3 free technologies to take PBL to the next level

Any teacher who has tried to design an authentic project can tell you that it takes significant time, energy and community outreach. These technologies can help PBL!

With more than 20 years in the classroom and at schools, I have always aimed to inspire students and teachers to make learning authentic and relevant to the community and student interests, especially through project-based learning (PBL).

Throughout my career, I’ve seen the extraordinary opportunities that students receive when they’re guided by truly talented teachers–like Christie and Tom Wolf from New Technology High School in Napa, Calif. The Wolfs teach a biology unit on GMOs that concludes with students setting up informational booths at a local gourmet food court and speaking with tourists about genetically modified foods and farming methods.

And then there Lisa Anderson at Napa Junction Elementary School. She invites local doctors to help design a medical intern project, for which fifth-graders must use symptoms to diagnose the likely diseases affecting a patient. Afterward, those students present their findings to an audience of adults, including the doctor.

Video: Medical Intern PBL

Projects like these challenge and delight students, creating specific content mastery that students can recall in highly technical terms years later. It’s common for students to find career inspiration from these school experiences.

However, any teacher who has tried to design an authentic project can tell you that it takes significant time, energy and community outreach. It can be an extremely heavy lift for busy classroom teachers, many whom report that they would do more projects if they had help with the preparation and collaboration process.

3 Free Technologies to Solve Common PBL Pain Points

Pain Point #1: There are community members in the audience on presentation day, so you need to get to every group.
Teachers find that student presentation days can run longer than expected because precious time is lost in between presentations. If you’ve invited the mayor to your presentations, or you have a real doctor in the room giving students feedback, then you want to make sure that your timing is right.

Let’s say that you are a Google Apps for Education school, and that every student has a Google account. Maybe on presentation day a team of students plans to share its Google slides and a few pictures. Although it’s very easy to have the teacher’s computer hooked up to the projector or flat panel–allowing students to log into their accounts on the teacher’s computer that transition still costs about 90 seconds. Sometimes more. If your class period is 50 minutes long, you’ve now lost more than seven minutes to transitions if you have five groups presenting.

Sure, there are work-arounds, such as asking the students to share links to their documents to the teacher to eliminate the sign-in process. But we know how that goes: There are always a couple of last-minute add-ons to a student presentation when a file was not shared properly, or a question from the audience at the conclusion of the presentation necessitates the student needing to bring up additional information or evidence that he or she didn’t plan on sharing.

In light of these collaboration hurdles, I’ve seen great success with the NovoPro digital streaming device, which is being donated to teachers and schools who apply for a grant. The grant, the NovoAssurED Ambassador Program, and the application are available to any K-12 educator seeking to collaborate in the classroom.

This hardware allows up to 64 student devices, regardless of platform, to connect to the teacher’s device, regardless of platform. That means Chromebooks, iPads, Android and iOS smartphones, netbooks, and every type of computer can be connected. With the push of a button the teacher can put the student device onto the projector or flat panel screen. The teacher can even share four student devices on the screen at the same time. Guests in the audience can join in the collaboration and share information the same way.

This device allows the teacher to share files, websites, videos, and more to every device in the room. It’s super easy to use and free – with no hidden costs–to teachers who apply for the grant. The application takes about 15 minutes and can be found here.

(Next page: 2 more technologies for PBL)

Pain Point #2: Where do you find community members who are experts with your learning objectives? It takes so much time for teachers to make these connections.
Teachers work long hours, often behind the scenes, to design authentic projects that are relevant to their students and show how state standards really connect to students’ futures. It sure would be nice if someone from the real world, who did related work, were available to help design and launch the project, or give feedback to the students on the day they present.

Nepris connects various industries to the classroom. Teachers can post their topics, content or industry, and a career professional can offer to assist. If the community member is from halfway across the country–or on the other side of the planet–a connection is made through virtual technology. The teacher gets to review the professional’s profile and make any selection that feels like the right match for his or her classroom.

And for a workforce constantly strapped for funding, it’s free! There are even prerecorded videos that educators can use, sorted by grade level and topic. Teachers can access this world of expert resources by creating an account. It’s as easy as it sounds.

Pain Point #3: You asked students to create a project with an authentic purpose or solution, and what they’ve created is so great, they want to go into business…now what?
It’s the best kind of problem to have. Your fifth-graders have created a marketable product, and they’ve had success selling it to parents and people connected to the school. They are on fire! How can you, the teacher, assist in this effort?

Well, Real World Scholars (RWS) is a privately funded foundation that provides funding for student entrepreneurship, and it’s set up in a way that aligns with typical school funding structures. For example, they have a feature called Class Wallet which provides funds to teachers in a way that is transparent yet doesn’t require reimbursements or purchase orders.

RWS has a digital platform ready and waiting for students to build and start using an e-commerce site, as well as hosted banking for online sales. They’ve thought of it all, so that students can launch their business and learn in the process. It’s all done through an EdCorp (education corporation) at http://www.edcorps.org/ for PK-12 grade classrooms. A nice summary of several student run businesses supported by Real World Scholars can be found here.

So, take advantage of three free resources to make your job as a teacher a bit more manageable, while simultaneously infusing vibrant collaboration and relevance into the classroom learning. Transform learning beyond the classroom with the NovoAmbassador GrantNepris, and Real World Scholars’ education corporations.

To view the full blog online, please visit https://www.vivitekusa.com/posts/Free-Technology-to-Ignite-Student-Collaboration-and-Learning/.

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at submissions@eschoolmedia.com.

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.