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Designing Effective Problems and Projects for K12: Yes you can do PBL in a standards based world


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Title: Designing Effective Problems and Projects for K12: Yes you can do PBL in a standards based world

Designing Effective Problems and Projects for
K-12 Yes you can do PBL in a standards based
  • Jason Ravitz
  • Buck Institute for Education

Overview of Talk
  • About BIE
  • Project Based Learning (PBL)
  • Problem Based Social Studies (PBSS)
  • Economics (PBE) / Government (PBG)
  • Logic of PBL reform (same for both)
  • Summary of PBL and PBSS
  • Comparison of PBL and PBSS
  • Discussion

About BIE
  • The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) is
  • A not-for-profit (501c3), educational research
    and development organization
  • funded in perpetuity by the Leonard and Beryl
    Buck Trust (see
  • dedicated to improving the practice of teaching
    and the process of learning.

Our Work Focuses On..
  • Engaging students
  • Through Project and Problem Based Learning
  • Supporting Teachers
  • Trainings at BIE and at schools and districts
  • Showing Results
  • Extensive evaluation of materials and methods
    including impacts and conditions for successful

BIE Research
  • Current foci PBE implementation, teacher and
    student differences, group work strategies,
    retention, and equity
  • SATURDAY 800 830 am
  • John Mergendoller, Executive Director.
  • 'The Effectiveness of Problem-Based Instruction
    A Comparative Study of Instructional Methods and
    Student Characteristics
  • See BIE web site for this, and other research

BIE Workshops
  • Last 2-3 Days
  • Are conducted at our office in Novato, CA (Marin
  • Or are customized for schools and district sites
    (Atlanta, New Orleans, New York, San Diego)
  • Are highly interactive and engaging
  • Are led by practicing teachers -- skilled
    presenters who are experienced in using our
    methods in the classroom

Project Based Learning (PBL) Workshops
  • Make Take Sessions, using Project Based
    Learning Handbook
  • Designed to guide and support middle and high
    school teachers as they conceive, plan, and
    conduct projects
  • We encourage teams from the same school, or we
    match teachers by content areas
  • Handbook provides rubrics, hueristics, advice,
    but no pre-determined content
  • Teachers get feedback via Tuning Protocol
  • They leave with a well developed project plan

PBL Partners
  • BIE collaborates to provide professional
  • Coalition of Essential Schools
  • Center for Effective School Practices, Rutgers
    University, NJ
  • Southern Regional Education Board
  • High Schools That Work
  • Co-nect
  • BIE sponsors and conducts workshops at the annual
    "Kids Who Know and Do" conference.
  • New Technology Foundation
  • Many of our teacher-trainers come from this
    network of schools that use of project and
    problem based learning modeled after New
    Technology High School in Napa, CA.

Problem Based Social Studies (PBSS) Workshops
  • Provide complete sets of materials that teachers
    can bring back to the classroom
  • Complete units with all supporting materials and
    guidance (step-by-step instructions), rubrics,
    heuristics, and advice
  • Participants experience the curriculum units much
    as students would in the classroom
  • Participants learn the problem based
    instructional approach as they go
  • Participants also learn about the content of the

PBSS Partners
  • Centers for Economic Education offer workshops
    with materials developed and staff trained by
  • Hawaii University of Hawaii
  • Illinois University of Illinois, Chicago
  • Nebraska UN, Omaha (Economic Education Web)
  • North Carolina Fayetteville State University
  • Ohio University of Cincinnati
  • Virginia Longwood / Virginia Commonwealth /
    and Christopher Newport Universities
  • Note. We seek local scholars and graduate
    students to help us study these implementations.
    Please see me if you are interested in

Logic of Reform PBL PBSS Why standards based?
  • Very few teachers can develop high quality
    projects on their own
  • Projects and problems are commonly used as
  • Teachers often have to choose between engaging
    projects and covering core content
  • stock market games do not address core content
  • national orgs provide materials without methods
    or training
  • Students participate in active learning but are
    not necessarily expected to make independent,
    critical evaluative judgments and reasoned
    choices (Maxwell, Bellisimo, Mergendoller, p. 73)
  • Projects often lack deep and meaningful thinking
    (Ravitz, Becker Wong, 2000, pp. 22-35)
  • 60-90 of teachers assign projects that last a
    week or longer
  • 30 have students write in a journal or answer
    serious essay questions
  • 10 require demonstration of learning or products
    for unfamiliar audiences

Characteristics of effective PBL
  • a systematic teaching method
  • engages students in an extended inquiry process
  • structured around complex, authentic questions
  • carefully designed products and tasks are planned
    to support learning knowledge and skills

PBL is based on theories of learning
  • How People Learn (Bransford, Brown Cocking,
    eds., 1999, p. 127)
  • a work commissioned by the National Research
    Council argues for educators to…
  • Expose students to the major features of a
    subject domain as they arise naturally in problem
  • Activities can be structured so that students
    are able to explore, explain, extend, and
    evaluate their progress
  • Ideas are best introduced when students see a
    need or a reason for their use this helps them
    see relevant uses of knowledge and to make sense
    of what they are learning
  • Problem situations like those created in
    Project Based Learning can be used to introduce
    ideas and concepts in ways that promote deep

PBL Helps Learners by…
  • bringing new relevance to learning
  • lending itself to authentic assessment
  • promoting lifelong learning
  • accommodating students with varying learning
    styles and differences and
  • actively engaging learners in project management
    roles, such as organizer, editor, researcher or
  • Source George Lucas Educational Foundation

Scientific studies supporting PBL
  • a three-year 1997 study of two British secondary
    schools (Boaler, 2002)
  • a 1992 study of 700 students from 11 school
    districts in Tennessee (CTGV, 1992)
  • longitudinal studies in Tennessee (Ross,
    Sanders, Stringfield, Wang Wright, 1999, June
    Ross, Sanders Wright, 2000, July) and
  • Weglinskys 1998 analyses of data from the math
    portion of the 1996 National Assessment of
    Educational Progress test
  • Source George Lucas Educational Foundation

Support for Small Schools
  • The Small Schools Movement relies heavily on
    PBL as the instructional methodology of choice
  • Successful small schools, such as charter and
    magnet schools, pride themselves on personalizing
    instruction, through such techniques as
    emphasizing in-depth projects
  • But, research shows….
  • these instructional practices were more the
    exception than the rule. . . Many teachers . . .
    lacked models and ready-to-use curricula for
    project-based learning (Hendrie, 2003, April 23)

Support for other Reforms
  • innovative school reforms, such as portfolio
    assessment … are more effective if combined with
    meaningful student projects and assignments
    demanding deep thinking and inquiry from students
    (Newmann Wehledge, 1995).

Standards-focused Project Based Learning
One kind of PBL…
Designing and managing a project
Begin with the end in mind
Manage the process
Craft the Driving Question
Map the project
Plan the Assessment
Begin with the End in Mind
Plan simultaneous outcomes

Content Standards
Habits of Mind
Select content standards
  • Include
  • State and national content standards.
  • School-wide or District outcomes.
  • Literacy
  • Think about
  • Coverage (breadth) vs. Depth
  • The power standards What are they and how do
    you teach them?
  • How many?

Select Skills
  • Communication speaking presenting publishing.
  • Technology Internet use multimedia web design.
  • Group process leadership teamwork
  • Planning design goal setting using systems.
  • Problem solving and critical thinking
    reasoning categorizing evaluating evidence
    generating ideas.
  • Self-management time and task management

Select Habits of Mind
  • Persistence
  • Managing impulsivity
  • Listening with empathy
  • Thinking flexibly
  • Striving for accuracy and precision
  • Questioning/posing problems
  • Applying past knowledge
  • Gathering data through all the senses
  • Creating, innovating, and imagining
  • Responding with wonderment and awe
  • Taking responsible risks
  • Finding humor
  • Thinking interdependently
  • Costa and Kallick (2000)

A typical project
  • 2 3 content standards or benchmarks
  • 1- 2 skills
  • 1 habit of mind
  • A literacy component
  • 2 3 weeks
  • Collaboration
  • Student input
  • Connects to the community

Craft the Driving Question
The lighthouse for the Project A Powerful
Driving Question
  • Inspiring
  • Provocative.
  • Challenging
  • Open-ended.
  • Focused
  • Real world context.
  • Requires core knowledge to answer.
  • Consistent with standards and curriculum.

Sample Driving Questions
  • Science
  • Should we be worried about global warming in our
  • How good is our water?
  • Is the weather predictable?
  • Math
  • How safe are amusement park rides?
  • How do we design a golf course?
  • Is playing the lottery worth it?

Sample Driving Questions
  • English/Language Arts
  • How does media influence us?
  • Why are books banned?
  • What makes a book a classic?
  • What is the American Dream?
  • Geography
  • How does where we live affect how we live?
  • History
  • Can the use of nuclear weapons be justified?
  • How do immigrants meet the challenges of coming
    to a new country?

Refining a Driving Question
  • What is global warming?
  • Should we be worried about global warming in our
  • Was Trumans decision to drop the bomb justified?
  • Can the use of nuclear weapons be justified?

Avoid Definitions, Avoid Yes/No questions, etc….
Plan the Assessment
Products must allow assessment of standards
State standard Plate tectonics operating over
geological time has changed the patterns of
land, sea, and mountains on earths surface
Product Visual display and oral presentation on
Assessment Oral presentation must demonstrate
and use vocabulary relating to (1) three kinds
of plate boundaries (2) properties of rocks and
how they were formed, and (3) volcanoes on ocean
A balanced assessment plan spans the duration of
the project
  • Daily
  • Homework
  • Weekly
  • Quiz
  • Early milestone
  • Journal
  • Self-reflection
  • Informal assessment
  • Mid-project milestone
  • Essay
  • Artistic product
  • End of project
  • Exhibition and oral presentation
  • Exam
  • Improvement over time
  • Grading
  • Allow time for feedback

Align products with outcomes
Content standards Skills Habits of mind
Early Middle Late
Know what to assess
Break down content and skills into specific
Establish performance criteria.
  • Oral Presentation
  • Voice
  • Eye contact
  • Content
  • Posture
  • Response to questions

Volume Length of time Quality Body
language Knowledge and poise
Sample Rubric How not to…
Rubrics Example
Map the Project
Organize tasks and activities
  • Consider…
  • Direct instruction What content knowledge do
    students need to succeed?
  • Skill-building Do students know how to succeed
    in the project?
  • Culture-building Are students ready to manage

Manage the Process
Use problem solving tools
  • Cognitive Tools
  • Problem logs
  • Know/need to know lists
  • Task lists/daily goal sheets/briefs
  • Journals
  • Project Management Tools
  • Checkpoints Milestones
  • Identify major milestones for the project.
  • Create a flexible timeline.
  • Evaluation and Reflection Tools

Example Project Hispanic Diabetes Education
  • Students partnered with a local hospital to
    address the increase in diabetes among Hispanic
    members of the community.
  • Students produced
  • a public service video for local cable television
  • a brochure, and
  • a booth presentation at a local Health Fair
  • The project was scheduled to last six weeks

The Hispanic Diabetes Education Project
  • The Driving Question
  • How can we educate our community about treatment
    and prevention measures for diabetes?

The Hispanic Diabetes Education Project
  • Project Outcomes
  • The project incorporated state standards for
    science, writing standards, and district
    benchmarks for use of technology.
  • The SCANS skills were used to identify work
    habits to be learned in the project, along with
    three habits of mind persistence, questioning,
    and creativity.
  • Students were also able to apply Spanish
    language skills, but these were not formally

The Hispanic Diabetes Education Project
  • Products
  • Assignments and an exam on physiology and anatomy
  • A video presentation requiring the skills of
    storyboarding, scriptwriting, editing, and
    graphic production.
  • Research on the prevalence of diabetes including
    interviews with family members and a short survey
    administered in the Hispanic community.
  • A brochure and booth design with bilingual
    translations of all products.

The Hispanic Diabetes Education Project
  • Assessments
  • Rubrics were established for the brochure, video,
    and booth design products.
  • Products were reviewed and scored by the teacher
    and by a small team of health professionals from
    the hospital.
  • Teacher observations and class discussions and
    students log entries were used as evidence of
    achievement of skills and habits of
    mind. Writing skills were assessed using
    guidelines developed by the Language Arts

Next Steps FIPSE Grant
  • BIE has won a grant to spread effective PBL
    practices via an ONLINE resource that…
  • Introduces Project Based Learning
  • teacher preparation and professional development
  • alternative certification programs
  • school districts, and departments of education.
  • 2) Provides systematic instruction in planning,
    implementating and assessing of standards-focused
  • 3) Includes a three credit online course
    dedicated to standards-focused PBL available
    worldwide, and
  • 4) Establishing an online forum, project library
    and virtual community to advance
    scientifically-based PBL research and practice.

Problem Based Learning (for social studies)
  • Another kind of PBL…

PBSS Development Process
  • Extensive labor resources are required to
    create detailed, rich, standards-based problems
  • Extensive review of National standards (Begin
    with End in Mind)
  • Units are expert developed and teacher tested
  • BIE brings together a community of experts to
    design and develop problems
  • Subject matter specialists from universities
  • Expert teachers
  • Curriculum writers
  • Standards experts
  • Units are refined until bugs are worked out, then

Problem Based Government Units
  • LegiQuest Lobbyists devise strategies for
    enacting legislation
  • The Better Budget A citizens group advises
    a representative on how to prioritize Federal
  • A Government for Xlandia A U.N. team advises a
    new nation on forms of democracy
  • On the Campaign Trail Consultants decide how
    best to market a candidate

Problem Based Economics Units
  • High School Food Court Unit on demand and
    cost. Students learn how demand/cost/profit
    issues are confounded by political forces
  • The Presidents Dilemma Unit on fiscal and
    monetary policy. Students respond to an energy
    crisis, rising unemployment and debt by
    recommending fiscal and monetary policies
  • Running in Place Unit on circular flow.
    Students discover how a free market society
    allocates scarce resources related to shoe
  • Matildaville Unit on investment and growth.
    Students make land use decisions (prison,
    college, hotel)
  • The Great Awakening Unit on specialization and
    trade. Students create trade agreements between
    two island nations based competitive advantage
  • Monopolys Might Unit on competition and
    profit. Students decide whether to sell a patent
    to a monopolistic company
  • The Might Strikes Back Unit on economic
    institutions. Students respond to attempts to
    control the monopoly
  • Invisible Hand Gas pricing regulations unit.

Problem Based World History
  • Coming next year…

Curriculum Guide includes..
  • Entry Documents and All Needed Materials,
    Worksheets, etc…
  • Problem statement(s) to guide work at each stage
    of the unit
  • Suggestions for ordering the curriculum, what
    concepts/units to cover first
  • Time requirements and sequence of the unit
  • Detailed procedures (how to…)
  • Dos and Donts -- Ideas to try and NOT to try

Curriculum Guide includes…
  • Standards being met (e.g., Voluntary National
    Economics Standards)
  • List of concepts to be learned, with definitions
  • Background information / lessons
  • Questions for panel to ask students
  • Rubrics for evaluating students products
  • A multiple choice test

How BIE Designs Problem Based Units
  • 1. Entry Document
  • 2. Problem Statement
  • 3. Know / Need to Know Lists
  • 4. Multiple Stakeholder Viewpoints (usually)
  • 5. Problem Log
  • 6. Problem Twist
  • 7. Research and Resources
  • 8. Teachable Moments, Dialogues, Background
  • 9. Exit from the Problem (panel presentation, or
    other authentic activity)
  • 10. Wrap-up and Debriefing

1. Entry Document
  • An authentic letter or memo introducing the
    nature of the problem.
  • Grabs students attention
  • Examples
  • President calling on advisors to help address
    inflation during energy crisis
  • Principal asks student council to plan new Food
  • City Manager letter to City Council about land
    use questions, etc.
  • Provides scope -- expectations, criteria, and
  • (e.g., must choose only 5 restaurants, must use
    sound economics reasoning, no other sources of
    revenue are available)
  • Students cannot imagine the problem away

2. Problem Statement
  • Teacher helps students develop a guiding
    statement for the problem, using the form…
  • How can we AS…
  • Do ….
  • So that…
  • E.g., How can we as Student Council select 5 of
    12 restaurants for the Food Court, so that we
    maximize our profit and meet the needs of all

3. Knowledge Inventory (Know / Need to Know Lists)
  • Teachers lead students through a discussion of
    what information they have and need to solve the
    problem. This is updated as the unit progresses
  • Knows (Food Court)
  • We have to choose 5 of 12 bidders
  • Students need for activities
  • We get 20 of profit
  • Everyone has to eat
  • Not all food is equally desirable or profitable
  • Need to Knows (Food Court)
  • How much demand and profit does each restaurant
  • How do we calculate demand profit?
  • What food is most desired and profitable?
  • How many vegetarians are there?

Howard Mini Problem (how we introduce the
After your fifth period class, while the students
are filing out of room, you find this note on the
floor by one of the desks. Howard has always
been fairly quiet student who does B to B work.
You realize, after reading the note, that his
work has been slipping. His term paper is late
and he barely got a C on the last quiz. You
think, too, that perhaps he has seemed distracted
in the past few weeks, keeping to himself more
than usual.   You take this dilemma to the
counseling team at your school, of which you are
a member. What are you (as the counseling team)
going to do about this?
Howard,   I know you are stealing from me! Give
it back or ELSE! I can get you in a lot of
trouble for this.   M.
Problem Solving Strategy
Need To Know
Problem Statement How Can We As… Do… So That …
Lessons from the Howard Mini Problem
  • Answers often NOT easily available.
  • Frustration is part of the process of learning.
  • Like real life problems, answers often lead to
    more questions.
  • There is often no one right answer
  • but there are definitely wrong answers.
  • Building twists into your projects/problems can
    help teach students to look deeper before making
    decisions or judgments.

4. Multiple Stakeholder Viewpoints
  • Most problems have various constituencies whose
    concerns must be addressed
  • Micro Economics, Food Court
  • E.g., vegetarians, gourmet club, low income
    students, environmentalists, wealthy donors
  • Macro Economics, Presidents Dilemma
  • E.g., unemployed auto workers, elderly groups on
    fixed incomes, business people

5. Problem Log
  • Teachers ask students to answer specific
    questions, in writing.
  • Suggestions are provided with the unit
  • Used for formative assessment of curriculum
  • What are constituency groups asking for?
  • what are the most important considerations?
  • What are positive and negative features of each
  • What criteria are you using?
  • Can also include to do lists, time lines,
    questions, observations outlines, evaluation of
    resources, etc…

6. Problem Twist
  • Maintains interest and requires transfer of
  • a series of voice mail messages from angry
    community members representing special interests
  • drastic cut back in resources available
  • Students must re-think their solution,
    re-applying what they have learned

7. Research and Resources
  • Teachers seed the investigation with resources,
    on an AS NEEDED basis
  • Students get additional information/ideas
  • Additional simulated correspondence
  • Background lessons
  • Blank tables for calculations
  • individually, in groups, whole class (teacher

8. Teachable Moments
  • Students continually engage in dialogue defining
    the problem and solution
  • They recognize a NEED to KNOW
  • When the student is ready, the teacher appears
    (Wayne Hodgins Keynote!)
  • Detailed lesson materials and mini-lectures are
    provided with the unit
  • E.g., addressing supply and demand, fiscal and
    monetary policy

9. Exit from the Problem
  • Students usually present their solution to a
    panel of community members
  • Other teachers or parents representing
    stakeholder groups
  • Panel members get a cheat sheet explaining
    their role and the types of questions they
    should ask…
  • E.g., the wealthy donor, the environmentalist,
    the business person
  • Students demonstrate collaboration, presentation
    skills, problem solving, content knowledge
  • Rubrics are provided for the presentations or
    other authentic performances

10. Wrap-up and Debriefing
  • Teacher helps students reflect on process and
    content learning
  • Process debrief
  • How do you think you did?
  • Was it difficult to solve the problem?
  • Were you ok without specific instructions?
  • How did the group work together
  • Content debrief
  • Ensure students understood key content

Comparing PBL and PBSS at BIE
Similarities of PBL and PBSS
  • Students frequently work in groups
  • Students confront realistic issues, problems
    based on the real world
  • Emphasizes skills required for lifelong learning
  • Greater depth than traditional learning from
    text and lecture learning
  • Greater applicability of knowledge and skills

Differences between PBL and PBSS at BIE
More differences
  • PBL describes an exemplary process, but is
    open-ended, not procedural
  • PBSS as designed by BIE is prescriptive,
    providing a detailed process and expert-produced

Discussion Points
  • Student and Teacher Control
  • Data Collection
  • Authenticity
  • Customization
  • Linking to Traditional Instruction
  • Timing of Lectures
  • Adapting Medical School methods to High School
  • Choosing PBL or PBSS?

Student Teacher Control
  • Students formulate their own learning objectives
    with the teacher in PBL.
  • PBSS has intentionally fixed inputs, to make sure
    key standards are addressed effectively
  • Teachers often want to modify PBSS units in ways
    that SEEM useful, but really hurt learning

Data Collection
  • PBSS comes with prepared data sets, specially
    suited for learning key concepts
  • High School Food Court, demand schedule is
    carefully constructed to make the problem work.
  • We have experimented (rather unsuccessfully) with
    students collecting their own data
  • PBL often involves students collecting data

  • PBSS eschews current events-driven curriculum, in
    favor of deep conceptual understanding
  • PBL strongly encourages a current events focus
  • Whats authentic?
  • Its very authentic to flip burgers...
  • balancing a checkbook?
  • fiscal monetary policy?
  • Real world vs. canned/simulation (what is

  • WHEN are CONSTRAINTS needed….vs. open-ended,
    ill-defined projects
  • Problem is focused on core content
  • E.g., Food Court does not address Free Lunch
    programs, it is about profit, supply and demand.
  • Teacher customization.
  • Some teachers add content to the unit
  • (e.g., elasticity in demand is not required, but
    some teach it anyway)
  • M Ms/Candy simulation of inflation
  • Auctions to demonstrate supply demand
  • Teacher as Developer vs. Community of Experts
  • What if….we taught teachers to develop their own
    problems? Could we help address the lack of
    curriculum planning time for teachers?

Link to Traditional Instruction
  • PBL is one method…
  • PBL works well with conventional instruction.
  • Direct instruction can support PBL.
  • Homework, essays, and tests often are included in

Timing of Lectures (Waiting for the Need to Know)
  • In PBSS the problem creates a NEED TO KNOW..
  • This motivates learning i.e., before any prior
    instruction has occurred
  • For those who insist on lecturing beforehand…
  • How often do early lecturers have to repeat
    themselves after students are finally ready to

Can High Schools adapt a Medical School Problem
Based Model?
  • Medical students are strong students who want to
    be there…theyve made a major investment in their
  • High school economics -- Second Semester Seniors,
    Required Economics Class
  • Teachers may have low expectations for students
    trajectory/future usefulness of content knowledge
  • Differences in motivation of faculty (many econ
    teachers are drafted,only 2 have a degree)
  • See Maxwell, Belissimo, Mergendoller article on
    BIE website

How to choose PBL vs. PBSS
  • Focus on Knowledge or Skills?
  • More SKILLS out of PBL, in general, if attended
    to, assessed, coached…
  • More KNOWLEDGE out of PBSS, in general
  • Which generate more student engagement?
  • Is PBL a deeper instructional treatment, when
    done right…
  • E.g., project on traffic jams in Bay Area…why
    isnt 101 big enough, etc…present traffic plans
    to city…that is richer learning than pretending
  • PBL requires teacher expertise to manage, so that
    projects are not all over the place . Teacher
    has to redirect or tie into important driving

Your Turn!
  • Comments
  • Questions
  • Suggestions

Get in touch…
  • (415) 883-0122 x 310