Showing posts with label PBL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label PBL. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

All About Tract - PBL, Peer-to-Peer Learning, and More!

Disclosure: Tract is currently an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com

Tract is a service that launched a few months ago and is quickly becoming a hit in schools because of its format and its flexibility. The format is a relatively simple one of students teaching students. The flexibility is that it can be used across grade levels from elementary school through high school and for a wide variety of topics and projects. 

This afternoon I had the opportunity to chat with the CEO and co-founder of Tract, Ari Memar. We talked about where the inspiration for Tract came from, Esther Wojcicki's role in Tract's development, student privacy, and how teachers are using Tract in their classrooms. The recording of our conversation is available in this video and as embedded below. 



A few highlights of my conversation with Ari Memar, CEO of Tract. 
  • The motivation for creating Tract was to provide a fun and safe platform for kids to create content that other students can benefit from in an environment that is fun like TikTok or YouTube, but is safe for students. 
  • Privacy concerns are at the forefront of Tract's development process. To that end all teacher accounts are verified. All submitted content automatically reviewed for language and imagery, but is also manually reviewed for privacy and accuracy. Teachers can choose to limit sharing of students' content to just the classroom or allow for wider distribution throughout Tract. Read Tract's privacy policy here
  • Tract can be used for PBL, for Genius Hour activities, for enrichment activities, and for after-school clubs. Here are five Tract Genius House activities to try. Learn how to use Tract for PBL here. Ideas on using Tract for GATE enrichment are highlighted here
  • Tract is attractive to teachers because it allows them to create projects for students that align with students' interests in creating video content. 
  • One of my personal favorite Tract learning paths is this one about digital photography.
Watch this video for a demonstration of how Tract works from a teacher's perspective and a student's perspective. 



As I teased at the end of the video with Ari, Tract will be rolling-out some great updates in the next week or so. In the meantime, you can head to Teach.Tract.app and use the code BYRNE to get free access to Tract for you and your students.

Tract Rockstar Award Contest!
Right now and through the end of the year Tract is running a content creation contest for students. Right now and through the end of the year Tract is hosting a Rock Star Award Contest that you and your students can participate in while engaged in project-based learning. The Rock Star Award Contest recognizes students and classes for uploading their best work to Tract. Every Friday stars are awarded and a leaderboard is updated. At the end of the year the class that has the most stars awarded will win a classroom creator kit that includes a green screen, lighting kit, microphones, and a subscription to WeVideo.

Tract Basics
If you're not sure what Tract is, here's my brief description of what it is and how it works. 
  • On Tract you will find lessons about photography, gaming, cooking, music, sports, and much more. Students can earn digital and physical prizes for completing the lessons and their corresponding activities. Tract is designed so that students (age 8+ is recommended) can complete the lessons and corresponding activities, called missions, on their own. Of course, there might be some activities that some students need a little assistance to complete. Fortunately, as a teacher you can create your own Tract account and watch your students’ progress to know when they might need a little help from you.
  • Students earn digital coins for completing each path. Paths that have more missions earn more coins than those that have fewer missions. Students can redeem their coins for digital and physical prizes. With the exception of Tract swag (tee shirts and hats) all of the prizes are digital prizes that benefit others. For example, students can redeem 250 coins to make a donation of one meal via Second Harvest of Silicon Valley toward the UN Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger.
Sign up and use Tract for free by registering at Teach.Tract.app and use the code BYRNE. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Try Tract for PBL and Win Prizes

Disclosure: Tract is currently an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com

“Real world projects have to be projects that matter to kids” is something that I say whenever I give my presentation, Connecting Kids With Projects That Matter to Them. When the problem they’re tackling matters to them, students feel ownership of the project process. Even a cursory glance at Tract reveals dozens of interesting projects undertaken by students that could be interesting and meaningful to your students as well.

Right now and through the end of the year Tract is hosting a Rock Star Award Contest that you and your students can participate in while engaged in project-based learning. The Rock Star Award Contest recognizes students and classes for uploading their best work to Tract. Every Friday stars are awarded and a leaderboard is updated. At the end of the year the class that has the most stars awarded will win a classroom creator kit that includes a green screen, lighting kit, microphones, and a subscription to WeVideo.

What Is Tract?
If you’re not familiar with Tract, I wrote a detailed overview of it back in September. The short version is that Tract is a project-based, peer-to-peer learning platform that provides students with a safe place to learn about things that are interesting to them. Some examples of what’s found on Tract include self-guided projects about digital photography, video game design, and making ice cream!

Step 1: Try Tract
The first step in using Tract for PBL is to have your students join your Tract classroom. That only requires them to use a class code that you provide to them from your Tract teacher account (a demonstration of that process is included in this video). Tract is free when you sign-up and use the code BYRNE.

Once your students have joined Tract, give them time to explore the various learning paths and projects that are available in Tract. The goal here is for them to become familiar with the format of Tract learning paths (AKA lessons) while learning something of interest to them. The basic format of Tract learning paths is a video followed by a small “do now” type of activity followed by another video and another activity (the sequence can repeat as many times as needed for a given topic).

When they’ve found a Tract learning path that they like, let students work all the way through it so that they get a full understanding of the process of completing a learning path. Bonus! They’ll also earn some digital coins that they can later redeem for prizes in Tract.

Step 2: Brainstorm Learning Path Topics
After completing a learning path in Tract students are ready to try their hands at making their own learning paths for classmates to complete. To do this they need to pick a topic for their learning paths. I’d encourage them to pick a topic of interest and then brainstorm a list of sub-topics that are related to it. Doing that will accomplish two things. First, it will help students break down a topic into little sections that will become parts of the learning paths they create. Second, it will help students identify if they should just create a learning path about a smaller section of the big topic.

Step 3: Research
With the topic of their learning paths identified it’s now time for students to research and plan their own Tract learning path projects. Presumably, students will have chosen topics of interest to them and will therefore have a little bit of knowledge about the topic. Case in point, I’ve never had a student who was interested in video game design not be able to tell me dozens of things about their favorite game. But the goal here is to get students to dive deeper into a topic of interest to them. To that end, I use a research checklist form that asks students to list what they know about a topic, what they’re trying to find out, and how other people talk about the topic. A copy of the form that I give to students is available here as a Google Doc.

Step 4: Create a challenge
With their research complete it’s time for students to think about a challenge activity that they would have classmates complete to prove their understanding of the topic or skill taught in the learning path. I’ve learned from experience that some students will try to make the challenge impossible for their friends and classmates. You might find the same and have to intervene to scale back the challenge to be something that is manageable for all class members.

A good example of a challenge activity is found in the Tract learning path about digital photography of nature. The challenge there is to take a series of photographs that implement the zoom methods taught in the videos of the learning path.

When I did PBL activities with students in my PC Repair class, I had them create challenges for their classmates. Some of the challenges they created included implementing troubleshooting strategies that were taught via video lessons created by their peers.

Step 5: Create a series of instructional videos.
In this step we want students to create short instructional videos to teach a skill used in the topic of their learning paths. Aim for the videos to be under three minutes. A few three minute videos is better than one nine minute video. The video production process that I use with students is outlined here. In short, have students create a brief outline then take a crack at recording a video. The first one won’t be perfect and that’s okay. Think of the first attempt at recording a video like the rough draft of an essay.

Step 6: Put the learning path together.
Students are familiar with using slides so I’d have them assemble their learning path in slides. Start with an opening slide that has the topic and objective then add slides that have the instructional videos and challenge activities. Students can also add in slides to add clarifications or additional information between video slides and challenge activities. Again, take a look at how some of the most popular Tract paths are constructed and use that as a model.

Step 7: Share the learning path!
If you’re having students create learning path projects with an end goal of publishing for a global audience, then you’ll want to submit students’ learning paths for inclusion on Tract. Before you do that, I’d have students share their learning paths with each other to learn from each other.

Win Prizes!
This last step isn’t a step. It’s just a reminder that Tract is hosting a contest through the end of the year. The Rock Star Award Contest recognizes students and classes for uploading their best work to Tract. Every Friday stars are awarded and a leaderboard is updated. At the end of the year the class that has the most stars awarded will win a classroom creator kit that includes a green screen, lighting kit, microphones, and a subscription to WeVideo.

Reminder! Classroom accounts for Tract are free for teachers who sign-up using the code BYRNE.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Tract - Project-based, Peer-to-Peer Learning

Disclosure: Tract is an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com

Tract is a new service that offers fun lessons for elementary school and middle school students taught by high school and college students. The lessons and corresponding activities cover a wide array of fun and interesting topics. On Tract you will find lessons about photography, gaming, cooking, music, sports, and much more. Students can earn digital and physical prizes for completing the lessons and their corresponding activities.

Tract is designed so that students (age 8+ is recommended) can complete the lessons and corresponding activities, called missions, on their own. Of course, there might be some activities that some students need a little assistance to complete. Fortunately, as a teacher you can create your own Tract account and watch your students’ progress to know when they might need a little help from you.

20% Time, Genius Hour, or Just Plain Fun!
The core idea behind Tract is for students to learn from other students. The subjects and concepts taught in Tract are chosen by students for students. That’s why you’ll find fun lessons about Minecraft, TikTok algorithms, and music production throughout Tract. These are lessons and activities that are perfect to use during 20% Time, Genius Hour, or any other name that you use for project-based enrichment activities.

Head to http://teach.tract.app/ and use the code BYRNE to get your free Tract teacher account and view all the growing catalog of fun lessons for students by students.

How to use Tract - Student Perspective
Students can sign up for Tract by using codes provided by their teachers (use code BYRNE at http://teach.tract.app/ to get your free teacher account). Once they’ve signed up students can explore the paths and missions within Tract. Think of the paths as the video lessons and the missions as the activities that students complete after watching the video lessons.

When students find paths in Tract that they like they can watch the video(s) for that path and then complete the associated mission(s). Some paths have multiple videos and missions for students to complete. Students complete missions by uploading a file as an example of their work or by writing a response. For example, in the path about nature photography students watch a video lesson that outlines how to take better photographs. Then to complete the missions they upload two pictures that they have taken that demonstrate their use of the techniques taught in the video.

Students earn digital coins for completing each path. Paths that have more missions earn more coins than those that have fewer missions. Students can redeem their coins for digital and physical prizes. With the exception of Tract swag (tee shirts and hats) all of the prizes are digital prizes that benefit others. For example, students can redeem 250 coins to make a donation of one meal via Second Harvest of Silicon Valley toward the UN Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger. 

How to use Tract - Teacher Perspective
As a teacher you can sign up for a free Tract account at http://teach.tract.app/ (use the code BYRNE to get access). Once you’ve created an account take some time to explore the paths and missions within Tract.

Within your teacher account on Tract you can create classrooms for your students to join. Each of your classrooms has its own unique code for students to enter to join your classroom (students do not need email addresses). Then within each classroom you can see the paths your students have chosen and the missions they have completed. You can also review the submissions students made to complete missions and moderate those submissions if necessary. For example, if a student is working on the nature photography path but uploads pictures that aren’t aligned to the mission, you can remove those pictures and they will have to try the mission again.

In this video I demonstrate how Tract works from a teacher’s perspective and from a student’s perspective.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

My Party PBL - Technology and Project Based Learning

This week I am welcoming some guest bloggers. This one is from Debbie Carona.

The PBL, My Party Election, originally written by Mike Kaechele, became a part of the U.S. History curriculum for 8th graders at St. John’s Episcopal School Dallas during the Presidential Election of 2016. Students worked in groups with politically like-minded teammates to create new and unique political third parties by developing a platform, creating a logo, writing a slogan and building a website. At the time, St. John’s was the only middle school to join this nationwide competition where the party of the winning presidential candidate submitted its website which is judged by other students across the United States. Over the past two years, as most good PBLs tend to do,” My Party Election” morphed into simply “My Party” with a stronger focus on the actual third parties formed in the process rather than the election of an individual from one of the third parties as president.

The current My Party PBL is now a fundraising event where each party conducts extensive research on various aspects of the role of third parties in American politics as well as four assigned current issues that are to be built into the planks of the platform. The required issues include healthcare, immigration, gun control, and energy. Each party member plays an important role in creating the party and planning the event. Students take on the roles of Director of Fundraising, Media Coordinator, Branding Coordinator, Webmaster and Steering Committee Chairperson.

Using Word documents shared on One Drive, students work simultaneously on the creation of their platforms. The Fundraising Director spends time editing and researching the planks of the platform while the Branding Coordinator works on designing the logo to match the party’s ideology. Many of the logos are developed digitally on iPads using apps such as Canva or Notability. Each logo is revised and reimaged until it is satisfactory enough to be sent on to the Webmaster who uploads it on the Home Page of the website. The Branding Coordinator has the option to create a trifold brochure using PowerPoint to hand out to potential donors at the final presentation. To read about the logo process of one student Branding Coordinator, click here.

While the Branding Coordinator is working through iterations for the logo, the Media Coordinator creates the storyboard and develops ideas for shooting the political party commercial. Students take advantage of the school’s green screen using the app Do Ink. Final edits and tweaks are made using iMovie. Click here to see one of the most successful commercials this year that was created using the iStopMotion app with colorful caramal-flavored M&Ms. Each group submits the completed advertisement to Webmasters for display on the party’s website.

Webmasters use Wix.com to develop the party websites. Each website is required to have color and font choices that fit the branding of the party. Student webmasters work diligently to develop a template for showcasing the work of the other students. Each site contains pictures and bios of party members, the platform, commercial, logo, moto and bibliography for each party.

For the final presentation, each party creates a PowerPoint that explains the platform and showcases the work of the party. A panel of entrepreneurs, educators and parents are invited to view the presentation as “donors”. Each donor is given a hypothetical $10,000 and can split their contributions between the three parties in any amounts they choose. At the final Fundraising Event, students handout their brochures and give-away items. Students create items such as magnetic party badges and coasters using their logos and party names using the GlowForge, a laser engraver.

The My Party PBL allows students to work with peers in an open collaborative environment. They have the opportunity to practice strategies learned in lessons on civil discourse as they discuss current event issues. They have an opportunity to use their personal strengths and talents to create their political parties and develop the poise and self-assurance to present to an authentic audience.

LeAnne Wyatt is the 8th grade US History and the 8th grade Speech teacher at St. John’s Episcopal School in Dallas, Texas. She also serves as the Grade Level Leader and as the Service Learning Coordinator. For several years she has collaborated with Debbie Carona on numerous project based learning units. Ms. Carona is the Technology Integration Specialist and PBL Coach at St. John’s. To learn about more PBL, go to Ms. Carona’s blog or check out her Twitter feed @DebbieCarona.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Reminder - Real World Problems = Problems That Matter to Students

As the new school year gets rolling many of us will be considering using problem-based learning to engage our students in learning experiences. Some of us will try to incorporate "real world problems." When we do so we have to remember that what we think of as "real world problems" are always "real world problems" to our students. I was reminded of this as I went through my notes from a workshop that I ran earlier this year. In that workshop we brainstormed some of the problems that matter to our students. Here are five of the problems that were mentioned during that workshop (I wrote these notes in the voice of a student):

  • Make/ save money for tuition. 
  • How can I get more people to notice my YouTube channel?
  • Keep toes warm while waiting for the school bus. 
  • What's for lunch (and healthy)?
  • Review apps or site that makes sense to me. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Project Based Learning - An Explanation and Model Rubrics

As I do every year, I am taking this week to relax, recharge, and ski with friends. While I'm away I will be re-running the most popular posts of the year. This was the second most popular post in May.

Last week I had the privilege to work with Tony Vincent to lead a workshop about project based learning. Two of the resources that we shared during the workshop were a video explanation of PBL and set of rubrics from the Buck Institute for Education.

The following video, produced by Common Craft for BIE, explains BIE's essential elements of project based learning.


BIE offers rubrics for assessing critical thinking skills, collaboration, presentation, and creativity and innovation in project based learning assignments. The rubrics are available with or without Common Core alignment. You can download the rubrics as PDFs or Word documents.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Project Based Learning - An Explanation and Model Rubrics

Last week I had the privilege to work with Tony Vincent to lead a workshop about project based learning. Two of the resources that we shared during the workshop were a video explanation of PBL and set of rubrics from the Buck Institute for Education.

The following video, produced by Common Craft for BIE, explains BIE's essential elements of project based learning.


BIE offers rubrics for assessing critical thinking skills, collaboration, presentation, and creativity and innovation in project based learning assignments. The rubrics are available with or without Common Core alignment. You can download the rubrics as PDFs or Word documents.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Check Out This Award-Winning Android App Developed By Students

(Cross-posted from one of my other blogs, Android4Schools.com)

Yesterday, on the Free Technology for Teachers Facebook page I shared a post about MIT App Inventor 2. In response to that post Christina Winsor DiMicelli shared an app that her students at Hampstead Academy in New Hampshire built using MIT App Inventor.

Chow Checker was developed by students was developed by students at Hampstead Academy. The app was submitted to and won Verizon's Innovative App Challenge.

Chow Checker is a free Android app that anyone can use to search for foods and discover which allergens may be in them. Chow Checker users can create profiles of their own allergens to help them keep track of the foods that contain allergens that can affect them. You don't have to create a profile in order to use the app. You can simply enter a food's name or part of the name ("trail" instead of "trail mix" for example) and view the common allergens that it contains.

Applications for Education
Chow Checker is a fantastic example of a real-world project for students. If you would like your students to try a similar project, the MIT App Inventor is a fantastic tool. App Inventor does not require you to have any prior coding or app development skill in order to create a working Android app. MIT provides excellent support documentation and curriculum for classroom use for new users of App Inventor.

Monday, December 2, 2013

CCSS-Aligned Rubrics for Project Based Learning

In a Tweet over the weekend I mentioned that the Buck Institute for Education offers good project based learning activities. Most of what BIE offers is not free. There is some good free content on BIE. The most notable of that free content being their rubrics for assessing critical thinking skills, collaboration, presentation, and creativity and innovation in project based learning assignments. The rubrics are available with or without Common Core alignment. You can download the rubrics as PDFs or Word documents.

Applications for Education
Even if you don't use BIE's rubrics exactly as they're written, the rubrics could provide a good model to get you started on crafting PBL rubrics specific to the projects your students are working on.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Curriki Presents Six PBL Geometry Projects

Of all of the math courses that I took in high school and college, geometry was the only one that I enjoyed and aced (the others were a massive struggle for me, remember those Mom?). I attribute some of that to my teacher who in hindsight did a masterful job of making geometry interesting. Curriki has recently released a series of six PBL geometry projects that could make geometry interesting and fun for high school students.

Curriki's new geometry course features six PBL projects. Each of the projects is aligned to Common Core Standards. The course is not a self-directed course for students. The course is designed to be taught by mathematics teachers who want to incorporate PBL. The projects in the course can be used in sequence or used as stand-alone units. All materials needed for leading the projects are included available on the Curriki site. You will have to create an account and sign-in in order to access the materials. Curriki accounts are free.

In reading over the project descriptions the one that intrigues me the most is the House of the Future project. In the House of the Future students watch a short TED Talk about the future of housing then formulate their own predictions for the future of housing design. After making predictions students use geometric modeling to design a building that supports their predictions.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Join This Hangout to Learn More About PBL

I've just learned from Steve Dembo that on March 14th Discovery Education's Wilkes University Instructional Media Program is hosting a Google+ Hangout to talk about PBL. The Hangout's featured guests include Kathy Schrock, Ginger Lewman, and Cynthia Treichler. Some of the questions to be discussed during the Hangout include:
  • What types of project based learning is there and how does one decide which to use? 
  • What is authentic learning? 
  • What kinds of resources are available to support teachers who want to teach using PBL? 
  • Are there any projects that can serve as models for people getting started?
To join the Hangout on March 14 just head over to http://gplus.to/discoveryed or you can sign up for reminder emails here.

Disclosure: Discovery Education's Wilkes University Instructional Media Program is an advertiser on Free Technology for Teachers.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Video - Project Based Learning Explained

The Buck Institute for Education, a service I've used in the past for ideas about teaching economics (this is the activity I used), recently commissioned Common Craft to create a video explaining project based learning. In typical Common Craft style, the video explains BIE's essential elements of project based learning. Watch the video below.



H/T to Larry Ferlazzo.

Applications for Education
This video could be helpful to pre-service teachers trying to get a grasp on the concepts and purposes of project based learning. As mentioned above, I've used some BIE materials in the past for teaching economics, but their work isn't limited to economics. You can find their free PBL materials here.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
Economics Lessons Using Planet Money Podcasts
Captains of Industry - Economics Simulation Game
Interactive Bills and the History of the US Mint