Let's Work Together: How Students are Using Schoology for Project-Based Learning
“People, when things go wrong
As they sometimes will
And the road you travel
It stays all uphill.
Let's work together.
Come on, come on
Let's work together.
You know together we will stand
Every boy, girl, woman, and man.”
- Canned Heat, 1970
Whether it's restoring an old Chevy, restringing a Telecaster, or organizing a tackle box, we have a seemingly endless list of projects. We live in a project-based world.
More careers are moving freelance and the internet is nurturing a generation of freelancers and do-it-yourselfers. Lucky for us, we have unlimited access to information to help us get our projects done.
But what if the project is so big it takes a team of people working together to successfully complete the job? By their very nature, projects come with time constraints and logistical challenges. Furthermore, it can be difficult to get the major contributors together to collaborate.
There must be some way of keeping the team organized and the project moving forward towards completion. Enter Schoology, your friendly, familiar, and adaptable project management solution (more on that later).
A Project-Based Lesson Learned the Hard Way
On a sunny afternoon a few years ago, following an inspirational message from former First Lady, Michelle Obama, the student council at Escuela Verde school proposed the creation of vegetable gardens in the unused field beside the gymnasium. The noble purpose was to produce free, nutritious food to supplement the menu offered in the school cafeteria. Surplus food would be donated to an area food pantry and the local senior center.
The concept was pitched to the school administration team, and enthusiasm for the project spread quickly. Students in a variety of classes started researching various aspects of growing vegetables—soil construct, growing seasons, food preservation, and meal preparation. Teachers starting aligning learning standards to different aspects of the project, and administrators obtained grant money and zoning permits to get the project off the ground.
But the busy activity and enthusiasm kept a significant flaw hidden during the formative stages of this project.
Spring arrived, the plots were to be tilled and prepared for planting carrots, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, and cucumbers. The fringes of the plots were to be planted with fruit trees.
But wait, did someone send the purchase orders? Did someone write up the requisite work-orders? Who set up the student work schedule?
As time went on, questions started outnumbering answers. This worthwhile project chock full of exciting and authentic learning opportunities for students lacked organization, coherence, and consistent channels of communication. The Escuela Verde gardens, full of promise, now lay in tatters on the cutting room floor.
A New Beginning for Student-Led Project-Based Learning
Fast forward a couple of years, the EV freshmen are now juniors, they propose another project befitting their “green school” vision. The school environmental club wants to enhance the natural surroundings of the school by installing twenty (one for each section of biology) bat houses.
The students have learned our local, endangered bats are the primary pollinators for many fruits and vegetables grown near the school. Successful completion of this cross-curricular project would ensure this link in the ecological chain remains strong. It will also greatly reduce the number of airborne insects in the community and provide an ongoing subject of study for current and future students.
Based purely on results, the EV gardens project would be considered a failure, albeit a productive failure, because students and staff learned valuable lessons about the planning, organization, and communication needed to produce successful results with a collaborative project.
The students are leading this new bat house project, and they have come up with an interesting solution to challenges experienced during previous projects. Carrie, a chairperson in the environmental club, says, “Schoology helps us stay organized, engaged, and productive in our classes. We should create a Schoology course to keep our project moving forward, and to give all of the helpers a place to stay connected to the project.”
With the help of a building administrator, the students created a Schoology course to help with the planning, communication, and completion of the EV bat house project. This organizational strategy seemed so logical, teachers and administrators were surprised they had not thought of this previously.
Managing the Project Using Schoology Courses
The first step was to create a bat house course and enroll all stakeholders. Preliminary meetings focused on the purpose and goals of the project.
Students were able to contribute suggestions face-to-face, or virtually with the help of the BigBlueButton web conferencing tool and Schoology discussions. Follow-up meetings included discussion about course layout, naming conventions, and communication structures. In the course materials area, folders were created as containers for important documents, links to research information, schedules, and building contacts.
This was authentic, cross-curricular learning at it’s finest. Because several EV teachers were incorporating project-based learning in their courses, students decided to organize the course based on the essential design elements suggested by the Buck Institute for Education (BIE), a leader in the area of project-based learning.
Their research states there are seven essential design elements needed to effectively complete a project:
- Challenging problem or question
- Sustained inquiry
- Voice and choice
- Critique and revision
- Public product
Students and faculty are using the summer break to build the bat house project course. This will allow students to begin work promptly when school begins in the fall.
Here's the basic course outline:
Section 1: Challenging Problem or Question
Bats are vital to the environment, but loss of natural habitat and chemical pesticides are putting the bat population at risk. Many crops grown in our area get pollinated primarily by fruit bats. How can we help sustain the bat population while also making our outdoor school areas and community more hospitable? What can students learn by building bat houses and studying bats?
Our Students' Solution—Students decide a Schoology Page within their project course is the perfect place to post driving questions, emphasize project objectives, and list recommended action plans and schedules. A table of contents embedded in the first page contains links to external resources, as well as, links pieces within the course. Pictures, videos, and graphics are used to make the course visually appealing and engaging.
Section 2: Sustained Inquiry
Ongoing questioning, research, and discussions guide learning processes and pushing the project forward.
Our Students' Solution—Schoology Discussions and Resources lend themselves ideally to supporting sustained inquiry. Key issues and obstacles can be dissected within a discussion thread. Posts become more informative and engaging with the addition of embedded media or linked materials.
Schoology Resources provides a repository for shared materials. The students create folders based upon common themes or topics such as ongoing bat research, bat house construction and installation, funding and regulations, and data collection and impact.
The Project Continues ...
The course building continues and the students and faculty are immersed in problem solving, digital literacy, and design thinking. They spend time reflecting on the challenges and failures of the garden project. The following table is a snapshot showing their PBL growth and progress.
|Esquela Verde Garden Project||Esquela Verde Bat House Project|
|Unclear purpose, poorly communicated||Purpose clearly defined and visible to everyone on public Schoology course.|
|No place to post and discuss questions||Questions posted in Schoology discussions. Answers shared in BigBlueButton, Schoology Discussions, and Schoology Updates.|
|Lack of connection to authentic resources, lack of awareness of the project||A repository of research is established in course resources. Progress is shared in updates linked to Twitter and Facebook.|
|Students and faculty are not aware of what needs to be done. What are their options?||Students can choose to contribute to a variety of project teams; research and development, construction, plant and animal research, reports and publications, etc.|
|No centralized place for students to contribute and engage. What are they learning?||Students use Schoology blog and Portfolios to document their learning and contributions to the project. These places also provide areas for personal and team reflection.|
|Why is this not working? Where are we missing the boat with this project? No central location for critique and to share revision.||Plans and adjustments are shared and reviewed in Schoology. Embedded docs and Media Albums show progress, and invite critique.|
|No mechanism for displaying progress and results of this project. Who cares?||Community members can see plans and progress, they can get involved. The process is transparent. A public celebration of the results is planned.|
The same principles for creating an effective, engaging blended learning environment can be applied to coordinating a school project. More than just creating a poster board showing pictures of bats, students are actively involved in problem-solving, team-building, project management, design, making, and authentic assessment.
Every school has goals, and striving to reach those goals involves a variety of projects. Each school has a powerful force—the students—at the ready to tackle most school projects. The keys are relationship-building, a clearly defined purpose, the opportunity for all to contribute, and a commitment to a culture of collaboration.
Years from now, the students at Esquela Verde won’t remember their biology test scores, but they will remember the cooperation and effort it took to build and install enough housing for 2,000 fruit bats. The students will return to see the thriving bat colonies and hear what current students are learning from studying the Esquela Verde bats.
Some have called Schoology a digital hub, a center for blended and personalized learning, a cloud-based file cabinet, and a digital assessment tool. As schools become more deeply entrenched in authentic learning projects and place-based learning, Schoology could also become known as a project management solution.
Save the bats!
About Robert Schuetz's Session
Let's Work Together: Project-Based Learning with Schoology
How are school-wide projects managed at your school? There are many advantages to organizing and coordinating school projects with Schoology courses. Transparent timelines, open discussions, shared resources, and a central knowledge base, are just a few of the ways a Schoology course can serve as a project management portal. Attendees will dive into an existing, authentic project to get first-hand impressions of the blended, collaborative environment. Attendees will apply project-based learning principles as they storyboard and create their own project management course. The big picture payoff comes when adults transfer their project-based learning experiences to their classrooms; transforming pedagogy through experiential learning.
In this session, attendees will walk away with:
- A deeper understanding of PBL principles (ISTE-S 1, 3, 4)
- Practical ideas for supporting PBL practices within Schoology (ISTE-S 4, 5)
- A working template for a project management course (ISTE-S 4, 5)
- Hands-on experience working in a blended, collaborative environment.