Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Project Based Learning Pro D Results at Sullivan Heights

Sullivan Heights looked into Project-Based Learning for our Professional Development day on Feb. 8th and in the research of this area I have found a number of things that I would like to share from:

This first video comes from Edutopia, explaining Project- Based Learning.  It was my intro video right after I did the KWL for the teachers to recall everything they heard/learned about PBL, as well as think about what they wanted to learn.  See below.

The bases is that we need to teach 21st Century Skills of:
  • communication
  • collaborate work
  • critical thinking
to our students, something lacking in the old way of teaching:
  • lecture
  • take notes
  • test at the end.

Below is an introduction to PBL

Some web sites with examples of Project Based Learning

Here are handouts for specific projects developed by others.
You can use these as examples for your group.

The following are articles I have read in regards to learning how to do an effective Project Based Plan.

If you're new to Project-Based Learning, Andrew Miller eases you into the approach with four suggestions to help you stay sane and begin mastering PBL.

The Files I used During the Presentaiton

Attached are some files and handouts given to teachers on that day, as well as the PowerPoint I created for the Professional Development Day.  In total it took me over 28 hours to develop this professional development plan, but so far (3 weeks after the Pro D day) with a group of 20 at the session there have been 5 people who have developed a project or are in the process of developing one.  In my mind, this makes it a successful attempt.  Out of the rest, 3 people asked for the files (I burned all files onto a CD for easier sharing with staff, each member getting their own CD of files), and a teacher from another school asked for a copy (she heard me talking about the process of developing the professional day.

If you wish I can send you the complete package of files, powerpoint that was shown and the movies as well, but please remember, all this material is a combination of many people and company's work online so please give them credit where credit is do.  They did an excellent job.
  • KWL sheet - I started the session by asking teachers what do they know about Project Based Learning.  I asked them to fill out what they wanted to know.  Then at the end I asked them to go through what they wanted to know and cross off what they know, and ask others some of the ones left or even ask me.  Great intro to the day.  After this I showed the first movie in this blog entry.
  • The PowerPoint I put together with the help of many sites (listed at the end of the presentation and above).
  • Project Overview - a two page worksheet to help you create your PBL work.  In the presentation we got to this sheet in the afternoon, and I would explain each section (I worked backwards for backward planning), then gave time for the listeners to work on that section.  I found these sheets extremely helpful to help organize my thoughts. 
  •  Or you can use this one (I like this one better) because it has a "Driving Question" to get the students going.   
  •  PBL Starter Kit has a Project Overview completed so you can use this as an exemplar, what we looked at first before going into each section of the blank one.  This was very successful with teachers.  
  • To help with the planning there is a simple PBL Essential Elements Checklist from the Buck Institute of Education.  This form helps at the end to make sure when you create your project you have all the components needed for a successful project.
  • A more elaborate rubric for making sure you have all the components of a great Project is on this link.  Take a look for a comparison.
One of the hardest things to do is come up with that essential question.  I gave out samples from different educational facilities I found online.  We discussed their essential questions.  Some teachers used those.  
  • From the Creative Educator things to consider when creating an essential question
  • A rubric to help you create and review Curriculum-Framing Questions.
  • I also used the exemplars (linked above) to hand out so staff may see what an essential question should look like.  Even better, some used the questions already developed.
Handouts for both Teachers and Students.
  • Project Group Contract.  You can use this one or make your own.  It shows your expectations of working in a group, promising to work just as hard as others and to cooperate.  
  • Project Calendar for both students and teachers to use for planning of what needs to be done where.  Great for organization.
  • Project Manager Group Tasks is for the entire group to work on.  Helps to organize the group and brain storm what needs to be completed, even what order to be completed by.
  • Team Tasks Sheet - by to give to members to help with their planning and organizing.  It also gives the teacher a central location to see where students are at, and what they have left to do.  You can give formative assessment any time just looking at this sheet ("have you thought about this" or "don't forget to consider this...").
For assessment you have
  • Collaborate Rubric by
  • A rubric for making rubrics.
  • Project Work Sheets (individual ones) for assessment of what the student has done - to track them being on task.  You can compare this with the team task sheet. You can use this sheet and give the students 10 - 15 minutes at the end of each period/class to complete or you can have students do this in a journal, or even a blog or wiki online.
  • Teacher Post-Project Review - to assess how the entire process went, and to help you consider what changes to make right away.  Excellent outline to do.
  • If you wish for your students to peer assess I recommend you show them the video below to help the students understand what constructive critisim is. It is a video by Ron Berger on Critque Examples.

During the Presentation you have the following assessment tools:

Finally, but just as important to use is a video below, showing the top ten tips for assessing Project-Based Learning once you try it.

I hope this has helped.  If anyone in Surrey School District or the Lower Mainland would like to discuss this further please do not hesitate to contact me at  I would love to help you introduce your school to Project Based Learning.  It has made an impact at our school, and under the advice of many of the articles and research, some are trying it once, then assessing the results.  You'll be seeing exemplars and blog entries on this topic from other teachers soon.  

Thank you.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sometimes it's easy to teach...

Sometimes you don't need to get the classes/students' attention to teach, sometimes they beg you to teach them.  I have two students like that.  They're not even in any of my classes.  They just want to learn how to create a movie, and start filming.  They find contests online, do a storyboard, ask questions, ask for critques and keep on developing their talent.  Here's an example, a finalist in the "Stop the Bullying" campagne by the City of Surrey.  They made the finalist.  No matter if they win or lose, I'm proud that they just want to learn and try.  Their video is called "Life is Fragile." at  

Below are all the videos.  You'll have to go through all the contestants to see their video but all are very good.  Thanks to the City of Surrey and all the rest for giving my students and other students this opportunity to grow.

Most times its the students that make the learning on their own but we still help ;)

Friday, February 22, 2013

What to use for a classroom site?
Where do I put up my notes?  Where do I list my assignments?  Do I use a wiki Or a blog? Or a website?  You decide. We have two teachers at Sullivan Heights each trying one form,  and judging this question themselves.  Why don't you be the judge and comment back here which you think is more useful for a teacher in your opinion.

A Davis - French.  Wiki Or
Yahn - Dance (on leave) or
K Law - Dance and English  Website

Just so you know, all are excellent teachers, fantastic colleagues to work with and I am astounded on hard working they all are, which is in evidence of what you are seeing.

Hope this helps you decide what you want to start.  Comment your opinion on all. they know I've done this.

ps. there are others like for the Surrey District, Edmodo (you need to have an account and be added to the class to see the class), Weebly (I blogged about this before), and I'm sure many more.  Good luck.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Dissecting Frog App for High School.

The following is a blog entry from the Science Department at Sullivan Heights.  Najinder Gill critiques an app she used in her Biology 11 course.

When I found out Najinder  dissected frogs in her classroom, I asked her if she was interested in doing a virtual dissection, and being one who loves to try something new, she agreed.  We talked for a while, she signed out an ipad to look  at Frog Dissection app for the iPad and off she went.  The interesting thing about Najinder's concept was she wanted to use the app for students that missed the live dissection since students couldn't do the dissection without supervision.  But she couldn't be in two places at once (continuing on with her class and catching the student up with what was missed).  She believed this was the perfect solution to that problem.  Below is Najinder's assessment of the app and the worksheet she used with the program is linked here as well as below.  Thank you Najinder Gill for sharing out there.


The frog dissection app is a very good app to use in place of doing actual dissection.  It is an app that I will be using with my classes. Reasons why the teacher may choose to do the virtual dissection: less expensive, if student is absent on day of dissection it is an easy makeup lab, for students who can’t handle doing a dissection, more ethical, students less likely to mess up the dissection, easier clean up, ….

The app has many things available on it – dissection, background information on frogs, life cycle, videos,….  Positives of the app: includes relevant background information of frog, includes how frogs develop, the dissection is quick and there is little room for mistakes,  all the internal parts of the frog are clearly seen (which may not be the case when you do an actual dissection).  The videos are simple and good visuals to show how the digestive and respiratory systems work.  The quiz is a great way of ending the lab which not only focusses on the frog but also the lab techniques used. Sometimes it is difficult to explain to students how to cut open the frog and what tools to use so the app helps with this.

Critique: I think  students need to be guided on how to use the app and that they don’t just jump to the dissection without going through the background information first. To help with this  I have included a handout to use with the app which guides students through the app. The app doesn’t show the difference between a male or female frog.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Sometimes you don't know the effect you have on students until years later...

True story last Christmas:

While returning home to Winnipeg for a visit with my mother I had a young woman come up to me and ask if I remembered her.  She didn't expect me to remember her as I taught her in Grade 3 years ago, and her mother said that she really shouldn't bother me.  I honestly did not recognize her, it had been over 19 years since I taught in Manitoba.  But when I saw her mom, the woman she pointed to, I looked back at the young lady and said the following:

"You cut your hair!  I loved it long and curly like before.  You always loved to read books about mysteries, do you still?  You were so smart in Math and so curious in Science  You had a crush on my boyfriend who supervised one of our field trips, oh by the way I married him.  I still have one of your going away bracelets you made me" and I went on for a while about everything that I could remembered about the remarkable girl in Grade 3.  The more I talked, the more the tears started to roll down her face and the bigger the smile on her and her mother's as she watched the two of us.

When I stopped, that young woman thanked me for being such a wonderful teacher to her and told me that because I always expected the most from her (she read at a grade 9 level and I made her continue to do so in my classroom) all through her education she expected and demanded that the teachers who taught her challenged her and taught new things.  I differentiated in the classroom wit all my students.  Today that woman has a Masters in Business Administration now and works for a major company in Toronto.  She flew in to visit her mom for Christmas as well.  It was only by chance that we flew in at the same time and she saw me picking up my luggage at the Winnipeg Airport.

There are days when you're so tired you can't think straight, and days that you give you're all and yet you see no results.  But there are precious days like the one I described above that make me realize you don't always see the effect you have on children, and sometimes you do affect their lives forever.  

This story is what I remember when I'm so tired, and not sure if my students are learning what I'm teaching.  It's also why I don't say "My school" but "My students" because it's not the building that you teach in that you should have pride in, but the students that you teach and send off in the world.  

When I went back to my mother with my suitcase after talking to my former student, I look her in face and  said with great pride "That young woman was MY student in Grade 3.  Look at her now. I had a hand in that."  My mother smiled with pride at me.

Sometimes it's best to take the time to reflect and remember why you teach and recharge your energy.  Lesson for the new term.