ISTE2016 Summary – Problem-Based Learning Extravaganza!

ISTE2016 is finally here, and I couldn’t be more excited! In the beautiful city of Denver, some of the worlds greatest teachers have come together to talk pedagogy and technology. It doesn’t get any more mind blowing than this.

Ok, geek out session over (for now). The following are my impressions and some paraphrased quotes (probably not word-for-word, but the point of the quote hasn’t changed).

My first session of the show is Problem-Based Learning Extravaganza!, a panel presentation on PBL. The panel is moderated by Adam Bellow and consists of Kelly Hines, Katrina Keene, and Nicholas Provenzano (The Nerdy Teacher). If I’m being honest, I’m mostly here to listen to Nicholas speak, because I’ve followed him for years on twitter, listened to his podcast, and find his knowledge and presentation of it eye opening.

The session opened with a discussion of what PBL is, and ultimately their description was that it is a way of pushing students to solve problems, and build something, to show their understanding of concepts. Provenzano pointed out that it takes time to build the trust with your students to make this possible, adding that it isn’t just that you have to trust the students, but the students have to trust you that you know what you’re doing.

After Provenzano explained his first attempt at PBL and how he got 30 of the same project back from kids and he was so excited, he said that now he looks back and is so sad by his own excitement, to the point that he “felt like I needed to write apology letters to all those kids.” Adam Bellow brought up a quote from a book (didn’t catch the author), he said “If you give a project and get 30 of the same thing back, you didn’t give a project, you gave a recipe.” The idea is that you need to give open possibilities for kids to actually solve problems, not give them a step-by-step guide. All students think differently, and won’t all solve problems the same way.

Katrina Keene spoke about her passion for connected toys and coding in her class. She was an early adopter with Sphero and used them as a long-term project with the robotic balls and having students learn to code them to make their way through obstacles. One of the things I really liked about her discussion was that she essentially showed them the toys and said “These are robots that you can control with coding, but I’m not going to tell you about that, go out and research it.” From there, she would build on the concepts one at a time. Once she felt they understood the coding, she said go find things to run the Sphero through, and figure out how to do it. Then she added additional tasks to build upon complexity over time.

Kelly Hines: “We often talk about how engagement leads to achievement, but I’m a firm believer that engagement leads to attendance, which is what leads to achievement. You should be that class that the last day, after awards when they really don’t need to be there, but you still have 18 of your 20 students there.”

Nicholas Provenzano, in response to a question from someone about to try PBL for the first time, and how she should start: “The biggest thing for me is to tell your students ‘I’ve never done this before, and I’m probably going to screw this up.’ That admission that you’re not perfect will excite your kids. They aren’t used to that from their teachers.”

Kelly Hines: “Project Based doesn’t have to mean Production Based. It doesn’t have to be over weeks or months or require a trip to Lowes. It’s about that subtle shift that can just mean student choice or learning through trying. That can be done in weeks or in one day.”

Katrina Keene, in response to question about whether students create the project rubric as a class or each individually. “This year in my class, I did everything. Sometimes I would have them do it as a whole group, other times I would have them each do it individually. Using Google Classroom ,or whatever LMS you use, I just group them up and it allows me to let them work individually.”

Nicholas Provenzano, in response to a question from someone about teachers within a PLC having difficulty trying PBL because others in the PLC aren’t on board. “What I would suggest is a little magic word called ‘pilot’, or if we want to get techy, ‘beta.’ You can go to admin and say ‘I really want to try to pilot a more project based curriculum with this course.’ Admin loves pilots, they like to brag about ‘I have a teacher piloting this, or that.’ And, because of that other word that we all love ‘data’ we need lots of it. So you can run a pilot for 3 years to collect data, and with mobility of administration in most places, by the time the three years is up, new admin are there and you can just say ‘Oh this is the way we do it here. It’s just what we do.’ I’ve been running a pilot in my class for like 6 years now.”

Thank you so much to all the presenters. This was an AMAZING session to start my week at #ISTE with! I’m so pumped to be here now.