fields and adding a first TLA based on collaboration. The interface is quite easy to be used but it requires creativity and organization to build up the TLAs. I'm not used to plan lessons in a very detailed and precise way like this, but I think it's a precious moment in which teachers can reflect on their projects.

When I enrolled this course I knew I'd have had the opportunity to experiment something new and one of the main aspect of this course is about planning projects.

Now, one of the most difficult fields to be completed was the one about outcomes: I found it really difficult, since I don't always know what kind of results will be obtained through the activities or projects that I introduce to students. Sometimes they're proposing acitivities to me, so I need to find a balance between their interests and my teaching approach, taking care of national curricula, of course.

Anyway, Module 2 is over! Let's move to the next!

3. Developing student-driven activities for PBL

Module 3 is focused on the development of a student-driven environment in which the energy and persistence of what is happening in the classroom does not primarily come from us but from the students.

Teachers should help students to develop grit and resilience to stay with a problem or project even though they have failed previously.

As an introduction I'm invited to describe a situation in my professional or personal life where I was first unsuccessful but then I managed to succeed in the end. Here's my Padlet entry:

3.1 Scaffolding for Student Ownership and Independence

If we want a real student-driven learning process, we should develop students' ownership over the process as a part of PBL approach.

I watched this video about scaffolding for learning:

I've got the idea that scaffolding builds on the understanding that students:

  • learn in many ways;
  • build new knowledge based on prior experiences and knowledge;
  • need to be supported in learning when they cannot achieve on their own.

Teachers should work more on building a shared understanding for supporting every student.

Then I watched this video on how to scaffold for a student-driven environment in PBL:

I've got some tips from the video:

  • Give students voice and choice in the process
  • Let the students seek answers independently or generate new questions
  • Make time for reflection and revision
  • Have students track their own progress

Then I'm invited to share an idea about this viewpoint:

Below my response on Dotstorm:

3.2 Developing Student Resilience

What is resilience? It's a combination of skills and attributes that help to solve problems, cope with challenges, adapt and bounce back when things don't go as planned.

Resilient people learn from their mistakes, they look at their failures and mistakes as lessons to be learned from, and as opportunities for growth.

It's possible to develop resilience in our students through a combination of setting out the right environment, building positive relationships, and offering space for independent decisions.

Below a video for a series of strategies to develop student resilience:

The video is full of good tips, but I'd like to keep in mind mostly one:

"Support cooperative learning projects in which all students must contribute to the final learning product".

And, of course, "enjoy the time spent with your student": this is essential.

Below another video, focusing on building confidence:

A nice video, the main idea could be resumed in: keep on trying. Every failure can be an opportunity to develop our self-esteem and confidence in ourselves.

In this MOOC too, I think confidence plays an important role, since I'm facing new challenges and I'd like to achieve a professional development. So, this video is a good motivation to keep on learning and trying!

In this unit I'm going to try a "Reverse Brainstorming": I should identify how we as teachers can weaken our student's confidence and independence. Here's my contribution on Padlet:

3.3 An Entrepreneurial Mindset

In this section I'm going to explore the importance of having an entrepreneurial mindset, as it is explained in this video by course moderator Kornélia Lohyňová:

It doesn't deal just with business or making money: it's a mindset about positive attitude: it means that you're ready to solve problems, to innovate and create, to take a risk and having an influence while working in a group.

3.4 Webinar 22nd June, 18:30h: Developing Entrepreneurial Skills

In this unit I had the opportunity to join a webinar about Entrepreneurial skills but I couldn't manage to do it. On the platform there's a recording of it:

The webinar was focussing on entrepreneurial skills and mindsets and how innovative teaching methods can foster such skills and mindsets in students. Kornélia Lohyňová talked about how we can use a "Design Thinking" approach in our teaching to support entrepreneurial skills development.

Reading this article by Katrina Schwartz, I've got the idea of what is a Design Thinking approach: it includes considering real-world problems, research, analysis, conceiving original ideas, lots of experimentation, and sometimes building things by hand.

3.5 P2P - Building your PBL Learning Design

In this unit I'm invited to work on my Learning Design, adding some TLAs with a focus on scaffolding for student independence and ownership, building resilience and an entrepreneurial mindset in general.

My Design should ideally provide opportunity for students:

  • to identify the questions they would like to pursue (within the context of your Driving Question);
  • to make choices on all key project-related aspects such as resources used, products created, use of time, etc.;
  • to take significant responsibility and work independently from the teacher, but with guidance if necessary;
  • to reflect during the project about their own work and learning.

Here is my Learning Design, updated.

3.6 eTwinning Learning Event: How to Develop Resilience at School

This Learning Event will take place in September and it has been designed by Kornélia Lohyňová: I joined her group on eTwinning and I'd like to explore this topic more in depth.

3.7 Apply for Next Week's Teachmeet

At the end of Module 3 I could apply for a TeachMeet but due to high demand applications to present at the Teachmeet are now closed...

Anyway, since I didn't know about Teachmeets, I watched this video to catch the idea of it:

NOTE: At the end of this module I received interesting feedback from my colleagues, I could check other Learning Diaries and Learning Designs and I found 'em all really interesting and nice. I feel I need more time and experience to be such a good planner and all this must be experimented with our students: they're our goal and all these beautiful projects can be useful and real only when they're activated in schools.

4. Assessing PBL

Final module. It inbvolves one of the most difficult aspects of all the learning process: assessment. It should not only be about giving a grade at the end but it should be an on-going process, where teachers and students alike assess their learning as they work on the projects.

Assessment, from latin Assidere, means "to sit beside": providing feedback and helping somebody to improve. This is what I try to do everyday in my teaching practice and I find it really hard, sometimes.

In this introuction I'm invited to share some reflections about my assessment context. Here it is my contribution to the Padlet:

4.1 Teachmeet - Mon 27th June 18:30h

A TeachMeet is an informal way of sharing ideas amongst teachers. It's similar to a webinar except that the participants are the speakers.

4.2 Embedding Assessment into PBL

In this unit there's a simple explanation of the difference between formative assessment and summative assessment, as shown in this tabel:

The idea is that assessment as part of PBL should not only come at the end but should be seen as a learning activity that is embedded throughout the PBL process.

In this video there are some examples of how formatively assess learning throughout the PBL implementation:

There are many ways to assess if students are progressing and I add one to this Dotstorming pad:

4.3 Peer Assessment for PBL

Since during this course I had many opportunities of peer assessment, now I'm going to discover more about this powerful learning activity through this video:

Professor Dylan William underlines the importance of peer and self assessment, in its formative dimension: sometimes people have a wrong idea about it, but formative assessment means students helping each other improving their work. It has benefits for the person who receives feedback but also for the person who gives feedback.

In this second video there are some more concrete examples and student's views on peer assessment's that are done in a classroom using a PBL approach:

In the video the students use the Ladder of Feedback, a useful tool to help teachers to structure peer assessment with their students.

In this article there's an explanation of it (since I didn't know it before) and some useful tips for peer assessment:

I shared my reflections on peer assessement in a Padlet:

4.4 Creating & Using Rubrics for PBL Assessment

In this unit I'm going ot learn what are Rubrics and how to create them for PBL activities: they're  grading tools that can be used for summative as well as formative assessment.

Here's a video explaining that:

How to create rubrics? There's an easy way through this website:

In this video I just had a look at how to create rubrics. It seems very easy and useful!

I created a Rubric about collaboration throught the website.

4.5 P2P - My PBL Learning Design

Finally, I'm going to complete my PBL design. The plan should respect some criteria as identified in the Project Design Rubric by the Buck Institute of Education:

I finalized my Learning Design, here it is!

4.6 Extra Webinar 5th July - Flip Your Students' Role in PBL

An extra webinar about the role of students in PBL based on the experience of a team of university students experimenting with PBL. It is presented by María Jesús García San Martín and hosted by Nair Carrera Martinez.

4.7 Course Self-Assessment

Final unit, last module: a survey of course self-assessment.

It has been a great opportunity to learn a new way of teaching, to experiment a bit what it means and how to implement it in my school. It has been really involving, sometimes I felt I needed to learn many new things and I'd have had some extra time to do it. Anyway, I feel I'll do it with the beginning of the new school year, in September.

I discovered many new tools that I'm going to involve in my teaching practice, I met many teachers from all over the world and I joined my first Mooc. It has been an excellent opportunity of professional development!

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