Learn the Lingo

There is no end the list of educational pedagogies, learning methodologies and models that exist today.

  • Student-centered learning
  • Constructivism
  • Modeling
  • Visible Thinking
  • Co-operative Learning
  • Project-based Learning (PBL)
  • Problem-based Learning (PBL #2!)
  • Game-based Learning (GBL)
  • Design Thinking
  • Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking
  • Mastery Learning
  • Blended Learning Cycles
  • Inquiry (student or teacher driven)
  • Connectivism
  • Standards-Based Grading (SBG)
  • Flipped Classroom
  • etc, etc…

As former colleague, Craig Dwyer, states in his blog post, A sea of ideas (or Me Being Honest), ‘The problem is not that there are so many bad ideas, the problem is that there are so many good ideas. So many positive ways to get to the deeper learning that interests me.’

With the number of educators getting online, networking, communicating and sharing great ideas in last few years, the exposure to this immense and intimidating list has significantly increased (assuming, of course, that you are a connected educator!). I suppose it is natural to read about so many great strategies and wonder how they can all be incorporated into your classroom – how can we take the best of everything and develop ultimate student engagement and learning?

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I don’t think that’s possible. After considering this long list of methods, I’ve realized that the source of information for each has come from specific people. Individuals sharing their expertise online are only experts in one or two things, yet being connected to all of these educators simultaneously bombards us with so many great ideas and strategies. I’ve yet to come across anyone who successfully employs all of the strategies into a super-classroom simply because that’s impossible – one person and 24 hours in a day ensures this.

Where to go from here

Among other things, I made it a focus of mine at the beginning of last school year to learn more about PBL (that is the project-based PBL), how it works, how to design a unit or string of lessons together based around a project and ways to assess student performance. There’s been a number of useful resources that I have come across including many from Edutopia. The thing I like about the idea of project-based learning (well, there are many) is that they can be customized around your students’ interests and abilities. I have dabbled in this arena for a few different topics, but have not been able to develop what I would call a ‘proper’ PBL project to this point.

Then there’s the case of PBL #2 (or, Problem-based Learning), which I am slightly familiar with, but have not yet sharpened my expertise (again, take a look at that list from above!). Preparing for this post also allowed me to really distinguish between the PBLs (project vs. problem)

When I go and look at education systems as they stand today, I begin to see the reason why. You see, education systems, teachers, school districts all over the world are going crazy about problem-based learning. Nothing like a good problem to solve – but, they’re looking at the wrong bit of it. The thing we’re neglecting is to find the generation of problem finders. I don’t want young people that can solve a pseudo-problem – a fake problem generated by their teacher. I want young people that can go out into the world and find problems that really need solving and have the capacity to go and start solving them with their peers.

-Ewen McIntosh, TEDxLondon

I love this talk and it’s implications for problem-based learning:

As discussed in the article, Using Problem-based Learning to Explore Unseen Academic Potential, this learning strategy has demonstrated that students can display advanced academic potential compared to other non PBL teaching strategies. Reading through this study certainly caught my interest, not just in the method of PBL, but in the actual units that were covered and the topics in which the students were working. As written in this article, ‘Findings support PBL as a method of teaching many different kinds of skills including problem finding (Gallagher, Stepien, & Rosenthal, 1992), rules of argumentation (Belland, Glazewski, & Richardson, 2008), experimental method (Feng, VanTassel-Baska, Quek, Bai, & O’Neill, 2005), collaboration, (Visschers-Pleijers, Dolmans, De Leng, Wolfhagen, & Van Der Vleuten, 2006) and peer tutoring and metacognition (Shamir, Zion, & Spector-Levi, 2008). The strongest and most consistent finding in this branch of research is that students in PBL classrooms find learning more motivating, engaging, and satisfying (e.g., Faessler, Hinterberger, Dahinden, & Wyss, 2006; Hmelo-Silver, 2004; Lieberman, Stroup-Benham, Peel, & Camp, 1997; MacKinnon, 1999; Maxwell, Bellisimo, & Mergendoller, 2001).’ 

It appears the true power in the implementation of PBL is in generating an atmosphere where the students can both find authentic problems that exist (or have existed) and work through scaffolded activities in order to arrive at solutions to these problems. Embedding technology into the PBL unit will add an extra layer of engagement and authenticity to their activities. This is one possible project I am considering for Course 5 as it has certainly peaked my interest. One of the units from the study mentioned above was entitled Mosquito Coast, where students take on the role of medical entomologists and investigate West Nile Virus. Although the finer details of the unit were not specified in the paper, a little more digging online will certainly provide this information and areas for technology embedding can be worked out. There is no question that the redefinition of many activities through technology can occur with this type of learning.

More to come in the Course 4 Final Project post!

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