Week 7 (3-6-16) Reflection about: Problem Based Learning (PBL) –Practical Structures and Reasons for PBL in the Classroom

EDET 637: Differentiating Instruction through Technology
with Dr. Lee Graham
by Aleta May

Essential question: What practical structures could we use to implement PBL in our classrooms?

Teachers use PBL to help their students think deeply. They guide their students to investigate something that is new to them, and develop a problem to design a solution for. As I looked at PBL from the perspective of the authors, I came back to how this type of instruction is exactly what our students need to help them expand their communication skills, and to learn concepts they do not normally get to experience. We are remote, so there many situations in textbooks that do not apply to the lives of our students. PBL is hands on, visual learning. With structure we can flexibly facilitate student learning with the additional use of technology. This opens their worlds to interview people anywhere—from the food industry, virtual tours guided by Fish and Game representatives, to an art or history museum in our own state. I believe the opportunity to expand the world of our students in the village where I am is on the way. We have progressed so much from when we first arrived: now there are cell phones, Internet is more readily available than it used to be, we have Polycom T.V. now for live teaching from Bethel. We have more computer based programs available to us than we used to have.
Catherine talked about how the atmosphere needs to be set prior to using a Problem Based Learning (PBL) structure for learning. One way to further support students is by scaffolding learning. Though I replied to Catherine with a focus on the English Language Learner (ELL).
I learned more about how to actually set up a project when I visited Sara’s posted a YouTube video clip at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqM8lf3zfFo
It is called “The Design Thinking Teacher Training: Part I.” Here are notes I took from an eight minute video that really helped me understand how I could actually implement, or begin to implement, a project.
In this video, the structure is set up in phases:

Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Feedback, Reflect

Part I covered Empathy and Define.

Empathy—Understand the problem, discover how the problem affects specific users When students get out into the community / field); they are developing care about the issue.
Space Saturation—Capture learning from the empathy stage in a shared space.

When students go as a group to a place like the Waste Water Treatment Plant they went to in this video, they were allowed to tour the facility, listen to a speaker explain how the system works, interview a chemist, etc.
During the Empathy stage at the site where they visit, students are assigned to:

~~look/study/observed
~~listen/decipher
~~pay attention to body language, emotions, responses
~~what have you learned?
~~take notes on everything you notice [this includes mannerisms and speech]

In this project, students needed to design for a certain purpose; the need of a user. Students made connections to the water crises in other countries. In Angola they learned about people their own age walking far distances and carrying water back home. They extracted information they learned to begin.
Using Post-it notes when they came back to the school, they were tasked to write for 10 minutes for the four categories (feelings, actions, heard, thoughts) within the phase of empathy. The students quickly wrote what they learned out in the field; then they put the Post-its on the board under that category. Each note had an icon symbol that shows which phase it represents. They can put what they learned from each person in the field.
Define—Students Synthesize what has been learned. They re-frame the problem in terms of user needs. They start taking all the ideas that they’ve learned in their interviews, observations, research, and synthesize this information by talking to each other about what is most important in that information and using this to define a user need. They determine which information is most important to begin the design. It is easier to design when you design for a specific need.
According to the 7th Grade English Teacher: This structure provides students with what they need to come up with; ideas that go beyond the structure.
When I start to design my UbD unit for my math group, I will need to start with an essential question or problem. Amy’s definition of PBL challenged me to be thinking about how I could write a unit that applies to real world problems. Since I get my small group as a Response to Intervention (RTI) limited time, our focus will include real world applications so they can understand the purpose of reducing and multiplying / dividing, adding / subtracting fractions. Here is a place with real application examples: http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Real-World+Problems+with+Fractions&FORM=RESTAB
When I visited Kate’s site, I am reminded how important it is to develop my skills in PBL. We have been transitioning from traditional ways of educating students in our school. In all my reading this week, I came across a point about how our school buildings are often not structured for PBL. Our middle through high school students are seriously overcrowded. We have been on the list for a remodeled/expanded school for quite some time. There has been some effort at building up the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) program in Bethel. We need this. Recently I have heard that the STEM program may be moved to Sitka. Sitka is where Mt.Edgecumb boarding school is located. The issue I have with this is that some, not all of our high school students get the opportunity to learn in these facilities. We need spaces in the village, in Bethel and in Sitka. There are students in our school who would actually demonstrate their potential if they had the opportunity to learn in a PBL model to start with, rather than those who are selected as “STEM Ready.” We don’t even have a science lab set up at our school! No lab tables, one room has a very small sink/kitchenette. Two rooms don’t have fixed walls (rather portable walls) and no doors. So one class distracts the other who may need quiet time; or be working on another project. I grew up in the traditional American classroom system; but I also got to experience going to a new high school in Anchorage that had a simulated business office I could participate in. It was on the blue floor. I could go to the home economics room with multiple kitchenettes and apply math skills to cooking now with students—if it were available now as a teacher they way it was to me as a high school student.

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