iPDX14 Session Preview: PBL Case Study

PBL workshopAre you headed to the integratEd / #iPDX14 conference in Portland OR? Wondering what sessions to attend? Here’s a preview to one of my sessions: “Right From the Start: Case Study in Infusing Tech and PBL in the Classroom.” (Feb 27 – 1:30-2:30). What’s a conference session on PBL / tech for pre-service teachers have to offer the experienced teacher?

Spoiler alert – it’s not all positive. My students had a great PBL experience and produced showcase products, but did that sacrifice time we could have devoted to other content and skills?

This past fall I taught a grad / undergrad level education course in social studies methods at the University of Portland. Here’s our course blog with lessons and student work. Instead of simply telling my preservice teachers about the critical components of the new classroom – student-centered, project-driven, community-based, tech-integrated – we used them. This iPDX14 session will give participants a look at these instructional approaches, work-flow models, sample projects and a reflection on how it went. While the case study will feature the higher ed classroom, the lessons learned should also be of value to intermediate through secondary teachers. Here’s more of my posts tagged PBL.

I’ll be joined by two of my students – Christina Steiner (BS Secondary Ed / BA History 2014) and Samuel TS Kelley (MAT 2014). You’ll hear their reactions to the PBL approach and how it impacted their thinking about teaching strategies. They also share some feedback from their cohorts. Spoiler alert – it’s not all positive. My students had a great PBL experience and produced showcase products, but did that sacrifice time we could have devoted to other content and skills? Christina and Samuel will give you their take on that trade off.

You’ll see the products of our partnership with a Japanese American History Museum in a variety of projects – designing curriculum for traveling exhibits, curating an online video archive, and developing an iOS app walking tour of Japantown PDX. Student also collaborated on publishing an iBook – Exploring History – a showcase of model document-based questions.

I regularly meet with my colleague and friend Mike Gwaltney at Bailey’s Tap Room to share a brew and conversation. Here’s a recent chat we had about my methods’ class – goals, challenges and results. It’s a good intro to this iPDX session. Note: most things in Portland are done with beer.

Get a iPhone 5s Or Switch to Android?


My iPhone 4s is coming off contract soon and before I replace it with the iPhone 5s / iOS 7, I thought I should do some research on Android-based smartphones (no interest in Windows mobile, sorry Steve).

My good friend Mike Gwaltney had great idea to end the guesswork – try an Android for awhile before I get caught up in next week’s iPhone launch frenzy. So two days ago, I took his advice and bought a Nexus 7 at Best Buy (two week return policy).

What follows is my initial experience with the Android OS. Keep in mind that I’m a Android newbie and I’m not certain how much of the Nexus 7 experience will carry over to an Android smartphone. Nor am I interested in the Nexus 7 hardware – my real goal is a new smartphone not an Android tablet. The superb audio and video Netflix stream on the Nexus 7, doesn’t tell me much about the Android smartphone experience. Android or not, the Nexus 7 goes back to Best Buy next week. (I enjoy creating multi-touch iBooks – can’t view them on a Nexus 7)

I was already using many Google services – Chrome, Gmail, G Drive – all that content was on the Nexus as soon as I logged into Google. But I’ve never used Google for contacts and calendar – they’re hosted on iCloud and synched between my Mac, iPad, iPhone and MacBook Air. My first goal was to get those over to the Nexus 7. I found a very easy (and free) solution for for moving contacts to Google – the (free) Bump app. I loaded Bump on my iPhone and Nexus 7 and did the bump. Selected all contacts and over they went. Looks like Bump can also move photos and audio files. (Though there must be better ways to do that.)

Moving to Google Calendar was much more challenging. I looked online at discussion groups and searched “Help” at Google and none of the solutions seemed to work. Eventually I found the SmoothSync app ($2.86 at Google Play). It moved my calendar to the Nexus 7, but strangely my appointments don’t show up in the desktop versions of Google Calendar. Haven’t fixed that yet, but my iCloud and Nexus 7 calendar are syncing with new updates in both directions.

I downloaded a bunch of my key apps to the Nexus 7 – Dropbox, Evernote, 1Password, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. For the most part they look and behave like their iOS counterparts. LinkedIn somehow manages to have an equally confusing notification system on both platforms. The only app the varied greatly between platforms was 1Password. The Android version does not support selecting specific sections of text for copying to clipboard in the secure notes or attachments – very challenging if you have any important data stored that way,

Finally I tried my hand at customizing the home screen. I’d been impressed with all cool themes, wallpapers and widgets that I had seen online. So many to choose from, though some customizations didn’t function very well. When I tapped on the cool non-skeuomorphic icon for my calendar, I didn’t see my appointments, I was offered more settings for customizing the calendar icon widget. After wasting a few hours trying to trick out my home screen I ended up creating something that in retrospect looks a lot like my iPhone home screen.

So I’m 48 hours into Android. If I had to make a decision right now, I’d stick with the iPhone. So far I haven’t found any big advantages with Android. And getting my wife and I moved over from iOS and still maintaining synch with our Mac desktops seems like far too much work. But I’ll give it a few more days.

Update Sept 20, 2013
Returned my Nexus 7 to Best Buy a few days ago.
Here’s me waiting in line to get the new iPhone 5s 64GB (Black  - No bling for me).
Note: I’m the only Mac FanBoy reading an actual book.

mac fan boy line

Image credit Flickr: George Thomas/ios-android-war-iphoneindia

Join Us at edCampPDX – Portland, Ore Aug 2

Calling all teachers, instructional technologists, IT Directors, Principals, Admins and Teacher Librarians who live in the NW. Join us at Oregon Episcopal School on Thursday, August 2nd from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. for our fourth edcampPDX. In addition to the multiple, concurrent sessions you’ve come to know and love, this EdCamp will include sessions around the common theme of social media and its use for professional development and in the classroom.

Photos from our 3rd edcampPDX  - Check out those boot! We are a stylin’ crew!

What are the goals of edcampPDX?

  • Networking: Connect educators in the Portland / Oregon area
  • Instructional Practices: Learn new curriculum ideas, best practices,
  • and/or tech integration ideas from other educators
  • Personalized: You customize your own PD by suggesting, facilitating and attending sessions about topics that interest you!

What is edcampPDX?

An edcamp is a unconference-style day of professional development organized and given by the local participants. Those who are interested pitch an idea for a conversation or hands-on session. The day of the edcamp we organize the ideas into sessions and everyone chooses which session to attend.

@actionhero finds the best stuff! I will order this today…Cosmonaut stylus #speedRound at #edcampPDX ~ Tweet from edcampPDX 3

There is always something for everyone — and if not — sign up to lead a discussion that interests you! This is the best type of PD because its about what you want and shared with other passionate, innovative educators.

Bring a friend – or better yet – bring your IT director, Principal or Teacher Librarian. You can bring a laptop or tablet – wifi is available, as well as laptops to use at OES.

What does it cost? The day is FREE!!! Optional lunch cost: $5; register online & payable at the event. Sign up to attend

Follow our Twitter updates: #edcampPDX

Join the EdCamp PDX Google Group to network and keep up with our news and notes.

Location Oregon Episcopal School
6300 SW Nicol Road
Portland, Oregon 97223
OES Campus map

Who are the organizers?

  • Colette Cassinelli, Teacher Librarian & MultiMedia, La Salle Catholic College Preparatory
  • Rachel Wente-Chaney – CIO – Central Oregon Technology (High Desert,Sisters, Crook County, and Redmond districts)
  • Peter Pappas – PDX ed blogger @edteck
  • Mike Gwaltney, Teacher, Oregon Episcopal School, Online School for Girls @MikeGwaltney 
  • Melissa Lim, Instructional Technology, Portland Public Schools
  • Luann Lee, science teacher, Newberg High School
  • Corin Richards, instructional technologist, Willamette ESD

Student Bloggers Reflect on Learning


My approach to instruction borrows from the thinking of Donald Finkel who believed that teaching should focus on “providing experience, provoking reflection.” 

He goes on to write,… to reflectively experience is to make connections within the details of the work of the problem, to see it through the lens of abstraction or theory, to generate one’s own questions about it, to take more active and conscious control over understanding.
~ From Teaching With Your Mouth Shut

Since I first posted my Taxonomy of Reflection in Jan 2010, I’ve been on the lookout for good examples of student (and teacher) reflection to share with my readers.

I was pleased to see that Mike Gwaltney (and good friend and great teacher at Oregon Episcopal School) had developed a well-designed model for incorporating student reflection into a new class blog. The Age of Exploration Blog. I urge you to visit his class blog and respond to the student posts – they are looking for your feedback.

Honesty, deeper reflection, and care in the writing because they know they’ll have “real world” readers and commenters, not just their teacher

I asked Mike for his “elevator pitch” on why he thinks fostering student reflection is so important. He replied, 

Teachers don’t give kids time enough to reflect in a serious way. The success of this assignment comes from giving them: a) instructions on how to reflect, good questions to consider; b) time to do so – real time, not just one day, but frequently; c) an authentic audience to write for – it encourages honesty, deeper reflection, and care in the writing because they know they’ll have “real world” readers and commenters, not just their teacher.

Here’s a portion of Mike’s assignment for his high school sophomores. Full assignment here

The topics of your blog posts in general should be “reflection on your learning”. Reflection is an opportunity for you to step back and think about / evaluate. When you reflect, you’re doing very high-order thinking, the kind we do when we self-assess. As for the topic of your reflection, you choose that. Here are some general ideas I have for topics:

  • “What I’ve been studying / learning lately.” – tell us about some topics you’ve researched this year and what you’ve learned. This could be about the big topics of projects, or about little pieces of a topic you discovered and that you found really interesting.
  • “What I’m working on right now and what I hope it will be.” – tell us about your current project and how it’s shaping up. What are some things your finding and what form will your project take?
  • “What I’m learning about myself as a learner.” – tell us about how it’s going for you being in a research-based class. Are you finding this is a good way for you to learn? What’s easy? What’s hard? What are some successful strategies you’ve followed? How do you think you can improve?
  • Etc. – what other ideas do you have for a blog post? Feel free to take it where you wish.

I’ve been impressed with the depth of reflection generated by his students’ posts. I asked Mike if I could join in the dialogue by posing a few questions for his students to answer. (sort of reflecting on reflection). I asked them to read their reflections and those of their peers and answer two questions:

  1. “Do you see any patterns in the reflections”. I think that analyzing is the gateway to higher order reflection – See my post The Reflective Student for more prompts.

  2.  ”Looking back to your reflections (and those of their peers) can you identify any ‘ah-ha’ insights?”


Here’s some of the student responses:

What I found really interesting about this assignment was that most people wrote about themselves as learners, not the information they have gained from our class.


What I found really interesting about this assignment was that most people wrote about themselves as learners, not the information they have gained from our class…. My peers and I are accustomed to very focused courses that, while emphasizing creativity, don’t always allow students to pursue what really interests them or to learn more about themselves. This blog looked like it was an opportunity for many people to have semi-revelations about their school experiences and their optimal learning environments.

The ah-ha insights were kind of obvious: students in this class learn the best when they can choose what, and how, to learn. I just realized that this blog was another mechanism of learning that helped most everyone learn about themselves. Haley’s full post A Love, Lost and Found


Most of our reflections aren’t just talking about what we learned fact-wise or wrote in class. It seems we’re actually taking a look at what we’ve been doing ourselves, examining how we learn things, what’s been working for us, and what hasn’t been working. The class is about learning information, while this blog is about us learning about our learning of information.

Ah-ha insights: Karen saying, “As a researcher, I’ve found my hardest task not to be collecting information or presenting it, but rather motivating myself to delve deeper and deeper into the topic instead of simply accepting what I have as being good enough.” Arjun saying, “the point of research is to learn something new or interesting, and then share those findings with others” Robby saying, “Instead of being graded on what is right and wrong, a student can be graded on how well they did personally” Spencer’s full post Research Conundrum: Bias


First of all, every one of the posts shows that the author has been enjoying Age of Ex immensely. My post was mostly about learning and researching as a concept rather than actual facts or ideas that were learned in assignments, and most of the other posts focused on essentially the same thing. My classmates and I have written about how the loose structure of the class gives us enough support to feel comfortable, but also encourages us to push beyond what we’re used to and to think for ourselves.

Certainly one of the most common insights was that research based classes are, in fact, pretty difficult because they require one to be self-managed and self-driven. On the other hand, another of the most common realizations was that we were enjoying our research and learning. It seems that we also found that the necessity of being self-driven pushed us to understand who we are as learners and how we learn best. Clare’s full post Researching History to Understand My World


One commonality that I noticed throughout many of the blog posts was the appreciation of the freedom that Age of Ex has given us. For me, and some classmates, this was a crucial component in choosing this class. What appealed to us was the ability to learn about what we, as individual students, were interested in. Another thing that I noticed was people rediscovering the researching process. Learning how to budget time and tackle large projects.

Many of the ah-ha moments I noticed were the realization of an individual research process. Over the course of this first project, people realized which researching techniques worked from them, and which didn’t. I think that these lessons are going to be something that a majority of the class continues to carry with them throughout the year. Lauren’s full post A Research Project in Retrospect

Image credit: flickr/Alex Clark

How to Flip Your Classroom – and Get Your Students to Do the Work


Recently I shared lunch with colleague and friend, Mike Gwaltney. He teaches in a variety of blending settings both in class and online. We got into an interesting discussion about ways to deliver instructional content and learning process both in and outside the classroom. The conversation quickly turned to the notion of “flipping the classroom.” This is the idea that teachers shoot videos of their lessons, then make them available online for students to view at home. Class time is then devoted to problem solving – with the teacher acting as a guide to teams of students. It’s a great approach that flips the delivery of the lesson to homework – it’s like a TiVo time shift that can reshape your classroom. More about flipping here.

Watch this video to see flipping in action – cool graphics courtesy of Camtasia Studio.

Both of us admired teachers (like these in the video) with the time, technology and talent to do video productions – but questioned how many teachers would be able to morph into video producers. Moreover, with the growing catalogue of free online content – we questioned why a teacher would even want to bother to produce their own online material. As Mike quipped – “why would someone video their own Lincoln lecture – when you can watch Gary Wills online?”

Flip the delivery of the lesson to homework – it’s like a TiVo time shift that can reshape your classroom.

Ultimately, we saw flipping the class as a great opportunity to engage our students in taking more responsibility for their learning. Why not let your students curate the video lessons from existing content on the web? As a follow up to our chat, here’s my seven-step how to:

1. Start slow! Pick a single upcoming lesson or unit that you already plan to teach.

2. Recruit a few of your savviest students to do the research to find existing online video material to support the lesson. They should include a text overview defining what the students should be looking for in the video.

3. Also work with the student team to develop an in-class activity that students will do after viewing the video.

4. Post the video lesson to your content manager. Don’t have one? Just use a free Google website – very easy to embed or link to videos there.

5. Then run the video as a pilot lesson for the whole class. Part of their assignment is to decide what they like (and don’t like) about the each component of the lesson. In other words, they assist in the design of rubrics for selection of videos and integration of the video lessons into a classroom activities.

6. Then repeat step 1-3 until you get a good basis for selection of future videos.

7. Repeat 1-6, as needed, until your students have curated a collection of online content to support your classroom. They would also be responsible for better defining what constitutes “high-quality” online content and how that can be best used to support a more student-centered classroom.

Extension: You might even consider adding some pre-assessment for upcoming units – using a formative pre-test or student self-assessment rubric to let students decide which elements of an upcoming unit need video support. Then based on the formative assessment – assign teams of students to curate online content while you work with them in class to design future follow up class activities. If this process works, think of all the class time you would free up. No concerns of running out of time to “cover” the required material. Instead of class time being filled with the pointless transfer of information from teacher to student, you and your students would have the time to apply and explore the content in a more engaging and project-based classroom. Who knows you might gain so much time that you’ll have the chance to discover your inner Scorsese – and go on to produce your own instructional videos?

Image credit: flickr/Nasser Nouri