EDU6978: Week 05: Due 2012-07-29

This was a full week of diving into project-based learning (PBL), both the essentials of a good project, and scouring the web for samples of different types of projects.  General sentiments in the discussion forums is that the work that lies ahead of us, as we aspire to inspire students through PBL is difficult, but worthwhile.  For fun I have signed up for the first course on entitled “How to Launch a Project”.

We also talked a bit about getting students to act as assessors of their peers, and the impacts that would have on their own learning and quality of work.  This is an essential step for embedded formative assessment, and takes the teacher out of that hot seat, and puts a sometimes even stronger critic in the position, namely a student’s peers!

In my student teaching assignment we did a lot of individual projects with students, but not a lot collaborative ones.  And we certainly did not check off the 8 essential ingredients for good PBL.  It was not hard to sell me on the value of PBL, it is just difficult for me to envision how it is done with a group of 25-45 students at one time.

I plan to do project(s) related to irrigation and water resource management, including power generation in canals, since those topics are authentic to this area, and seem to be very rich in STEM content.

Notes (Verbatim from source unless italic)

Embedded Formative Assessment (Wiliam, 2011)

Chapter 7
Activating Students as Owners of Their Own Learning

In the introduction to his book Guitar, Dan Morgan (1965) wrote, “No one can teach you to play the guitar” (p. 1). This was rather puzzling, since the subtitle of the book is The Book That Teaches You Everything You Need to Know About Playing the Guitar. However, Morgan clarified by adding, “But they can help you learn.” This is pretty obvious really. Whether learning to play a musical instrument, a sport, or a whole range of other human endeavors, we intuitively grasp that teachers do not create learning; only learners create learning. And yet our classrooms seem to be based on the opposite principle—that if they try really hard, teachers can do the learning for the learners. This is only exacerbated by accountability regimes that mandate sanctions for teachers, for schools, and for districts, but not for students.

This chapter reviews the research evidence on the impact of getting students more involved in their learning and shows that activating students as owners of their own learning can produce extraordinary improvements in their achievement. The chapter concludes with a number of practical techniques for classroom implementation.

  • Student Self-Assessment
    • …students can assess themselves quite accurately for summative purposes…but only when the stakes are low.  [But] the topic of this chapter…is whether students can develop sufficient insights into their own learning to improve it.
    • …Twenty-five elementary school teachers…met for two hours each week, during which they were trained in the use of of a structured approach to student self-assessment
      • Prescriptive component.  The prescriptive component took the form of a series of hierarchically organized activities, from which the teacher selected on the basis of diagnostic assessments of the students.
      • Exploratory component.  For the exploratory component, each day at a set time, students organized and carried out individual plans of work, choosing tasks from a range offered by the teacher.
    • Two weeks: students chose structured tasks…asked to assess their own performance
    • Four weeks:  constructed their own mathematical problems…required to identify any problems they had had
    • Four weeks:  given additional sets of learning objectives…had to devise problems, but were not given examples.
    • Ten weeks:  Finally, in the last ten weeks, students were allowed to set their own learning objectives, to construct relevant mathematical problems, to select appropriate apparatus, and to identify suitable self-assessments.
    • There was a control group (313 students) to the 354 students in this study.  The study group improved average scores by 15 points, versus 7.8 points for the control group.  How, exactly, attention to student self-assessment improves learning is not yet clear, but the most important element appears to be the notion of self-regulation.
  • Self-Regulated Learning
    • The basic idea of self-regulated learning is that the learner is able to coordinate cognitive resources, emotions, and actions in the service of his learning goals (Boekaerts, 2006).
      • Cognitive aspects? (Winne, 1996)
      • Motivation or volition? (Corno, 2001)
    • Metacognition
      • John Flavell (1976), widely credited with inventing the term, defined metacognition as follows:   “Metacognition” refers to one’s knowledge concerning one’s own cognitive processes and products or anything related to them, e.g., the learning-relevant properties of information and data.
      • The research shows clearly that “the most effective learners are self-regulating” (Butler & Winne, 1995, p. 245) and, more importantly, that training students in metacognition raises their performance (for example, Lodico, Ghatala, Levin, Pressley, & Bell, 1983) and allows them to generalize what they have learned to novel situations (Hacker, Dunlosky, & Graesser, 1998).
    • Motivation
      • If individuals undertake only those things that are inherently interesting or enjoyable, then they are unlikely to learn to read, write, or play a musical instrument.
      • Motivation is discussed in one of two ways:  the student has it inherently, or the teacher must supply it.
      • There is another way to think about motivation—not as a cause but as a consequence of achievement.
      • Examples of Flow from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
        • Dancer
        • Rock climber
        • Mother and small daughter
        • A chess player
      • Csikszentmihalyi described this sense of being completely absorbed in an activity “flow.” This sense of flow can arise because of one’s intrinsic interest in a task, as with the mother reading to her daughter, but can also arise through a match between one’s capability and the challenge of the task. When the level of challenge is low and the level of capability is high, the result is often boredom. When the level of challenge is high and the level of capability is low, the result is generally anxiety. When both are low, the result is apathy. However, when both capability and challenge are high, the result is “flow”.
      • This way of thinking about motivation is radical because it does not locate “the problem” in the teacher or the learner but in the match between challenge and capability.
      • However, it will not be enough that an activity is absorbing if the cost of engaging in the task is seen by the student as being too high, whether this is in terms of the opportunity cost that attempting a task might take or negative consequences such as the risk to one’s self-image if unsuccessful (Eccles et al., 1983).
      • …but when the goals seem out of reach, students may give up on increasing competence and instead avoid harm, by either focusing on lower-level goals they know they can reach or avoiding failing altogether by disengaging from the task…
      • It is also worth noting that while students’ motivation and their belief in their ability to carry their plans through to successful completion—what Albert Bandura (1997) termed self-efficacy—tend to decline as students go through school, what the teacher does can make a real difference.
    • Integrating Motivational and Cognitive Perspectives
      • This discussion may appear to have brought us a long distance from classroom formative assessment, but fulfilling the potential of formative assessment requires that we recognize that assessment is a two-edged sword. Assessment can improve instruction, but it can also impact the learner’s willingness, desire, and capacity to learn (Harlen & Deakin Crick, 2002).
      • When students are invited to participate in a learning activity, they use three sources of information to decide what they are going to do:
        • Their perceptions of the task and its context…
        • Their knowledge about the task and what it will take to be successful.
        • Their motivational beliefs, including their interest and whether they think they know enough to succeed.
      • The student then weighs the information and begins to channel energy along one of two pathways, focusing on either growth or well-being.
      • We cannot possibly anticipate all the factors that a student may take into account in deciding whether to pursue growth rather than well-being, but there are a number of things that can be done to tip the scales in the right direction:
        • Share learning goals…
        • Promote the belief that ability is incremental…
        • Make it more difficult for students to compare themselves with others in terms of achievement.
        • Provide feedback that contains a recipe for future action…
        • Use every opportunity to transfer executive control of learning…to the student
      • And if you figure out a way to do all that, please let me know. The fact that we know what needs to be done is not the same as doing it.
  • Practical Techniques
    • There is no doubt that activating students as owners of their own learning produces substantial increases in learning, but it is not a quick fix.
    • As we will see, self-assessment can be uncomfortable for both student and teacher, but the benefits are great, and once teachers get used to involving the students in their own learning, it is almost impossible to go back.
    • …following are some techniques that are specifically designed to encourage students to reflect upon their own learning.
    • Traffic Lights
      • Green indicates confidence that the intended learning has been achieved. Yellow indicates either ambivalence about the extent to which the intended learning has been achieved or that the objectives have been partially met. Red indicates that the student believes that he or she has not learned what was intended.
      • Traffic lights and test preparation.  Students flag what they know as green, and what they don’t as red/yellow.  Students might be more honest since they are the consumers of the assessment.
    • Red/Green Disks
      • At the beginning of the period, the green side faced up, but, as the lesson progressed, if students wanted to signal that they thought the teacher was going too fast, they flipped the disk over to red.
      • Example of where students help other students flip to red…
      • Example of the teacher who was brave enough to stop when a student said “Sir, this isn’t working, is it?”
    • Colored Cups
      • In her classroom, each student is given one of each of the colored cups, and the lesson begins with the green cup showing. If the student wants to signal that the teacher is going too fast, then the student shows the yellow cup, and if a student wants to ask a question, then the red cup is displayed.
      • This technique neatly encapsulates two key components of effective formative assessment—engagement and contingency.
    • Learning Portfolios
      • Many schools encourage students to keep portfolios of their work, but too often, these are maintained in the same way as an artist’s portfolio—to display the latest and best.
      • For an incremental view of ability, a “learning portfolio” is far more useful. When better work is done, it is added to the portfolio rather than replacing earlier work to allow students to review their learning journeys. 
        • Development trajectory
        • Incremental improvement
      • Students can start developing such learning portfolios at a very young age.
    • Learning Logs
      • One technique that teachers have found useful as a way of getting students to reflect on their learning is to ask students to complete a learning log at the end of a lesson.
      • Prompts
        • Today I learned…
        • I was surprised by…
        • The useful thing I will take from this lesson is…
        • I was interested in…
        • What I liked most about this lesson was…
        • One thing I’m not sure about is…
        • The main thing I want to find out more about is…
        • After this session, I feel…
        • I might have gotten more from this lesson if…
      • Getting students to choose which three of these statements they respond to seems to encourage a more thoughtful approach to the process of reflecting on their learning.

Teachers have a crucial role to play in designing the situations in which learning takes place, but only learners create learning. Therefore, it is not surprising that the better learners are able to manage their learning, the better they learn. All students can improve how they manage learning processes and become owners of their own learning. However, this is not an easy process. Reflecting critically on one’s own learning is emotionally charged, which is why developing such skills takes time, especially with students who are accustomed to failure.

This chapter has provided research evidence along with a number of practical techniques that teachers have used to increase the engagement of their students and their own responsiveness to their students’ needs. In the epilogue, the main themes of this book are reviewed, concluding with a few words of advice for teachers in taking the ideas presented in this book into their own classrooms.

[Video] Self and peer assessment (Wiliam, n.d.)


Here’s my favorite quote from this video:

When students have given feedback to others about a piece of work, their own subsequent attempts at that task are better, because they know what quality work looks like.

What Project Learning Isn’t (Robin, 2011)

Most thought-provoking bit of this video:


"The opposite of project based learning is project-oriented learning (not straight lecturing)." 

Project-oriented learning is like the cart (learning) before the horse (project).

Project-Based Learning [Video] (Larmer, 2012)


Part of the above video is another video.  I thought it was weird to see a video within a video, so I found a link to the original video.  That is below


The Main Course, Not Dessert (Larmer & Mergendoller, 2010a)

This was a longer discussion of the 8 characteristics of a good project-based learning experience.  This paper also discusses some necessary environmental success factors that can help a school implement good project-based learning.

8 Essentials for Project-Based Learning (Larmer & Mergendoller, 2010b)

This paper is a discussion of a case study project at High Tech High School in San Diego and uses that case study to elucidate the 8 essential characteristics for project-based learning.

Project-Based Learning:  Engaging Students in Science (Lippy, 2006)

  • What is Project-Based Learning?
  • High Quality PBL
  • Why Do Project-Based Learning?
  • Our Project-Based Learning Story
  • Science at North Mason High School
    • An Integrated Context
    • Level 1 Courses
    • Level 2 and 3 Courses
  • How We Use Our Unique Context and Community
    • The Aquatic World:  PBL in the Real World
    • Scientific Content and Process (60 percent of term grade)
    • Hood Canal Institute (40 percent of term grade)
  • A PBL Unit in the Aquatic World
  • Service-Learning Expands Project-Based Learning
  • Examples of Hood Canal Institute Projects
    • Habitat Box Restoration and Monitoring
    • Sediment Transport Study
    • Benthic Macroinvertebrate Monitoring
    • Water Quality Monitoring
    • Native Plant Propagation
    • Environmental Explorations
    • Belfair Creek Project
    • Sign Psychology
    • Bird Silhouettes
  • PBL In Your Classroom
    • Look at yourself and your role in the classroom
    • Look at your students
    • Where do you find time in your curriculum?
    • Examine the constraints and assets of bringing PBL to your classroom
    • Once you have thought about all these things, start planning…and planning…and planning!
  • Challenges To Be Ready For
  • Don’t Take My Word For It
  • Appendix A:  Integrated Science A:  Unit:  Human Body Systems
  • Appendix B:  Integrated Science A:  Unit:  Human body Systems (Rubric)
  • Appendix C:  Hood Canal Institute:  Project Placement Application
  • Appendix D:  Curriculum Map:  Unit:  Nitrogen Cycle – Matter Cycles
  • Appendix E:  Cycle-O-Rama:  A Model of the Nitrogen Cycle
  • Appendix F:  Cycle-O-Rama:  Rubric
  • Appendix G:  Hood Canal Institute:  Final Reflections
  • Appendix H:  Resource List
  • About the Author
  • North Mason High School’s Science Team

Teaching Students to Think:  Project-Based Learning (David, 2008)

I found David’s article to be more cautionary tale, almost to the point of fear-mongering about project-based learning and the challenges to doing it effectively.  Here two quotes:

To use project-based learning effectively, teachers must fully understand the concepts embedded in their projects and be able to model thinking and problem-solving strategies effectively (Blumenfeld et al., 1991). Worthwhile projects require challenging questions that can support collaboration, as well as methods of measuring the intended learning outcomes. Without carefully designed tasks, skilled teachers, and school conditions that support projects, project-based learning can devolve into a string of activities with no clear purpose or outcome.

And similarly

These studies suggest that project-based learning, when fully realized, can improve student learning. However, the research also underscores how difficult it is to implement project-based learning well. Together these findings suggest caution in embracing this practice unless the conditions for success are in place, including strong school support, access to well-developed projects, and a collaborative culture for teachers and students.

Caution is good, but small steps in the right direction are never wrong, are they?

Resource.  Click to read this blog, various authors, various topic, no specific topic assigned.

Differentiated Instruction Through Project-Based Learning (McCarthy, 2011)


How do I differentiate effectively in a PBL Unit?
Need to knows (Edmodo for PBL, pose questions)
[Look up these books on Amazon]
Left:  how teachers design their units and lessons.
Right:  how students enter into PBL
8 Essentials for PBL
There is a plethora of strategies to help support learning.

Significant Content:  What skills do students bring to the table.  How do we scaffold content and skills?  How do you keep students engaged through struggle.  Crossroad

Project Teaching and Learning Guide:  a PBL tool, e.g. the Missions Project in CA. Major Products, Knowledge and Skills Needed by Students, Scaffolding/Materials/Lessons to be Provided.
21st Century Skills:  reminds us that differentiated instruction is for all students, those who struggle and those who are advanced.  Have a variety of sources of evidence to make high quality assessment of the learning for all types of students.
Formative assessment is critical, day-by-day, for getting a good handle on where students are at.

In-Depth Inquiry:  Help students dig deeply.  RAFTS is an interesting tool.  Students have to pick the Format they would use.  And you need to have clear criteria, so students know what is expected of them.

Driving Questions:  The thesis statement of the article or something that needs to be answered by the end of the project.  Students need an authentic audience (to drive accountability).  Students need good driving questions or guiding questions

Need to Know:  Interests are the differentiators here.
The entry events are a key here, be creative!

Voice and Choice:  Want to establish opportunity for students to express their preferences.
There are only 3 types of intelligences, which we all have capacity for, but we each favor one of these some precedence.

[Check out the Articles from Education Leadership, ASCD.]


Revision and Reflection:  we have many examples of pure experiences of differentiation.
This peer assessment can actually save time.

Public Audience:  key is clear criteria.
It is necessary to do ongoing formative assessment.  Track progress before summative assessments.
”Need to knows” provide a great way to synchronize class work output with teacher expectations.  Students let the teacher know when they don’t understand in feedback.  Thumbs up, thumbs side, thumbs down.                                                                                                                                
But how do you grade?  That’s the elephant in the room.
Differentiated instruction in PBL is a journey.  We remove scaffolds along the way.  As far as final assessment, there must be a standard for all students.  And there can be different approaches to the assessment.
Teaming is a great way to do differentiation.  You may regroup kids throughout the unit.  Learning teams are short-term teams, that you can do mini-workshops with separate teams.  Initial reports are from students themselves, and then the teacher can make tweaks, and regroup thoughtfully so each member has a cognitive role or responsibility.
Post questions on Edmodo, for BIE.

PBL Starter Kit:  To-the-point Advice, Tools and Tips for Your First Project (Larmer, 2009)

  • What is Project Based Learning?


  • PBL Misconceptions
    • Not just the dessert
    • Not just a string of activities
    • Not just “making something” or “hand on” or “activity learning”
  • PBL’s Effectiveness:  What Experience and Research Tell Us




  • The Role of the Teacher in PBL
    • Guide on the side, not sage on the stage.
    • It feels unnatural and challenging at first, but gets better, you will never go back!

Real Life.  Real Knowledge.  Real Fun!  Project Based Learning (Pacific Education Institute, 2012)

This blog describes the experiences of a PEI rep at a recent PBL World conference.  The conference was put on by the Buck Institute for Education.  In particular at this conference a new web site was announced which offers free PBL training to educators.  The web site is, short for PBL University.  Here’s a quote from the blog:

On Friday, the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) announced the launch of PBLU – Project Based Learning University!  In partnership with the National Environmental Education Foundation and BIE, the Pacific Education Institute created theSchoolyard Habitat Projectfor PBLU teachers who are interested in connecting their students to a real-world environmental project.

K-12 teachers can sign up at by choosing a project (such as the Schoolyard Habitat Project!) and then “sign up and sign in” to take five related classes – all for free!  The first round of classes starts on July 30th, with a second round scheduled for October of 2012.  Each 2-week class provides insight into project planning and implementation and is designed for a time commitment of 5 to 6 hours.

PBLU looks very interesting.



Common Craft. (2010).  Project-Based Learning Explained.  Commissioned by Buck Institute for Education.  [Video].  Retrieved July 29, 2012 from

Larmer, J. (2011). Project Based Learning. Buck Institute for Education. Retrieved July 24, 2012 from

Larmer, J. (2009). PBL Starter Kit: To-the-point Advice, Tools and Tips for Your First Project. Novato, CA: Buck Institute for Education.  pp 1-8.  Retrieved July 7, 2012 from

Larmer, J. & Mergendoller, J.R. (2010a) The Main Course, Not Dessert: How Are Students Reaching 21st Century Goals? With 21st Century Project Based Learning. Buck Institute of Education. Retrieved July 24, 2012 from

Larmer, J. & Mergendoller, J.R. (2010b). 8 Essentials for Project-Based Learning. Educational Leadership. 68(1). Pp 52-55.

Lippy, K. (2006). Project-Based Learning. Engaging Students in Science. Small Schools Project. Retrieved July 29, 2012 from

McCarthy, J. (2011)  Differentiated Instruction Through Project-Based Learning.  Buck Institute for Education.  [Video].  Retrieved July 29, 2012 from

Pacific Education Institute. (2012). Real Life. Real Knowledge. Real Fun! Project Based Learning. Retrieved July 24, 2012 from

Robin, J. (2011). What Project Based Learning Isn’t. HighTechHigh. [Video]. Retrieved July 24, 2012 from

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded Formative Assessment. Bloomington, Indiana: Solution Tree Press.

Wiliam, D. (n.d.). Self and Peer Assessment. [Video]. Retrieved July 29, 2012 from

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