Project-based learning

I’ve always felt like the most thorough learning comes from self-guided projects. The topics I remember best from high school and college were the ones I independently researched and wrote about. So for me, the biggest takeaway from this course is that the teacher doesn’t necessarily need to feel like an expert on the topic she or he is teaching. It’d be unrealistic, really, to expect a teacher to be an expert on so many things. Students are capable of conducting research on their own and unearthing a deep understanding of a topic through that process.

That said, I agree with some of the other students in this class that certain guidelines are needed in project-based learning, and that work should be checked throughout the process. The last Friday of this course was an incredibly stressful day for me. We came into class feeling as though our work was done, only for us to have to essentially rewrite our entire chapter by the end of the day. I’m glad we did this; frankly, I would have been embarrassed to publish our chapter before our content edits were made. But I feel that this was something that should have been monitored throughout the project, rather than added on as a last-day, anxiety-triggering afterthought.

The point is that I see the value in project-based learning -and I will certainly use it in my classroom- but I feel that whenever students are doing self-directed learning their work should be checked regularly. Allowing students to conduct research without an expert guide can be dangerous; there is a lot of information out there, and a lot of it shouldn’t be used, but students aren’t always able to see their mistakes. All of this is especially true in group learning, when students become responsible for not only their own work, but their classmates’ as well.

ALST 600 – Final

Project Based Learning: I suppose what I learned is that project based learning is a slower process than “traditional” lecture based learning. What I mean is that when there is no “expert” guiding the learning process, the learning group not only has to learn the subject, but they also have to research, locate and vet the learning materials as well. This takes more time, undoubtedly. It also creates uncertainty, even after source materials have been located because we aren’t 100% sure that what we’ve gathered is foundational, tangential or just plain wrong. Of course, most grad students have years of learning behind them, so individual research is certainly doable, it’s just less comfortable without an expert guide.

That said, this is also the positive aspect of Project Based Learning. We are teaching ourselves when we collaborate, research materials, synthesize information, try to form a group voice, etc. We are learning how people learn – particularly in collaboration. And that’s what we are in this program for.

Project Based Learning

Honestly, the teacher in me learned quite a bit from the PBL exercise we did for ALST 600. The first thing I think I would say is I learned is that if you’re going to do a large PBL exercise like we did, you need to be fairly specific about what sort of content goes into it. This is especially the case if the project is supposed to be on something like parallel introductions to regions, etc.

I feel like there should have been a set of topical guidances which would have ensured that each region had elements of things like the effects of ANCSA or the establishment of the modern transportation structure on the region. I know that we were supposed to focus around six broad questions, but I think it would have been better if this had been a larger, but more specific, list, especially a list drawn from the instructor’s prior knowledge of multiple textbooks/history books. As it was, I feel like the introductions may have missed elements critical to understanding each region.

Another thing I realized is that we really needed to have some sort of summative activity. Now, I’m not blaming anyone for how the end of the class happened; this was an experiment. But what I’m trying to say is that I feel like I learned the most only about my region. But in order to accomplish the objectives of the class more thoroughly, we really needed some kind of individual or group presentations at the end of class, so that we could all be exposed to the content from every region. Last year I participated in a student-led class which was about 2/3 student presentations and 1/3 lectures by the professor. It was a lot of fun. If there had been student research leading to group presentations in class, I think it would have been more effective.

Additionally, I think that if I want to use PBL type assignments in class, I need to put them in a carefully scaffolded context. I think doing something like what we did after a series of lectures giving general background could have been very helpful.

I’m absolutely sure I’ll use PBL in my future work. I think, for me, a major takeaway is that it needs to be tweaked and set up a little differently. Honestly, the way it happened generated a lot of anxiety for a lot of the students in the class. Instructions and expectations needed to be clearer. I would not want to do that to my high school students, and I believe that with good scaffolding, clear expectations, and a presentational conclusion, this method can be very beneficial to students on their journey of discovery.


“You just experienced project-based learning.
What did the teacher in you learn?”

The teacher in me learned that project-based learning can be both frustrating and brilliant. The student in me was reminded how challenging it can be to be patient. The teacher in me was reminded about the importance of scaffolding.

Use of technology: In this course, I gained new tech tools and ideas on how to build technology into the classroom and curriculum. Understanding technology is a current “gate-keeper,” so I appreciate us being pushed to both learn it and teach it to one another. I think it is critical to use technology in the classroom to connect with students in a digital era, but also to help them succeed in it.

The iBooks project helped me gain insight into what it will be like to teach at a constructivist charter school. As a group member, I had to step back and recognize that everyone works differently and at their own pace. I will have to do the same as a teacher, so this was an important lesson.

In my own classroom, I will have more time to help students learn about the technology they are using before we begin a project. If I were to do an iBook project with my class, I would have them work in pairs and I would let students start out with a narrow, specific topic of their choice (within a given theme). I would give them a sort-of “starter” project before jumping into a more complex research project or book. Students will need to have a common understanding of what iBooks can do and how to effectively write for a digital publication. During my student teaching I will be teaching the same groups of students language arts and social studies, so it’s important for me to be thinking about interdisciplinary teaching. I would do a unit on how to write for digital publications and how to conduct online research in language arts, simultaneously with a social studies unit on any given historical topic.

libraryslamA quick note on place-based learning & using our community resources wisely… It was so exciting to get to spend time in the new museum and archives! This gave a real authenticity to what we were learning about, especially for those of us who couldn’t visit our region. I will absolutely use this space since I’ll be teaching within walking distance of the SLAM building.

Alaska Studies: For my own chapters, I learned a lot about my individual region and learned a little more about commonalities and differences between regions. Through reading other groups’ work, I gained a bit more information about other regions, but not as much about Alaska as a whole. At times, the learning seemed fragmented. Even within my own region, I focused so much on my own sections, that I did not get to really dive deep into others. This is a challenge with project-based learning, it takes time and students miss details when they are focused on their own interests. I appreciated that the course was taught in combination with Angie’s course so we could continue to gain a deeper, cohesive understanding of multi-cultural ed. while working on the iBook. I think before teaching Alaska Studies to my students, I have a lot more learning to do on the big picture, historical timelines, and cultures in each region… but now I’ll have the tools I need to gain a broader and deeper understanding, including an iBook to use in my classroom!

Teaching Students To Teach Themselves

books-floating-cloud-23748914-2To forget or to not forget that is thine question. Lectures tend to go in one ear and out the other. Involving critical thinking and getting ones hands dirty helps to remember. The Guilds of The Renaissance always stand out to me when talking about project based learning. There is no better way than to do.

One post in our cohort mentioned project-based learning is slower without having an expert on the subject. That is true however, where is the struggle if you can just get the answer and it is through the struggle one learns or gets better at learning. Although, in our case, I feel like the museum was the expert. I may have never visited the museum if it wasn’t a part of our class. An artifact is worth a thousand words…

Two things about this class that I think are invaluable are the technological aspects and how to’s of project based learning. Haiku Deck, Google map making, iBooks, WordPress, etc all have uses beyond what we used them in class for. Furthermore, it will happen, for all of us in the cohort, one day we will have to teach and don’t know much about a subject or we are unprepared. Project-based learning is invaluable in that sense and it aids retention. Most of all, teaching students how to teach themselves is the most important lesson any teacher can give.

ALTS 600

I learned how to use technology to help teach, I learned that if the project is going to be presented to the public people will work a lot harder on it. I also learned how to make a basic lesson plan. I think the most important thing I learned/improved was how to work in groups. It can be a lot of work keeping everything organized and everybody on the same page. This can be even harder with electronic projects were it seems like we spent a lot of time dividing things up putting it all together then dividing it up again.

Alaska Studies Reflection

Although this was a bizarre and challenging experience, in the end, it was an incredibly rewarding one.  Not only did we discuss project-based learning and learn different approaches to evoking independent thinking, we lived it.


There were times I struggled with the amount of new technology features (a language onto itself), but realize these were tools being thrown in our direction to help.  Sometimes it was too much and I did not have enough room to catch everything that was coming in my direction, especially as I was caught up thinking about the big picture of the project.  I felt I had moments of “I won’t learn from you” and had to turn off the input button in my brain in order to keep my level of sanity and anxiety at a functional level. With the speed of the class and the daunting task of creating the iBook, I realized that I would have to pick up just enough to complete a given task.  One step at a time.  Within our small groups, there were experts in technology that coached me through seemingly easy tasks of tech navigation. Along the way, I became more comfortable with the basics and will look to pick up tech savvy skills that I can include in my classroom.  I am living in the future after all.

There were also very knowledgeable team members of our region of study.  As I read of Yup’ik concepts, I could ask Jimmy who is Yup’ik, “is this true?”  He would either confirm with a “yes” and elaborate or offer a “I haven’t heard of that.” Sometimes a word would be from another language in the region and he would have his own line of inquiry to follow. Later as I wrote, the weight of these dialogues added an authority to my voice that I would not have if I had just paraphrased a passage in a book. As a group, we could challenge and enlighten each other. We debated over word choices in a respectful manner. Slowly the Alaska Studies aspect of Alaska Studies was seeping in and we were truly learning about Alaska. Before this project, I had slightly above average background knowledge of Alaska. Now, I feel have a personal connection to my understanding of Alaska and especially the West Coast region.

There was a method to the madness after all, and in the end I believe as class we created a pretty impressive product that will be a great jumping off point for other educators.  The experience itself was not perfect, nothing is, but I believe this work in progress approach is important.  I saw teaching theories put to practice, and recognize the value of awakening our own critical thinking.  As they say, “Practice what you preach”.

IMG_20160628_154819250 “Old School” meets  “New School”