By: Trisha Burns, Middle School PBL Facilitator
Columbus Signature Academy Middle School
Do you drown in the middle of your projects? Do you find it hard to keep track of the different groups and where they are in the process? You are not alone! PBL teachers are constantly looking for ways to better manage the process, and I would like to share the three tech tools that we use on our team at Columbus Signature Academy Central Campus to help us facilitate student-driven learning. Our goal is to create learners who can self-regulate and become agents for their own learning. We know it takes time to develop these skills, so we use these project management tools to help facilitate the students’ content learning, their navigation through the project, and help them use their executive functioning skills.
1. Benchmark Checklist
Benchmarks are like the milestones in your project, the checkpoints the students need to accomplish and get feedback on so there are completed final products (and no surprises with the quality). When you get in the messy middle of the project, the groups get to different benchmarks at different times. I’ve managed this process several different ways. I’ve listed the benchmarks on the board in my class, and they move a post-it note that has their names on it through the benchmarks as they go. They are only allowed to move the post-it note when a teacher tells them too. However my favorite way to manage the process is with a Google Sheets table.
This is a table that we created for our carnival project. It is our go-to spot for all information for the project. All teachers are given editing rights to this sheet and students are given viewing rights. When you do integrated projects, or even when you are working with your special ed teacher or ELL teacher, it is nice for everyone to see the progress of the project. Teachers (and students) know that if there is an “x” in the spot, it means that group is done (and approved) for that benchmark, and they can move on. If it is blank or if there is a “come see me” note, the group knows they need to work on it.
You will notice both individual benchmarks and merged cells which were group benchmarks. We link this to our learning management system (itslearning) for students to always find. This really helps groups self-regulate and plan their next steps for the project. It is also great to do your benchmark checklist digitally because there are times in projects where your students need more scaffolding, and you need to add a benchmark.
Where do the benchmarks come from? How do you determine what goes on this checklist? It is all part of your project planning, your students’ need to knows and next steps, and what is needed from your community partners to have a successful final product. For some help on how to benchmark and scaffold, check out these resources from Magnify Learning, Benchmarks & Scaffolding.
2. Google Keep
We recently discovered Google Keep for a “To-Do List” app. Google Keep is used to save lists, pictures, thoughts, and reminders. You can share them with people and organize the order they show up on the app or website. When my team of teachers learned how to use it in an unrelated faculty meeting, we knew immediately how we could use it to help facilitate our groups for our project. It was fun to actually use something you learn in a faculty meeting the very next day!
Groups created their "Next Steps" list using Google Keep, and they shared it with the teachers. You can look at Google Keep on your laptop or your phone. It was really convenient to walk around to groups and check in on their next steps list by looking at my phone. We also had some groups who would put names beside their “Next Steps” so the group members knew who was working on what during that class period. One of my favorite parts about Google Keep is that it makes a mark through what is finished. It is easy to see what the groups have accomplished and not just what they have left to do.
Another way we used Google Keep during our carnival project was to keep track of students’ strikes. When we would have students who weren’t working with their groups or who were off task, we were able to keep track of it on a list that was only shared with the teachers. So even though there were 4 teachers doing this project, we had open communication (digitally) for issues we were seeing with groups.
3. Google Forms
I love google forms! These are surveys that you can create for free through your Google account. It takes the information from the survey and gives you a spreadsheet of responses. My team uses these at several different points of a project. We have used them for group contracts, for selecting groups, for group check-ins, for project reflections, and any other time we need to collect data quickly (like for a field trip or t-shirt size).
This is an example of a Google Form used for a group contract. After we created groups, we gave them some time to complete this form. Upon reflecting, this wasn’t our favorite way to collect group contracts, but I wanted to share it in case it works for you!
Here is a picture Google Form we used for our Carnival Reflection. We know we will want to do the carnival project next year, so we had the students complete this form. We will share the results with next year’s students so they can have the data they need for similar booths they decide to have for their carnival (after the teachers look through it first, of course!)
At our school, we have to give the student lunch codes to the cafeteria for students who want a sack lunch for field trips. Google Forms makes that data collection a breeze. We have the survey set to collect the student’s email addresses, and we can turn that in to the cafeteria. So Google Forms can be used for a lot of different purposes!
Project management is key. It helps facilitate the students on the path of becoming agents of their own learning, and it keeps you from being surprised when the final end products are turned in or presented. When you take the time to check in with groups, it is valuable feedback time. You are setting your students up for success.
*Blog originally posted June 25, 2018.
Trisha Burns is an 8th grade math facilitator at CSA Central Campus in Columbus, Indiana. She is a certified teacher and trainer through the New Tech Network and certified through Magnify Learning to teach project-based learning in Indiana. She has taught in the classroom since 2009 and facilitates for Magnify Learning in the summer. When she is not developing and implementing projects in her class room she loves to hang out with her family and scrapbook their memories!