When we embarked on our second project of the year, we knew that we would need to learn from our mistakes and further perfect our instruction. Parklands College in Cape Town, South Africa is an “Apple 1:1” school, which means that every one of our students has either an iPad or a MacBook. We are also a “Google Apps for Education” school. Having these resources at our disposal provided us with the tools to create a scaffolded and organised platform through which the students would be able to engage further with their project. From our experience with our first project, Avoiding the Path to Panem, we knew that there were five key elements we wanted our use of PBL to embody: collaboration, communication, student-centred learning, assessment, and feedback with reflection. What follows is our story of how we used Google Apps For Education (GAFE) to enrich and streamline these processes within our Project Based Learning environment.
“You teachers have become really good friends hey?! It’s cool when teachers collaborate, because they are always telling us to work together, but they never really do.” - Alex, Grade 9.
After this conversation with Alex, we realised, as three teachers working together across a grade, that we were modelling collaboration for our students and that they, in turn, were learning how to collaborate through our own actions. Having used GAFE to collaborate on the creation of meaningful projects for our students, we were in a position to share this successful workflow with our students. In our experience, Google Drive is the best tool for collaboration as Drive is a platform that drives synchronous collaboration, regardless of where the student is, or the time of day. We fostered collaboration by having each group leader create a folder on Google Drive and share it with their team and, importantly, the teachers. This meant that we were able to keep a close eye on the progress of work in each group. We discovered that each group ordered their resources materials and activities in a different manner but we felt it was important not to prescribe this manner, as we were teaching them how to develop their own organisational structures.
When it came to communication, we knew there were two questions that needed answering: How can students and teachers best communicate with one another, and how can students communicate effectively with each other? We needed to instruct students in how to do this in their technology-rich world. Students used Google Sheets to create a group timetable for the covering of work, and used this to communicate with one another about due work and time management. Google Classroom is often underutilised and only used to deliver and receive assignments: we used it as a platform for the groupss researchers to share information relevant to the project, communicate their understanding and engage with others about the material. Using the question feature in Classroom facilitated student/ teacher conversations surrounding content and queries in a simple and effective manner. We were pleased to discover that giving students an opportunity to voice their inputs, and share content with one another, resulted in them sharing some surprisingly inspiring insights.
“I feel that this project has gotten me to learn a lot more than I would have otherwise, in the sense that we had to do all the research by ourselves instead of someone standing and talking.” - Bohlale, Grade 9
In a PBL environment, the teacher has to step off of their proverbial stage. The teacher's primary role is no longer to impart their knowledge to students, but rather students are working on activities to crystallise the knowledge that they have acquired. We found this environment particularly conducive to using a ‘Flipped Classroom’ technique and experienced GAFE to be of great assistance here. One of the techniques we used to give students access to content and have them actively engage in the material was to create interactive Google Slides. These allowed students to explore the content in different ways, but also to test themselves with built-in quizzes. EdPuzzle is another platform that we found to be extremely useful, as it can be linked to your Google Classroom, and teachers are able to build questions, comments, voice notes and overlay an audio track onto an existing video. This means that students are engaged at all parts of the video, as their ability to continue watching is dependent on them completing the given tasks.
“How are we going to get assessed?”
“What will be in our exams?”
“Will I learn the same things as my friends in other schools?”
- Grade 9s at our project launch
Assessment in PBL is challenging, as it needs to take the form of ongoing formative assessment. In our first project, we used Google Forms to deliver weekly literature-content quizzes, and this helped us take note of which students were not completing the required reading. In our second project, we really upped the ante, and used Google Classroom to deliver bi-weekly Quizizz. This gamified online testing programme not only creates excitement and competition amongst students, but it also allows teachers to see who has completed the quiz, and their scoring accuracy. This means that while students are having fun, the teacher can collate and gain an understanding of where specific students may be struggling with the content. Another useful feature of EdPuzzle is the ability also to see which student has watched the video, and how they scored on the questions along the way. Whilst this form of formative assessment may take up some after-school hours, it really is beneficial as the teacher can spend the following day’s lesson having check-ins with specific students and target problem areas.
Feedback and reflection
"How will I know that I have learnt anything if my teacher isn’t calling on me in class?” - Michaela, Grade 9.
Students often base their understanding of work and knowledge gained through positive reinforcement by a teacher during class time. As PBL does not revolve around a centralised-teacher position, we needed to become more creative in our feedback. We realised that we needed to have students reflect on certain content, in order to assist in cementing their realisation that they had acquired knowledge. We utilised the Google Docs the students were using for their synchronous collaboration, and spent time leaving individual comments for each question. We found that positive reinforcement of a correct answer was actually more important than identifying problem areas. This created confident students, and confident students are driven to continue proving their worth, both to themselves and to the pedagogic experience. We used the question function in Google Classroom in order to allow students to reflect on the week’s content. By asking a question in a visible thinking format which allowed the student to see structure in their own thinking, we were privileged to see students engage with the material on a deeper and more personal level than before.
After the completion of our second project in this current Grade 9 year, we came to realise that if we utilized GAFE in order to achieve structure within our project, our students would be able achieve just about anything within the classroom, a rule that can be applied to any learning environment.