The PBL Process

As part of our timetable at my school, we have timetabled professional learning teams. This is always a great opportunity to learn from other KLA’s about how they do things, and I find that the opportunities come from the least expected places.

This term our focus is the PBL Process. A series of activities are designed by our head of PL, and we reflect and discuss these in teams. The final product: a series of blog posts, or a blog post about project based learning.

My thought processes in these cases always goes back to ranking what’s important. I like lists. They help me understand the world. So, if we discuss the elements of a PBL Project, what are the MOST important? Which ones are essential to Project Based Learning, and which can you do without?

If you’d asked me this five years ago, I probably would have said group work. But then, I teach Industrial Technology…all our learning centres around projects, and students collaborate with each other, but they develop individual projects. Some very good ones. All of the learning for the content appears through the process of their development of their product.  This learning is documented, and the research and evaluation of each benchmark drives the development of their project. If it’s done properly. Designers have been doing this for years. We call it the design process.

It’s interesting then, when deciding which is the most important element of the the process, to reflect on how my teaching of Industrial Tech, a traditionally project based syllabus (yes, this is embedded in the outcomes) has changed over the years.

5 years ago, I would have said that the answer to what was the most important element in a PBL project was definitely the needs to know. Know and Need to know elicit student pre-learning, allow you to differentiate and allow students to guide the learning. If you are just presenting your project without the needs to know, are you just guiding students through a pre-designed sequence of learning events that allow them to progress from one benchmark to the other? One of the things that I still use extensively within my year 12 classes, even though they are no longer under the PBL model is the need to know.  Pre-PBL Years I would give my students a list of the things that they needed to research and document in order to get the content that they needed in order to understand their project. My first lesson of research is now to re-order the class into similar types of projects and ask a simple question…what do you need to know in order to complete your project? This is essentially the purpose of the research section, and the students come up with many more elements to research than I could have thought of to get them to research. And, it’s relevant to their project, and it then helps them with the knowledge that they need in order to complete their project.

Why is it necessary for students to follow a set of benchmarks? Yes, they are stepping stones for the product, and it helps to scaffold and guide them, but can students get to the benchmarks without the pre-defined pathway that the teachers give them? Can students not pick their own pathway with the teacher facilitating and sometimes redirecting with a subtle nudge (or a massive push). Most of my students in Ind Tech do their own projects. They are facilitated through the use of benchmarks, which are set and checked pieces of work that must be delivered. They plot their own path and choose their own projects, but can this be done within the PBL model. Why does everyone have to create a movie (for example)  to demonstrate how World War II effected society….can we not leave it open and have students select the product and the pathway of where they go to to learn? Could we have a project where the task is to raise awareness, and you could use any method you want to do this. All it needs is a slight change of the context of the task, and you are opening up opportunity to students to do something different, original, creative and reflective of where they want to go.

I think now, though, that what I’ve really come to believe is that there is one thing that we can’t really do without in project based learning, and that is a teacher that is interested in intervening on groups. Whether it is to support and scaffold their learning, to give them the look…that shows that you are really not believing what they are saying (see left), or to drop a bomb into a group that are working well, to say….”well, that’s good, but have you considered…” We need to remember that these are students, who are of an age where they need to be reminded to wear underwear (maybe that’s just my son)…..they will need help in order to manage themselves, to work with others, and to be creative. These are all things that an interested teacher can bring them.  Or, you can give them the task, tell them to go for it and sit back and watch them fail. But then, why are you there?

The future of Children’s literature in the Digital Age

There is much discussion over the definition of childhood, when this occurs, and what the general characteristics of this are. Are they social, cultural, or ingrained?  Over time, different theorists have developed different ideas as to what these characteristics are. These characteristics categorise children according to different criteria, but all essentially agree that childhood is that time from birth to around 15-16.However, you can argue that the opportunity for this generations’ access to technology has changed many of the observable attributes of children’s behaviour.

Will this access to technology ultimately be a threat or an opportunity for growth in children’s literature?Reflecting on some readings which are all about the development of children’s literature (see below), it was interesting to note that some of the changes mentioned in access to children’s books had a large effect on me as a child. We did not have a large library of books, but we certainly had access to the Golden Books (around $1.50 by the time I was young) and being a child of the 80’s, I remember each of us children in the family having the treasured possession of a picture book that also came with a vinyl record.

So, the question is…are we simply making a movement from written to digital, similar to the move from oral to written? Does the availability of media and increase in children’s entertainment, changed the times and occasions that the characteristics of adulthood occur?  Does this mirror the introduction of the printing press as a time to reflect and redefine the meaning of childhood? Or, is it a time to set standards of what should be included within pieces of work defined for childhood, to ensure that along with engagement and entertainment, that the point of children’s literature, which is to engage the imagination, and to teach those lessons that society deems useful, still occurs?


Johann Amos Comenius’s Orbis Sensualium Pictus, Jeannie Baker’s Mirror and Arthur teaches spanish Computer game…do they really have different intent? It certainly is possible to include the same themes and ideas within digital technology as it is to have within traditional printed literature, however, like with traditional literature, it must be specifically designed to do so.

Digital technology now gives an opportunity to develop a non-linear narrative, in a way that was not possible before.  Is this similar to the fact that TV series have become more complex…are we as a society demanding a more complex and dynamic narrative? If you compare a TV series like Bewitched, which has a single storyline from start to finish of the series, with a TV series like 24, which has a complex and interwoven narrative, it is obvious that as time goes on, society is demanding a more engaging and dynamic storyline. Digital technology gives the opportunity for this to be developed.

Games really have the opportunity to be the next narrative evolution, however, does this take away from the imagination of the reader?  With the introduction of digital game based literature, are we opening opportunities for young people to read more, or are we relying on young people to use their imaginations less, as all features of the narrative is presented to us, rather than using our brain to “fill in the blanks”.

Is the development of online publishing todays’ version of chapbooks? Abundance of books can’t really be a bad thing, however, the search for quality, particularly for a busy parent or librarian, has become more difficult and time consuming. The opportunity here, however, is for a wider variety of publication, as it is clear that publishers are businesses, and are there to make money. Those riskier children’s literature that is likely to cause concern, or not sell, would not be published if not for online self-publishing.

The development of technologies that read to kids, such as the Leap pad can make reading books more accessible to busy parents, but does this mean that parents don’t need to read to kids any longer? How many adult readers have warm memories of reading books with an adult, whether their parents, teachers, aunts or uncles. Many adult readers I imagine, would attribute developing a love of reading to these experiences.Overall, as a digital person myself, I hear a lot of traditionalist derision for digital technology and digital readers. However,  there is, like any development, invention or new technology, including the development of the printing press, there is opportunity for growth or for decline, dependent upon how it is applied.


Barone, D. M. (2011). Children’s literature in the classroom: engaging lifelong readers. New York: Guilford Press.

Madej, K. (2003). Towards digital narrative for children. Comput. Entertain. Computers In Entertainment CIE, 1(1), 12.

Theories of Childhood. Retrieved July 2, 2015, from


Currently Reading: Ron Berger, “An Ethic of Excellence”

I first came across Ron Berger when I saw the below brilliant video, Austin’s Butterfly. It’s the story of feedback to a student, Austin, who started out with a basic drawing of a butterfly, and through specific feedback from his peers and multiple drafts, was able to build a beautiful scientific drawing of a butterfly. I loved this video for so many reasons. It tells the art teacher in me that it means that anyone can draw, so long as they have the mindset to persist through multiple drafts. It tells the compassionate teacher in me that quality work can come from persistant, specific and kind feedback. It tells a powerful story of how feedback can be used to create high quality exemplary work from students.

I have since then spent some time reading Berger’s “Ethics of Excellence”, passed along to me by Larry Rosenstock (Principal of High Tech High) where I was lucky enough to spend a few days at in 2014. This resonated with me…something that my husband and I have discussed over many a breakfast and dinner. How do you get students to select your subject when it comes to selecting electives, if their experience is limited to poor quality finished (or unfinished) projects? How do you generate respect for your subject from parents, unless they are seeing high quality finished peices of work? After all, being a parent of a young boy, I know that the general answer to “How was school today” is generally “fine” and the answer to “what did you do” is always “nothing”. The parent’s experience of the subject generally comes down to two things then….the half yearly and yearly report, and the samples of work that come home.

When your son or daughter brings home the following peices of work, which piece is likely to generate more subject respect as a parent? The toilet paper roll wrapped in foil to make a sword, or the handcrafted timber sword? Who can deny that as a parent, no matter what, we think that the child has done a brilliant job on both of them, but what are our thougths about the teaching behind each one?


So, how do we as teachers, and then as a whole school approach build a culture of exemplary work?

Ron Berger discusses the following 5 areas:

  • Assign work that matters
  • Study examples of excellence
  • Build a culture of Critique
  • Require multiple revisions
  • Provide opportunities for public presentation.

My thoughts on these:
Assign work that matters. This is about assigning meaningful work that will have an effect within the world, but I also think that this should also be about allowing structured choice within a task. Within subject selections we talk about right subject for the student, but we also need to look at right subject, right project, right student

Study examples of excellence: I think that this is really about setting appropriately challenging goal posts for students. Setting student expectations about a quality level. This can include the use of specifying learning intentions, developing rubrics and showing examples of past work. This fits in with other research such as Hattie (2008), and Berger, Rugen, Woodfin (2014) that show that setting student learning targets is an appropriate way to raise achievement. Do these goalposts need to move over time, however? I show examples of exemplary major projects to my students, but I am also sure to talk about how standards of excellence can change over time. Do individual learning targets improve student achievement? I would contend yes. This is something that I used to do all the time, and as I have gotten busier in my classroom, I have done this less, and definately seen a decline in quality.

Build a culture of Critique: This needs to be positive and helpful. By changing the language used and giving staff and students protocols around critiquing work, where students know that honest, but constructive feedback is given.

Require multiple revisions. Developing a culture of drafting is important, and I think that here technology can sometimes take away from this concept. It is much easier to throw away rough ideas drafted on paper than to throw away an idea that has been mindmapped out using software. Pencil and paper should be the key here.
Provide opportunities for public presentation. This doesn’t just include exhibition of work, but I believe links back to the purpose of the project. ie, if the project has an authentic purpose, isn’t the purpose of a designer to see their work shown? The purpose of a scientist to have their work used? Public presentation should be linked into the purpose of the task.

All in all, an excellent book which makes a huge amount of sense to a Technology/Arts teacher. Ron Berger uses some great examples of how this applies to other subjects, particularly (being US based) english- language arts. I can see clearly how this would apply within a project-based learning classroom. A worthwhile and interesting read. I plan to move now onto his newest book, Leaders of Their Own Learning, Transforming Schools thorugh Student-Engaged Assessment.

Resource Feature: Multiple choice marking software

Last year my school invested in  Remark OMR Software (Optical Mark Recognition) in order to improve students multiple choice responses. Some HSC subjects take 20% of their mark from multiple choice, so although it is important to have students write well for the short answers, and for extended responses, it is also important to give students practice in all types of questions that they will get in their examinations.  Remark also includes a feature to generate reports which give an item analysis which allows teachers to address common misunderstandings of content. Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 10.19.28 amFor example, the question 5 graph at the right of this paragraph shows a section of the report generated from Remark. This allows me as a teacher to go back and look at distractor A and explain to students why that was not a correct answer. In the case of this question, more students actually got the question incorrect. Since my exam only has 10 multiple choice questions, I used to do this same thing with a pen and paper tally sheet, and graphs in keynote. However, the software helps to save time in the generation of reports.  This is where the power of this software really comes in. It not only saves time, but adds value to the feedback to students.

ZipGrade Cloud is an IOS and Android app that allows you to print off answer sheets, and then use your phone to scan students responses. The beauty of this is that every teacher in the school can have access to it, and do it in class so that students get instant feedback.  Unlike other digital versions such as Flubaroo, or Socrative, teachers don’t have to pre-prepare anything, they can use already existing exams (such as past HSC exams), and keep copies of answer sheets in your drawer.  The answer sheets, unlike Remark, don’t have to be specific to the exam that you are running. The workflow is basically, students sit the exam, then you set up a new exam on your phone, scan the sheets, and generate the results. This doesn’t create the pretty graphs that Remark does, but you can export to CSV and then create the graphs yourself in Excel. The cost difference between this and the Remark system is substantial. The ZipGrade app is free for 100 scans to try out, then they have a variable pricing structure, where you can purchase for either 2 months ($2) or a year ($7). If the school was considering a Volume purchase, they can purchase the app for $10 with no recurring charges.

Aside from answering paper based multiple choice responses, there are also a number of web based tools and apps available that are student response clickers.  Socrative, KahootPoll Everywhere, GoSoapbox and E-Clicker are all systems that allow students with individual devices to respond to a question with then immediate feedback to the teachers. Each of these use different devices and systems. For example, PollEverywhere uses SMS technology, whereas Socrative and E-Clicker are apps. I particularly like E-Clicker, as there is also a computer version for the teacher, so that you can create quizzes on your computer (so much easier to type than ipad). These are all reasonably priced (under $10), or free for teachers, and all are free for students.

Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 11.28.50 amFinally, if you are a Google Fan, you can create a form in Google forms, which is easy to do, but does require some preparation. I created this one, by looking back through old exams that I had constructed, and copying and pasting across. The good thing is, if you have a list of bullet points, it will allow you to paste into the google form with every point then becoming another option. Once you have answered the form yourself, then you can run an add on for Google Docs, Flubaroo, in order to get it to automatically mark your responses, and then email students their feedback, straight away. It also generates you a spreadsheet, which highlights questions that are worthwhile going over with with students. (see right)

The power with all of these systems are the analytics provided. This gives you the opportunity as a teacher to determine where are the gaps in your student knowledge, and then to design differentiated learning activities in order to address those gaps. There is also the added benefit of giving teachers feedback on construction of multiple choice questions, including appropriate development of distractors.



Best Pen Tool Tutorials

The pen tool is my favourite tool in illustrator, and once learned, gives you the awesome power of a superhero computer user in lots of other programs such as photoshop and after effects. 
My favourite tutorials are here: 

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Weekly Links

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Study Apps

As we build up for the HSC Exams, I’ve been reviewing my app library to send to teachers and students the  apps that will help out. Don’t forget Socrative: student version) and Teacher Version (  This is a student response system where you can create quizzes, etc for students that they have to answer in class (self marking!)

For more detailed type questions: Eclicker (Teacher Version…expensive at its almost $20 mark, but a one off purchase) and Student Version (free)

Explain everything is simply my favourite teaching app. This app is essentially a whiteboard app that allows you to record, however, you can also download images, pdfs or power points while you annotate and “talk to” them. A how to guide is here: One thing you can do while you are marking exams, is take a photo of student responses with your iPad, then use explain everything to give additional feedback (eg

Popplet is a brainstorming tool that is available . This is a good app to show connections between concepts, or to do a summary of a topic.

Brainscape is a flashcard based app, but students can actually collaboratively edit the deck that you create. Students then study, and self-rate their confidence on each card. The app then uses a formula, based on brain research, that throws back the cards that students remember least in a patterned basis that is best for them to remember them. You can then view students statistics and ratings on the brains cape website. We run it as a competition…who has studied the most.

Self Control is a great mac app that will stop notifications from pushing to your computer, to help with those moments when you have to study (or finish year 9 reports) and just can’t stop hitting the “Reply” button when you get an email, leading to a task taking four times as long as it should.

Sample Blog Post for Industrial Tech

Yesterday, in multi I worked through editing my kinetic typography for my website. I was working through my own animation, while watching the Crooked Gremlins tutorial below

Kinetic Typography Tutorial from Elrond Hubbard on Vimeo.


One problem that I faced was trying to make sure that the audio matched up to the video. I solved this problem by showing the wave form on the layer with the audio on it. This allowed me to time the areas of silence, and to move the individual layers to this section.

Next lesson, I want to move to trying to implement different layouts within my typography, so that it looks less like plain motion tweens. The following is an example of that:

In regards to my timeplan, I seem to be a little behind (ie, about a period or two). I will need to do some work over the weekend to catch up with my time plan. The following is a short sample of where I am up to at the moment.

Next step: Experiment with different layouts in illustrator to import into After effects for my typography.

Stephen Ritz: New Technology Syllabus, GreenBronx Machine


Yesterday, I was lucky enough to hear Stephen Ritz speak at PBL world about the work that he had developed with the Green Bronx Project. Stephen is a highly engaging speaker, and talked about starting a small project in the a high school in the Bronx in New York to grow indoor vegetables. This small project evolved into a large scale business, installing and growing indoor and outdoor gardens that have turned into public art…beautifying the urban area, increasing the health of the students and increasing school attendance from 40% to 93%


If you haven’t heard him speak before, take it from me, watch his TED talk. Now.


This area was statistically the poorest area in the state, and this meant that students were taking home grocery bags of fresh fruits and vegetables for their families.  It has also opened conversations about the types of food that people eat, increased the health of the students, but also given them the ability to grow food cheaply within their own homes. They also had cooking lessons, with the food harvested from the garden used within the recipes, so that students learnt to grow and then cook healthy, cheap food.   This has the potential to change their whole cycle of unhealthy eating within poorer areas.   When these were growing, he then realised that they had way too much, and then scaled up production to increase the quantity so that the school canteen, and then the local community could buy their produce. This was all driven by the students, who were choosing the types of vegetables, doing the planning, finance, marketing, sales and production within the business. He gives the example where they produced for a while only green capsicums. Then, students went on an excursion to the markets where they saw that you could get different colours of capsicum and that red and yellow capsicums were worth a lot more money. From then on, they never grew green capsicums again. If you have a look at the photos, it shows the scale of the production. They then moved on to installing gardens within other areas, hiring themselves out to business where they have essentially created public art space. Within NSW, this seems to be a great context for senior Business Studies, Design and Technology and Industrial Technology.



Obviously, you can see links for all types of subjects here, which is why I think this is a great project that crosses so many Key Learning Areas. Health, Food tech, Science, Geography, Maths, Technology…but schools as a TAS teacher, at the moment, what I’m worried about most is the new National Curriculum (cue scary music) in Technology, which seems to, from my understanding, require a compulsory agriculture strand. Most schools will have serious issues with this. Firstly, the space to work this in. Secondly, the knowledge to actually make the gardening, etc, work. However, in Stephen Ritz’ own words “Be the conductor of an orchestra where you can’t play an instrument”. The kid’s research should be around the types of plants to grow, what to put them with in order to reduce pesticides, when best to harvest and sell plants, even what types of plants to grow based on research collected.

This is design at it’s finest! Entrepreneurial activity where students can make money and participate in a real world activity. I’m already scoping out areas of the school for my year 11 Industrial Tech class.