A Tale of Two Projects: Week 2 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project)

This blog entry describes what my students and I did during Week 2 of the Emerging Tech (NSF Grant) project.  The events in this blog entry took place at the same time as the events in this article.  As a pair, these describe what a PBL teacher does while running two projects in two different preps at one time.  To see accounts on earlier or later weeks of these projects, go here.


Week 2, Day 1 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



During Day 1, I was not available to work directly with the students because I was at a training related to my responsibilities as Campus Testing Coordinator.  The students started work on informal presentations on physicists who had contributed to our understanding of nuclear phenomena and quantum mechanics.  The students delivered these presentations on Day 4 of this week.

Each team was assigned a different physicist.  To start preparing students for a grant they would write several weeks later, the research questions for each physicist focused on the research of the physicist, its intellectual merit, and its broad impact.  The assigned physicists and related questions for teams 1 to 6 are shown in this linked image.  I provided them with at least 3 age-appropriate and accurate sources to research the questions to streamline their research process.


Each team was also given a template slide deck that limited teams to 3 slides per scientist (see linked template).  The template also constrained students to mostly images and very limited text on the slides.  The bulk of their responses to the research questions were hidden in the slides’ speaker notes sections.


Later on Day 1, I finalized a lesson for Day 2 of this week by analyzing test bank questions related to TEKS on nuclear phenomena and the weak nuclear force.  I found that my workshop needed to focus on types of radiation (alpha, beta, and gamma) and their relationships to nuclear forces (weak and strong) and various technology.  They also needed to introduce half-life and how to use half-life to select appropriate isotopes for different types of technology.  I designed a graphic organizer that included an embedded half-life chart and questions that asked students to interpret the chart to select isotopes for different technology applications – see Day 2 handout.


Week 2, Day 2 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



Early on Day 2, I made some minor adjustments to my visuals for the upcoming Nuclear Workshop because I needed to look up specific radioactivity values that corresponded to harmless and harmful levels of radiation and their effects.  I typically outline and draft lesson plans and related resources several days ahead of time and then refine them until the day before (or day of) the actual lesson.


Later on Day 2, I facilitated a workshop on Radioactivity with the IPE classes.  In this workshop, we introduced healthy and dangerous levels of radioactivity and used these thresholds to interpret the harmfulness (or harmlessness) of different types of radioactive technology.  We introduced the idea of half life and used specific half lives to discuss whether or not various isotopes were safe (or not) for consumer use.  We also introduced 3 types of radioactive processes (alpha, gamma, and beta) and discussed their connections to nuclear forces and technology applications.  After the workshop, students had time to answer the questions on the graphic organizer and to continue developing their presentations on nuclear / quantum physicists.


Later on Day 2, I finished grading revised reports from the previous IPE project on Rube Goldberg machines.  In this project, students built and tested Rube Goldberg devices in order to investigate conservation of energy and conservation of momentum.


Week 2, Day 3 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



Day 3 was the final work day that students had to prepare for their informal presentations on nuclear / quantum physicists.  In the warmup, we practiced using the half life chart to select the appropriate isotopes for specific technology applications.  During the warmup discussion, I was able to repeat and model correct thinking relating to interpreting the half lives of isotopes in the context of emerging technology.


While the students worked on their slides, I started contacting potential panelists in order to provide feedback to students during Week 5 of the project when students would draft their grant proposals.  I drafted a recruitment letter that summarized the project logistics and the types of support the student needed.  I linked the recruitment letter to a Google form that gathered information on volunteer panelists’ degrees, areas of expertise, and availability.  By the end of this week, this work yielded 5 panelists, a great number to support 10 student teams.  If you’d like to volunteer to be a panelists at CINGHS, click the linked form above.


Also during student work time, I ordered equipment from the UTeach department that related to an upcoming emission spectra lab.  I thought this equipment was critical to give students hands on experiences related to modern physics and to give students a break from a project featuring lots of online research and very few hands-on research activities.


My co-teacher and I prepared for presentations the following day by setting up Google Forms to gather peer grades on collaboration and oral communication.  I created a set of note sheets for capturing our teacher notes on teams’ presentations on quantum and nuclear physicists.  To prepare for our notebook grading day later that week (Friday, Day 5), we decided what assignments we would grade for that week and how many points we would assign to each assignment in each of our class’s learning outcomes (Oral Communication, Written Communication, Collaboration, Agency, Knowledge & Thinking, Engineering Content, Physics Content).


Week 2, Day 4 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



Early on Day 4, I decided to create an experimental tool to keep students in the audience of presentations more engaged.  I created a graphic organizer that students could use to take notes on other teams’ presentations.  I showed this tool to my co-teacher, Mr. Fishman, and shared a related idea: why not let presenting students’ stamp the parts of the graphic organizer related to their presentation so they could get real time feedback on how well they communicated their key points and also hold their peers accountable for taking good notes?  He was willing to try it.



The experiment was a success.  The students seemed to really enjoy stamping their peers.  Also several students insisted on making their peers improve their notes prior to stamping their papers so the level of accountability was kept high throughout the note-taking activity.  In addition to note-taking, students in the audience evaluated the presenters on their oral communication skills.  Meanwhile, my co-teacher and I took notes on their presentations relating to the rubric so we could use our notes to supplement what we would later gather from reviewing their slides and their hidden speaker notes.  Sometimes students say more than they write, so we use both our notes from what they say and what they write to evaluate their presentations and related research.


Later on Day 4, I used pivot tables to analyze data gathered via Google Form to generate peer grades relating to collaboration and oral communication.  I typed out my presentation notes in order to create a graphic organizer that summarized the key points delivered by all teams in both class periods.  I shared these notes with students the following day so they could learn from students in both periods.  See linked notes on tne left.  At the end of Week 4, the students used these notes and other notes to take an open notebook test on nuclear physics, quantum mechanics and biotechnology.


 Week 2, Day 5 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



On Day 5, we switched gears by introducing emerging (and ancient) examples of biotechnology.  We opened the class with a discussion on a Washington post article on the creation of pig-human embryonic chimeras.  After this introduction, Mr. Fishman led the class through an introductory workshop / discussion on biotechnology.  Students were so open with their opinions and prior knowledge of biotechnology that the 1-day workshop spilled over into the following day.


Week 2, Day 6-7 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF Project):



On Saturday morning, I checked the file revision histories of report documents to check which students were in danger of not meeting the final report revisions deadline.  I called the homes of all students who needed extra reminders and parental support to meet this important deadline.  Later on the day, I held online office hours to support students working on their report corrections.  While doing this, I gathered and re-formatted sample grant summaries that students would eventually analyze to learn the style of writing related to their grant proposals.  I also created a test on Nuclear Physics and generated the question sheet and bubble sheets for this test.


On Sunday, I graded the final revised versions of the students’ engineering report from the prior project (the Rube Goldberg project).  I also graded students’ presentations from earlier in the week using my presentation notes and also considering all the written texts and images on students’ slides and their speaker notes.  Using our IPE tool, the rubric chart (see linked Google Sheet), I was able to grade their presentations fairly quickly and enjoy the rest of my weekend.  The presentations were easy to grade because most of the students had done the assignment perfectly or nearly so.  I think the pre-selected articles, the specific research questions and the verbal feedback on the slides given throughout the week had really helped the students create quality products.


For more grading tricks, go here.  To continue reading  about this project, go here.


A Tale of Two Projects: Week 2 Algebra 2 Sports Science Project

Week 2 of the Sport Science Video Project was jam-packed with content scaffolding on quadratic functions.  It turns out that analyzing the motion of 100-m runners is not a simple task.  To analyze and draw interesting conclusions from 100-m position-time data, one must know how to:

  • formulate quadratic equations from data tables,
  • solve quadratic equations
  • solve systems of linear and quadratic equations
  • interpret motion quantities embedded in linear and quadratic equations

In Week 2, we covered all these skills (and then some) and started applying them to the run data generated by students and by world class athletes (Usain Bolt).  

Note: If you’d like to learn more about this project in its earlier or later phases, go here.


Week 2: Project Day 4: Data Analysis



On Day 2, we started class with a warm-up that had students make connections between the coefficients in quadratic equations and motion quantities such as initial positions, initial velocities and accelerations.

We went over the correct results so that students could start to interpret some of the quadratic functions that fit their run data.  


After this warm-up, the teams used Coach my Video to advance their running videos frame-by-frame and gather time data that went with each 2-m increment marker on the 100-meter track the students created on Day 3.  They entered these times into a Google Sheet that automatically graphed their data on a position-time graph.


Then they used their position-time graph workshop notes to divide up their graph into sections that corresponded to different types of motion.  They started using Desmos to find regression equations that fit their data.  Their recorded their results in a graphic organizer called a Run Data Chart that they copied and stored in their project Google folder.


Later in the day, I prepared for the rest of the week by grading revised reports from the NERFallistics project and by preparing a workshop on formulating quadratic equations from data tables using technology.


Week 2: Project Day 5: Content Scaffolding

On Day 4 of the project, we learned several skills related to quadratic functions.  I also got to check out if students responded well to a new method I had developed for displaying procedural skills.


We started the class by going over how to use Desmos to find regression equations from points in a data table.  We went over a handout with this step-by-step graphic organizer:

We went over the steps for a sample problem together.  Then we set a work timer for 10 minutes to try these steps on 4 other regressions: 3 sample problems and 1 from their own run data sets.


This visual also shows my new method for displaying procedural skills: the left column outlines each step in the procedure and the right column demonstrates each step on a sample problem.


After they had a little time to practice the skill of using Desmos to find regression equations, we moved on to a new mini workshop on the attributes of quadratic functions.  This mini-workshop covered things they already knew (vertex, axis of symmetry, y-intercept, x-intercepts) and introduced new attributes (focus, directrix).  I gave them time to read through the definitions and then we discussed how to label the attributes on a sample quadratic function.


After we had reviewed the forms of quadratic equations and the attributes of quadratic functions, we started going over different ways to use the attributes of quadratic functions to find their equations.  


The first method we covered was how to find the quadratic equation for a function given its roots.  I kept with my new format for presenting new procedures.  The left column outlined each step to find the equation.   On the space on the right, we applied each step to a sample problem.   After we had gone over 1 sample problem, we set a 10 minute timer for the students to practice this new skill on a couple practice problems.  While they practiced, I monitored their work and answered their questions.


Then we learned how to find the quadratic equation of a function given its vertex and one other point.  We learned how to find the equations in vertex and standard forms.  We again worked through a sample problem together and then set aside work time to practice the skill on new problems.  Some students requested that I email them the Notability file containing the workshop problems.  Students always have the option to get a pdf-copy of workshop materials because I use Notability for a majority of workshops – especially ones where I demonstrate how to do various types of calculations.


After we went over this skill, we called it a day because everyone’s heads (mine included)  were hurting by that point.  What a productive day!  I told the students that they were markedly smarter (at least within the specific domain of using quadratic functions) as a result of their hard work during that day.   


Later in the day, I prepped for the remainder of the week by preparing workshops on formulating quadratic equations given any 3 points and on transforming equations from standard to vertex form (completing the square).   I also figured out a way to analyze Usain Bolt’s data.  I used his average stride length (2.44 m) to associate positions with all his footfalls.  I then then paired those positions with times I gathered using Coach my Video.  I also found a storyboard template that my students could use to plan their videos and I uploaded it to the students’ project briefcase.

Week 2: Project Day 6: More Content Scaffolding

On Day 5, we learned 2 more ways to formulate quadratic equations: using a focus and directrix and using any 3 points.  We kept with the format of modeling a practice problem with each new skill in a mini workshop following immediately with practice time to apply the skill to several practice problems.  


The mini workshop on formulating quadratic equations given a focus and directrix was the final workshop in a series dedicated to using the attributes of quadratic functions to formulate quadratic equations.  While making my keys, I noticed how easy it was to mess up this process by substituting the focus (instead of the vertex) into the vertex form for the quadratic equation.  I made a mental note to watch for students making this easy-to–make error and was able to catch it a couple times during the students’ practice work time.


For the next workshop, I used the TI-emulator to show students how to use a scientific calculator to solve systems of linear equations.  To find a quadratic equation from 3 points, one can substitute the 3 points into the standard form of a quadratic equation three times.  The result will be a system of 3 linear equations.  In an earlier project, students had learned how to use Gaussian elimination to find the solutions to systems of 3 linear equations.  Using their prior knowledge, we discussed and demonstrated how to convert the 3 linear equations into an augmented matrix.  Then I introduced them to a new matrix: the reduced row echelon matrix.  I wrote a sample one on the whiteboard and asked them what was the (x,y,z) solution embedded in the matrix.  The students used their prior knowledge of matrices to find the answer quickly and accurately and then they started to appreciate the power of this matrix.  Then I demonstrated how to enter the augmented matrix into the TI-83 and then use it to find the reduced row echelon matrix.  The students were able to do this with some coaching in very little time and then several got pretty emotional.  I think they were remembering the trauma of using Gaussian elimination to solve systems by hand and comparing it to the ease of using the calculator to solve matrix equations.  Some got really happy.  Some were irritated and asked why I taught them Gaussian elimination instead of this method earlier.  I replied because Gaussian elimination is written into the Texas TEKS so I am professionally bound to teach it to you.  We ended the class period on this high / sour note.


Later in the day, one student requested that I change the project logo from the ESPN Sports Science logo to an image of one of the Algebra 2 students running during our data collection day.  I got permission from the running student to make this change and then made it official.


I prepared for the remainder of the week by preparing lessons on solving quadratic equations and solving systems of quadratic and linear equations.  I also prepared a Practice Test on quadratic functions for the following Monday.  I updated the warm-ups in the class version of the Algebra 2 notebook.  I also started setting up my grade sheet and Echo for the tasks I would grade later this week.


Week 2: Project Day 7: Content Scaffolding (Finale)

Day 7 of the project was the final day for introducing new content skills.  The remainder of the workshops in the project would be dedicated to fine tuning those skills to apply them to products.  Prior to introducing students to the quadratic formula, we introduced the discriminant: how to calculate it and how to interpret it.


We used this visual during the workshop to go over how to calculate the discriminant and then how to interpret its value.  After this mini-workshop, students had 10 minutes to practice calculating and interpreting discriminants before we moved on to a mini workshop on the quadratic formulas.


For our mini workshop on using the quadratic formula to solve quadratic equations, I intentionally chose a sample problem with 2 complex roots.  This gave me an opportunity to introduce complex numbers and how to use these to find the solutions of quadratic equations with negative discriminants.  When we got to the step of simplifying the square root part of the equation, I let them plug in the expression into the calculator as is and let them see the errors that the calculator generates.  Then we talked about how to use “i” to resolve this dilemma.  Several of the students had seen “i” before but had never been formally introduced to it.  After we discussed this sample problem, the students asked for 15 minutes of practice time to work through several practice problems.  The practice set included problems with 2 real roots, 1 real root, and 2 complex roots.


In the final workshop of the class period, we went over how to use the quadratic formula to solve systems of linear and quadratic equations.  We practiced setting the equations equal to each other and rearranging the resulting equation into a form that could be resolved by the quadratic formula.   In the remainder of the class period, they practiced using this skill to solve several systems of equations (3 given by me and 1 using equations they had found from their analysis of their run data).


Later in the day, I finished making my Quadratic practice set keys.  Any student can get access to a key on a practice set by showing me their work on the practice set.  As long as they try all problems, I share them on a Google pdf copy of key.  Many students asks for the keys and many have learned to correct their work in different color pencil using the key so that they know what they need to think about to improve their skills.    I also completed my Practice Test key to prepare for Monday’s class.


Week 2: Project Day 8: Full Work Day

After a dense week of content scaffolding, we ended the week with a full work day.  The students used this day to apply the skills they had learned that week to the analysis of their student run data and of Usain Bolt’s run data.  They worked on recording their results in a Run DataChart and in a storyboard for their sports science video.  Some students also used this time to finish and ask for help on practice sets from earlier this week.  Aside from helping them with the warm-up and from answering their questions, I was pretty hands off on this day.  I kept my spidey senses alert to hear what difficulties students were running into while analyzing their data and preparing their storyboards.  I took note of these things to anticipate the types of workshops students might need next week.


This visual shows a sample slide in a student storyboard and the rubric chart I use to show feedback feedback on their work: green squares = full credit and yellow squares = partial credit.  I add comments inside their products that describe how to convert yellow rubric chart squares to green ones.


Later in that day, I prepped for the following week by preparing next week’s warm-ups, agendas, and agenda / activity visuals.  I also got the class notebook up to date with this week’s activity sheets.  Then I graded the students’ notebook activity sheets for this week and entered those grades into Echo.


Week 2 Weekend: Week 3 Prep

Saturday at midnight was the final deadline for NERFallistics report corrections.  Because this grade was so high stakes, I supported the students in 2 ways: parent phone calls and virtual office hours.  Saturday morning I called the parents of all students who had not started report corrections because it was the final day in a 2-week correction period.  During the late afternoon and evening, I made myself available online for students with report corrections.  I ended up using the messaging feature on Google docs to support students with many questions about their report corrections.   


Also on Saturday, I used our test software (DMAC) to create the end-of-project test.  We are required to use DMAC for two assessments per six weeks.  I typically use DMAC for my end-of-project tests and my trimester exams.  


On Sunday, I graded the students storyboard and run charts and realized they needed more time and support so I extended the deadlines on these and modified some of the upcoming warm-ups to cover issues that I was seeing in their products.  I noticed they were struggling to associate the numbers in their spreadsheets and in their regressions with meaningful running statistics.  I created a couple warm-ups to make those connections more explicit.  


After finalizing my grades, I created the Week 20 Task Completion chart.  The image below shows the task completion chart (with student names boxed out).  Red boxes denote missing assignments.  The grade manager uses this visual to provide face-to-face and emailed reminders to students to turn in missing assignments.


A Tale of Two Projects: Week 1 IPE Emerging Tech (NSF) Project

This blog entry is the partner entry to this story: Week 1 Algebra 2 blog entry.  During the short week between Wed, 1/18, and Fri, 1/20, we launched two projects in my main preps: the Emerging Technology (or NSF) project in Integrated Physics and Engineering and the Sports Science Video project in Algebra 2.   The events in this article occurred concurrently with the events in this article.  To get links to accounts of earlier and later phases of this project go this page: A Tale of 2+ Projects.


Integrated Physics & Engineering, Day 1 NSF Project , 1/18

Students in IPE were greeted with this visual when they arrived in class in Day 1 of the Emerging Tech project.  The branding on this agenda slide shows the icon from the previous project with a bandaid over it.  This reinforced the warmup for the day which was a reflection on their past report scores and their plans to use report feedback to raise their scores that week.  In the IPE class, student work is graded once a week: notebooks are graded on Friday’s and major products submitted online are graded on Sundays.  Students have up to 2 weeks to revise their work: after 1 week, they can earn up to a 90% on late or resubmitted work and after 2 weeks, they can earn up to 70% on this work.  After 2 weeks, my co-teacher and I no longer accept the work.

After the students completed the report reflection warmup, we held our once-a-6-weeks Class Officer Elections.  Nominated students gave speeches to earn student votes in elections for 3 officer positions: Facilitator, Time Manager, and Grade Manager.  The facilitator goes over the daily agenda at the start of class each day.  The time manager tracks the time left in class activities and class periods and provides periodic time announcements describing the amounts of time left for activities and left in class.  The grade manager uses a weekly task completion chart to follow-up with students who did not turn in assignments.  All 3 officers support the class when I’m sick.  Subs who have taken over my classes are usually just adults on record who take attendance and watch while my 3 officers lead students through the day’s activities.  Three of my Algebra 2 officers that were elected earlier in the morning during 1st period managed to get elected in the same positions in their IPE class periods. I allowed them to run for office again because I enjoy having experienced and committed class officers.

After the officer elections, we announced teams.  The teams claimed new team tables to serve as headquarters for their new teams.  They used the visual below to set up their notebooks for the next project.

We explained to them that we were going to do a project in “Advanced” Physics and Science topics.  We explained that “advanced” in this context did not necessarily mean more difficult.   What it really means is that it involves science discovered “later” than much of the science we had studied throughout the year.  We also explained that the National Science Foundation (NSF) has a very large budget (order of billions) which it allocates to science and engineering proposals with the power to advance our understanding of science (intellectual merit) and to improve our society (broad impact).  We explained that the goal of the project was to create an NSF proposal that involves emerging technology that has intellectual merit and broad impact.  To give them an idea of some the problems they could address in their proposals, we watched a video about the NEA Grand Challenges in Engineering.


After we watched the video, students working in teams dissected the project design brief and created a chart listing their Content Knows and Need-to-Knows and their Project Logistics Knows and Need-to-Knows.  For the final activity of the day, the facilitator in each class period led a class discussion to consolidate all the students’ Knows and Need-to-Knows:

 While they shared their prior content knowledge in their Content Knows, I appreciate how the 4th Period students gave me a brief summary of what they remembered about atomic theory and what they knew of GMO’s.


Later in the day, I prepped for activities later in the week by continue to conduct research and to draft visuals and question prompts for my first workshop on Nuclear Physics for Day 3 of the project.  While reviewing the nuclear material I decided that the way to chunk the Nuclear Physics was into 2 parts.  Part 1 would focus on the strong force, energy-mass equivalence, fission, and fusion and its applications.  Part 2 would focus on radioactive decays (alpha, gamma, and beta), the weak force, the idea of half life  and applications of radioactivity.


I also prepped a Test Correction assignment because trimester exams are in 5 weeks.  In this activity, students use a key to correct their test using a colored pen or pencil different from the color they used in the test.  The color contrast helps students know what concepts they need to revisit when they study for their trimester exams.


Integrated Physics & Engineering, Day 2 NSF Project , 1/19



On day 2 of the NSF project, students did a warmup that reviewed Laws  of Exponents.  I designed the warm-up problems to take on the same form as the energy-mass equivalence (E = mc^2) problems we would introduce the following day.  This warm-up gave us the opportunity to review laws of exponents and putting final results into scientific notation.


After the warmup, the students created their team norms and agreements and documented these in a team contract using this template.    They also set up their Google folders and shared them with their teammates.  On this day, we started the useful practice of adding the team number to the name of the Google folder.  We linked their Google folder links to the project rubric chart:


The rubric chart is our one-stop-shop for all the electronic work students submit for the project.  It also contains text from all the project rubrics (see left column) and has column boxes which we populate with yellow (partial credit) and green (full credit) stamps as each team completes parts of the rubrics in their products.  After the students set-up their team folders and team contracts, we gave them time to work on their test and report corrections to wrap up class Day 2 of the NSF project.


Later in the day, I prepared for Day 3 by finalizing my lesson outline, lesson visuals and lesson handout for Nuclear Physics (1 of 2).  To really focus the lesson, I referred back to my analysis of a test bank aligned to my target TEKS.  This analysis led me to focus my lesson on binding energy, mass defect and how these relate to fission, fusion and mass-energy equivalence.  In addition I found this great gif that illustrates the chain reaction that occurs with uranium-235:



Integrated Physics & Engineering, Day 3 NSF Project , 1/20

On Day 3, I facilitated part 1 of 2 of a workshop on Nuclear Physics.  Because our previous project had focused on conservation of energy and momentum, I integrated questions in the workshop that tied the new forces (strong forces) and new energies (binding energies) in nuclear physics to concepts we had already learned in previous projects: energy transformations, Coulomb forces, potential energy, and kinetic energy.  We learned about the role of the strong force in the stability of atomic nuclei.  We learned how to calculate the mass defect and the binding energy using E = mc^2 where E is energy, m is mass, and c is the speed of light.  We learned about fission and fusion, their connections to the strong force, and technological applications of each.


Later in the day, I graded all the Week 19 assignments in students notebooks.  I also learned how to install a TI-83 emulator unto my laptop so I could model how to do calculations with very large and very small numbers in our class set of scientific calculators.


Integrated Physics & Engineering, Week 2 Prep NSF Project , 1/20

Over the weekend, I prepared for Week 2 of the NSF project by setting up a rubric, research questions and suggested sources for presentations students would give on nuclear and quantum physicists.

199: Text, Subtext and Context (Theodore Roosevelt & the Panama Canal)





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A Common Language for Investigating the Part:
  • Using content, context and sub-text to summarize and evaluate historical sources can work for all units
  • Need to repeatedly use content, context and sub-text reflections to build up student skills
  • For guided questions related to content, context and sub-text, go this article: Making historical thinking a reality
Criteria for Selecting Sources
  1. Do not use more than 4 to 6 sources.  Especially in the beginning.
  2. Read the sources ahead of time and check for:
    • can lead to discussion related to driving question
    • accessible to students
  3. Vary types of sources
    • examples: cartoons, artwork, pictures, text, pop culture sources, maps, data tables, graphs, etc
  4. Aid students with:
    • academic vocabulary
    • contextualizing sources
    • providing legible copies of sources (if they are originally in cursive)
  5. Make sources of comparable length if you are using the jigsaw strategy to distribute / share sources.
Initiating the Investigation
  • Investigate sources and look for:
    • lies,
    • half-truths
    • exaggerations
    • rationalizations
    • obfuscations
    • Math / Science adaptations:
      • Look at strategies or concepts and identify
        • Always true
        • Sometimes true
        • Always false
        • Sometimes false
  • Students read excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s autobiography about the Panama Canal and ponder the Driving Question
    • What is Roosevelt doing in his autobiography (lying, telling a half-truth, exaggerating, rationalizing or obfuscating)?
    • What role did the US play in the acquisition of the territory used to construct the Panama Canal?
    • Math / Science adaptations:
      • Could present or develop circle axioms (or other conjecture types) and ask:
        • are these always, never or sometimes true?
        • In what situations are they true?
Digging Deeper
  • Students in teams are given one historical source and asked to answer questions related to the content, context and subtext of the source
    • source represent a cross section of view about the Panama Canal
    • 2 short guide questions:
      • What role did US play in the Panamanian Revolution?
      • Is there any info in this source that challenges assertions in Theodore Roosevelt’s autobiographical excerpts?
  • Students in teams discuss their sources.
    • Each team member read and analyzed different source
    • Discuss different sources citing specific examples and quotes from their sources
  • Alternatives to jigsaw approach:
    • One person reads all sources – very time consuming
    • Each group of 3 or 4 analyzes the same source and presents their findings to the class so whole class is exposed to all sources
    • Math /  Science Connection
      • Jigsaw approach – Each person in the team examine a different piece of evidence and share interpretations, observations with whole team (all evidence relates to the same concept)
      • Non-jigsaw approach – All students in same team of 2-3 solve the same problem – challenge students to develop multiple approaches to the same problem and use visuals to represent different approaches
Doing Source Work:
  • Wineburg, Historical Thinking Matters Framework
    • sourcing
    • contextualizing
    • close reading
    • corroborating
  • Hicks, et al. SCIM-C Strategy Framework
    • summarizing
    • contextualizing
    • inferring
    • monitoring
    • corroborating
  • In both approaches:
    • students need to move beyond a single source
    • examine relationships provided by each piece of evidence
    • Corroboration phase -> legitimate interpretations of historical questions
  • Math / Science connections:
    • Math framework
      • Asking questions
      • Making models to answer questions
      • Computations
      • Relating model results back to real life to check if they apply
    • Science framework
      • Making observations
      • Asking questions and hypotheses based on observations
      • Designing data procedures
      • Gathering, organizing, analyzing data
      • Drawing conclusions
    • Corroboration connections:
      • In Math – verifying that multiple approaches led to the same solution
      • In Science – verifying that different tests yield the same results
Complicating the Investigation
  • Students corroborate their evidence by completing the following sentence stem:
    • The various types of sources used to determine the purpose of Roosevelt’s autobiography created problems because …
    • Math connections
      • The various ways of representing the problem reveal different facets of the problem including …
      • The various ways of solving the problem are good for different purposes including …
    • Science connections
      • The various data sources yield different conclusions because …
      • The various data sources create problems because …
  • Types of student responses:
    • unreliable due to biased subtexts
    • sources only try to portray their own biased viewpoints
    • hard to know which source to believe
    • contradicting viewpoints, hard to tell what really happened
  • Student difficulties:
    • Students struggle to make connections among content, context and subtext
  • Another question that guides student corroboration of various sources: The subtext of the various documents was important to consider because …
    • Math / Science connection
      • The contexts / subtexts of the data are important to consider because …
    • Student responses:
      • explains why the source was written
      • explain variety of opinions
      • explains variety of evidence used by sources
      • helped convey reliability of sources
      • insights into intentions of authors
      • helped to tease out truth in sources
      • helped show biased in sources
  • Overall when trying to interpret events from the past, you need to …”
    • Math / Science connection
      • Overall, when trying to interpret data, you need to …
    • Student responses
      • consider sources with different viewpoints
      • research background info that reveals subtexts of sources
      • compare information from different sources
    • Student difficulties
      • believe that bias negates validity of a source (mathematical approach to history)
Student Interpretations – Transition Quick Write
  • Transition quick write at end of day one: Attempt to answer the driving question
    • Look fors in student quick writes:
      • evidence from sources
      • perspectives from multiple sources
    • Math / Science connection
      • Use driving question as quick write prompt
    • Student difficulties
      • Using evidence
      • Bridging content, context, and subtext in interpretations
      • Mathematical approach to history (problematic approach)
        • require consensus among sources
        • require lack of bias in sources
Returning to the Investigation:
  • End analysis by revealing most controversial and faceted source to students
  • Math / Science connection
    • Could reserve most nuanced and controversial piece of data for release near middle or end of project
  • Analyzing sources’ content, context and subtext can help student investigate the past rather than just memorize and regurgitate text excerpts
  • Teacher resistance
    • kids can’t do this work
      • responses
        • studies have shown that this type of work can be done by elementary school students
        • teacher perseverance helps students acquire student skills
        • historical investigations make history more interesting
        • prepares students with skills they can use in any career
Finding the right evidence and fashioning the right driving question can make boring topics interesting to students.  Releasing evidence at various points in the project can start and reinvigorate conversations related to the driving question.  Using content, context and subtext to analyze evidence can teach students how to investigate, question and interpret evidence.


Preparation Steps
  • Collect evidence (data, sources, etc) that students can use to explore content by investigating a driving question
  • Design driving question
  • Design thinking sheets that help students examine content, context and subtext of sources
  • Design prompts to facilitate conversations that corroborate evidence – see above for examples.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Use a controversial or provocative source to introduce a driving question
  • Assign sources (various) to students working in teams
  • Individually assign students to examine the content, context, and subtext to different sources within a team.
  • Get students to answer prompts as a team that get them to corroborate their sources and formulate interpretations that address the driving question
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Gather evidence and sources that uncovers current problems that relate to central concepts in your course. Design project and driving questions around that set of sources.



194: PBL Tips on Mapping the Project





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Use a mix of instructional strategies based on outcomes you want to achieve:
  • Need to provide instructional resources, kids can’t research everything on their own and shouldn’t have to
  • Decide type of instructional strategy based on learning goals.  For tips on what strategies go with learning outcome types, see this article: Three teacher roles
  • Use direct instruction for basic supportive information
  • Scaffold supporting skills students need to developing products (example: how to research efficiently)
  • PBL is good at teaching habits of mind and central concepts; not as good at teaching algorithms and basic facts
  • Start with the project so that instruction answers project need-to-wknos
Leave wiggle room in project calendars:
  • Set aside a couple days to push back final presentations just in case project expands beyond original intended time frame
Take time and use project templates to design projects:
  • The more people involved in project design, the more time it takes to design the project
  • Record thinking that goes into project design in notebooks and templates
  • Don’t preplan everything, leave room for students to influence the plan
  • Allow enough room for students to struggle and fail forward
  • Design learning experiences that allow students to take on more responsibility for learning the content and applying content outside school
  • For more information on templates, see these articles: Backwards design template & standards and Understanding by design planning forms
Think carefully about when to schedule projects
  • Project should not replace end of grading period exams
  • Teachers should communicate and try not to schedule too many project deadlines on the same day
Use multiple means to communicate the nature and goals of project to parents
  • Can invite parents into school-year project planning meetings to ask for their input and to explain learning goals
  • Hold parent kickoff meetings for parents that introduce project and ask parents for specific resources and support
  • Post projects on school website
  • Invite parents to school Open Houses and present upcoming projects
  • Send project calendars home with major deadlines
  • Share projects on school-wide blog posts and newsletters
  • Invite parents to serve as panelists and resident experts
  • Show evidence of student learning in projects to parents
  • Explain to parents how you design projects to meet standards and to achieve both breadth and depth over time
Use parents and students to find business and community resources for projects
  • Involve parents in serving as community liaisons for possible field sites and experts
  • Parents and students can communicate what school is like to businesses
  • Potential partners need to visit the school and learn more about its vision and strategies
  • Leverage different strengths that different people have to offer
  • Meet expert partners face-to-face to prepare them to make the most of their time with the students.
  • Train students to interact well with community members.
  • Train students how to secure funding for future projects.
  • For more ideas related to this, see this article: Mapping your community
Don’t bring in experts in until students need their expertise to progress.
  • Let students be frustrated before expert comes in to play hero
Cross-curricular projects involved multiple teacher require extensive communication and coordination:
  • Supports for cross-curricular planning: common planning time, structure reflection on project design and student work, teacher research groups, summer planning time, shared office space
  • Helps to share the same students with collaborative teacher
  • Hold meetings to plan schedules, end products, standards, checkpoints, and assessment strategy
  • Use student work to start conversations about future projects
Project will take longer – or be over sooner – than you expect.
  • Use observations of students to make adjustments to deadlines
  • Plan project calendar and prepare for 20% overrun due to unexpected contingencies


Skillful mapping of project prior to launch is key to successfully implement strong projects.  Involving students and parents in recruiting partner experts and organizations can lead to more authentic projects and project activities.  Building in flexibility into project calendars can allow teachers to make adjustments to scaffolding that better support student learning and development of projects.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze standards and create academic learning targets
  • Plan products and determine supporting 21st century skills and habits of mind that support product development.  Create character learning targets
  • Develop systems for sharing projects with parents – newsletter? blog? etc
  • Plan a rough project calendar – allow up to 20% wiggle room in extending the project just in case
Early Implementation Steps
  • Follow project calendar when it makes sense; make revisions to project calendar that improve student learning
  • Use learning modes that match different types of learning targets.  For tips on that, read Three teacher roles
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Invite and prep industry experts to teach lessons that match student need-to-knows
  • Time expert visits and field trips to fit just-in-time teaching moments
  • Recruit parents and students to secure community partner organizations and experts



191: 3 PBL Student Briefs





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The following briefs can be used to help students self-manage their project tasks:
Student Planning Brief
  • The overall challenge that defines this project is …
  • I / we intend to investigate:
  • I need to complete the following activities:
    • What will I / we do?
    • How will I / we do it?
    • Date due
  • I / we need the following resources and support:
  • At the end of the project, I / we will demonstrate learning by:
    • What?
    • How?
    • Who and where?
Student Product Brief
  • What product do I / we want to construct?
  • What research do I / we need to conduct?
  • What are my / our responsibilities for this product?
  • I / we expect to learn the following from working on this product:
  • I / we will demonstrate what we’ve learned by:
  • I / we wil complete the product by:
Student Presentation Brief
  • What will the audience learn from my presentation?
  • What part am I responsible for?
  • My plan to make a successful presentation:
  • I expect to learn the following from making this presentation:
  • Specific skills I plan to work on are:
  • I need the following technology / equipment for my presentation:
  • I need the following visuals for my presentation:


The student briefs in this article help students plan out their tasks related to project, products, and presentations.  They also help students reflect on the learning goals related to these tasks.  Using one or more of these briefs can help teachers provide feedback to students on their project / product / presentation plans, check that their learning goals match the intended learning targets, and address students problems and concerns in a timely manner


Preparation Steps
  • Set character learning targets for students that specific describe effective behaviors related to good project management
  • Select and adapt the design brief that most closely supports your selected  learning targets.
  • Develop an exemplar version of the student brief you plan to implement
Early Implementation Steps
  • Model how to use student brief using think aloud protocol and exemplar.
  • Set aside class time for students to complete the briefs and for teachers to provide face-to-face feedback on the briefs.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Incorporate selected student brief into classroom routines
  • Use student feedback to refine student brief prompts and formatting
  • Analyze trends in student briefs to identify students’ strengths and gaps.  Design scaffolding related to gaps.

188: Manage the Process





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Anticipating Your Role:  Critical tasks include:
  • Orient students into project at the beginning and throughout the project
    • Remind students of project goals and expectations (using Driving Question)
    • Track and coach students to progress through projects
    • Communicate next steps
    • Remind students of the time and effort needed to be successful
  • Form students into appropriate groups for appropriate tasks
    • Teach students collaboration skills needed to collaborate effectively
  • Organize project on a daily basis by narrowing scope of inquiry and suggesting ways to approach problems
    • Setting and enforcing deadlines
    • Providing timely formative feedback to students that they can use to improve understandings and products
  • Clarify learning goals and high priority tasks
  • Monitor and regular student behavior
    • Train students how to work effectively with less supervision
    • Help students manage projects with deadlines, daily log sheets, etc
  • Manage the work flow
    • Facilitate “just in time” instruction
    • Monitor student progress on products
  • Evaluate the success of the project
    • Help students realize what they have learned (and not) during project
Key Steps
  1. Share Project Goals with Students
    • Share project goals and how they relate to students’ lives “now” and in the future
    • Use student feedback to improve project vision
  2. Use Problem-Solving Tools
    • Know and Need-to-Know List
      • Aim to be very inclusive
      • Complete list of related students students understand (Knows)
      • Complete list of investigations needed to complete project (Need-to-Knows)
    • Learning Logs
      • Daily journal that describe students learning, processes and frustrations
    • Planning, investigation and product briefs
      • Graphic organizers that focus students on key information and processes
  3. Use Checkpoints and Milestones
    • Ask group leaders to give informal briefings on team progress
    • Use quick writes to assess students understandings and questions
    • Interview randomly selected students
    • Survey students
    • Schedule regular reflection sessions
    • Review checklists of project process steps
    • Examine team work logs
    • Observe teams to monitor their progress
    • Conduct debriefing sessions after activities
    • Things to notice:
      • problems in carrying out activities
      • team accomplishments
      • motivation and participation of students
      • problems and successes of specific activities
      • unexpected accomplishments
      • student needs for instructional support
  4. Plan for Evaluation and Reflection
    • Guide students to analyze what they learned and how they learned it
    • Guide students to reflect on how they can apply what they know to new contexts
    • Questions to ask during project debriefs:
      • What did we learn in this project?
      • Did we collaborate effectively?
      • What skills did we learn?
      • What skills did we get to practice?
      • What was the quality of our work?
      • How can we improve?
    • Share results of debrief with students
    • Formats for project debriefs
      • whole class debriefing session
        • use prescribed debrief questions and a student facilitator
      • fishbowl discussion
        • half the class discusses in center of room
        • other half observes and takes notes and occasionally takes turns being in the inner discussion circle
      • surveys
        • don’t forget to summarize survey data and share results with students
      • self evaluations
      • for more ideas, see this article: Alternate question response formats and Teaching students how to generate questions
    • Celebrate
      • help students to acknowledge what they accomplished
      • includes parents and other project stakeholders


Teachers need to skillfully wear many hats while successfully facilitating a project.  In addition to teaching content, teachers need to model, teach, and guide students in project management skills, collaboration skills and problem solving skills.  The roles and tasks described in the articles describes some of the key things teachers need to do to successfully implement a standards-based project.


Preparation Steps
  • Create a checklist of teacher tasks that go with key roles: coach, instructor, project manager, collaboration coach, problem solving coach, etc.  See list above for ideas.
  • Plot project facilitator tasks on project calendar
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement scaffolding and assessment activities in project calendar
  • Regularly get students to become aware of project goals and their progress toward these
  • Regularly let students reflect on what they learning in the project, how they are learning, and what more they need to learn to make progress
  • Regularly provide formative feedback that students can use to improve their understandings, skills, and products
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Create a master list of tasks that go with the many hats of an excellent project facilitator.  Make them into a laminated checklist board that can be referred to throughout the progress to make sure key tasks are implemented
  • Build in key tasks that student reflections have proven to be effective into routines



187: Map the Project





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  1. Organize Tasks and Activities:
    • Divide up project products into key sub-tasks
    • Categorize sub-tasks into things students know how to do and don’t know how to do
    • Set aside time to scaffold tasks students don’t know how to do
  2. Decide How to Launch the Project
    • Examples of entry events: class discussion, field trip, article, guest lecturer, activity, video
    • Entry documents
      • outlines scenario and related problem
      • specifies students’ roles and audience
      • defines key tasks and deliverables
      • describes expectations
  3. Gather resources
    • Resources to gather:
      • Websites
      • Project forms
      • Equipment
      • Panelists and experts
      • Books
      • Materials to make products
    • (If needed) Allocate time to scaffold how to use resources
    • Be wary with technology.  Make sure it enhances not distracts away from learning objectives.
    • Select resources that:
      • increase efficiency of project tasks
      • increase information available to students
      • allow students to analyze information more thoroughly, meaningfully or realistically
  4. Draw a “storyboard”
    • Sketch out main activities in a scoreboard or on a calendar
    • Storyboard or project calendar should include
      • project launch
      • academic scaffolding and assessments
      • preparation time for products
      • due dates for drafts or rehearsals
      • due dates for projects
      • exams
      • homework assignments
      • reflection and review


Developing a preliminary project plan is critical to successfully implementing and facilitating a project.  Project calendars need to be created in advance to ensure that all skills that are assessed have time set aside for related scaffolding activities.  Having a preliminary plan in place frees up teacher time and resources during the project run to make adjustments that improve the project and make it accessible to ALL students regardless of interest and readiness levels.



Preparation Steps
  • Unpack standards and habits of mind associated with products in an upcoming project.
  • Create a list of activities and assessments needed to adequately prepare students to create great products and to learn and apply academic learning outcomes.
  • Create a preliminary project calendar that includes key scaffolding activities and assessments
  • Plan project launch and presentation.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement activities and tasks on project calendar.
  • Use formative assessments to make needed adjustments to the project calendar.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Recruit outside experts and audience members to support students at project launch, during the project middle, and on presentation day.
  • Use student project reflections to refine future iterations of projects and improve strategies in future projects.
  • Use the Assessments data base to create a varied portfolio of assessments that measure the progress and mastery of academic and character learning targets



127: Differentiated Curriculum Charts



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Offer students choices for learning learning targets by creating Differentiated Curriculum Charts:
  • The chart provides learning mode & extension activities for each learning target.  See below for example.
  • Students get to choose which activity to perform to explore learning target
  • For extension ideas, see the Analysis, Evaluation, & Synthesis products & trigger words in this article.
  • For learning mode ideas, see below.
  1. Auditory Products 
    • audio recording, autobiography, commentary, crossword puzzle, debate, dialogue, documentary, editorial, experiment, fact file, finding patterns, glossary, interview, journal, newspaper, oral report, petition, position paper, reading, scavenger hunt, simulation game, song lyrics, speech, story, survey, teach a lesson, video, written report
  2. Visual Products 
    • advertisement, art piece, brochure, collage, comic strip, diagram, diorama, drawing, filmstrip, flow chart, graphic organizer, greeting card, multimedia presentations, illustrated manual, magazine, map, photo essay, picture dictionary, poster, slide show, video, website
  3. Tactile – Kinesthetic Products
    • acting things out, activity plan, animated movie, dance, demonstration, dramatization, experiment, field experience, flip chart, game show, how-to book, jigsaw puzzle, manipulative, mobile, model, museum exhibit, play or skit, rap, scale drawing, sculpture, simulation game, survey, TV broadcast, video


Differentiated curriculum charts create options for students that fit their learning styles and readiness levels.  Charts like these can be used as tools to create scaffolding that fits the needs of diverse groups of students.


Preparation Steps
  • Recruit teacher team to help gather all the scaffolding.
  • Analyze standards and rewrite in terms of long term and supporting learning targets
  • Develop activities for each learning target that go with each learning mode – see above for example.  Use suggested products above and here for ideas.
  • Create learning centers to house the activities for the different learning modes.  If many resources are posted online, this can be as simple as different wall segments (1 per learning mode) that house QR codes to activities.
  • Create a grading system for crediting students’ different choices – a simple way to do this is to require 1 activity per learning target and assign a daily grade to each
Early Implementation Steps
  • During scaffolding days, allow students to select 1 activity per targeted learning target.  Explain how to get to resources and how to get feedback on work.
  • Provide a lot of formative feedback on the work and (if possible) grade student work in class in conjunction with formative discussions with students.
  • Use other formative assessments to ensure that ALL students are developing an understanding of learning targets.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Develop a bank of short rubrics for assessing various types of products that appear frequently in differentiated curriculum charts.
  • Use formative feedback data to determine which learning activities are the most engaging and effective and incorporate similar activities into upcoming differentiated scaffolding

126: Taxonomy of Thinking





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  1. Knowledge
    • recall, remember
    • Trigger words: tell, recite, list, remember, memorize, define
    • Products: worksheets, quizzes, tests, skills work, vocabulary work, facts in isolation
  2. Comprehension
    • restate concepts in own words
    • Trigger words: restate in own words, give examples, explain, summarize, translate, summarize, translate
    • Products: drawings, diagrams, responses to questions, revisions, translations
  3. Application
    • transfer knowledge from one context to the next
    • Trigger words: demonstrate, use guides, maps, charts, etc., build, cook
    • Products: recipe, model, artwork, demonstration, craft
  4. Analysis
    • understand how parts relate to a whole
    • trouble shoot
    • understand structure and motive
    • Trigger words: investigate, classify, categorize, compare, contrast, solve
    • Products: survey, questionnaire, plan, solution to problem report, prospects
  5. Evaluation
    • judge value of something using criteria
    • support judgement
    • Trigger words: judge, evaluate, give opinion, give viewpoint, prioritize, recommend, critique
    • Products: decision, rating/grades, editorial, debate, critique, defense, verdict, judgement
  6. Synthesis
    • reform individual parts to make a new whole
    • Trigger words: compose, design, invent, create, hypothesize, construct, forecast, rearrange, imagine
    • Products: lesson plan, song, poem, story, advertisement, invention, other creative products


The Bloom’s taxonomy levels can be used to create questions and activities at different levels of thinking.  The varied products can be used develop menus of products that match the same learning targets to differentiate instruction.  The top 3 levels can serve as extension activities for gifted students.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze standards and write aligned long term and supporting learning targets
  • Determine which cognitive levels match a range of thinking that is appropriate to the learning targets
  • Use range of cognitive levels to design different options for scaffolding learning targets that can be used to differentiate instruction and offer student choice
  • Use trigger words to design good questions sequences that explore range of cognitive levels for each learning target
Early Implementation Steps
  • Initiate discussions that involve ALL students using questions sequences designed by using learning targets and thinking trigger words.  See this article for ideas on how to increase student participation.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Teach students Thinking Levels and associated trigger words and products.  Use this as a tool for students to ask better questions and to create alternative product choices for project.
  • Incorporate thinking level activities and learning targets into scaffolding that uses differentiated curriculum charts to offer students choices on how to learn and demonstrate mastery of learning targets