Project Based Learning with Daily Tracking

Gif of forms to a maze game development

How do you capture the day to day tracking of project based learning? What even is project based learning are why would I do it?

Let’s face it. A high stakes test to measure the education level of our students doesn’t tell us everything. Our students are trained to take these tests to make us look good. Much of the material on these tests will only later be used in Pub Quizzes. And if you played the game of school well you were always a sought after teammate.

But what about real world day to day skills? Are our students really interested in learning those facts for the test just to learn them? At the heart of project based learning is the “Why?”. Why are we learning this? The learning is the central focal point to get to complete a meaningful project. The why can easily be answered by students when the project is meaningful to them. ie Why are we studying fluid dynamics? Because we're building a sailboat.

We can also think beyond a project and aim for a problem with no easy answer. Large global problems are great but we also need to identify realistic scopes with our students. If we were to solve global warming we'll need to work with students to identify if we were going to tackle it for a class, a school, a community and so forth. What level is reasonable? You and your class my find you can reach further than you anticipated.

Students learn best when they are engaged, and interested in what they are working on. Project based learning identifies a big project or problem to work on from various subject areas. It's not a single classroom methodology. It can work this way and has been done but it's not the most effective. Ideally the problem or project is looked at from various content areas to provide knowledge and information. Sometimes it's the most unlikely sources which inspire innovative changes. The more collaborative a team of educators are in discussing their student's experience the more effective project based learning can be.

What would this look like? Here's a sketch of an idea. Students are tasked with some project. Let’s suggest they are going to develop a self sustaining food source for the entire school. Students then focus various subjects into exploring the problem and executing solutions. Literacy can revolve around non-fiction text about self sustained farming. Throw in a chapter book in which the protagonist has to survive in some environment. History topics can stay on track with the aligned time period with a lens always over-hanging asking where did they get their food from? Science is easily brought in from physics through chemistry and biology. Math is necessary for creation and measurements. Arts provide aesthetics and get the creative parts functioning. Physical education can be far more about the physical doing (ever moved a bunch of dirt?).

But how do we track the work done day-to-day? It's not the end product describing the learning that happened it's the process that came before. The successes and failures are to be celebrated equally. The reflection on what has happened and recognition of self contribution is the greatest reward. So shouldn't we capture everything for later review?

I've previously captured student work using two forms. One for when they enter the class. I used it to focus them on the task ahead. and one when they exit class to capture what they did and when they intend to do. In order to further support this daily capturing I created some code that will combine the two forms so I can look at a student's daily efforts. I also created a way to send the captured information to individual students. They become the creators and owners of their data and progress. Students can look at what they have done and reflect on the process. It's key in the forms to have balanced questions so they align vertically when read on a spreadsheet. The exit form has one extra question capturing a photo or screenshot of what was done for the day.

You can access the materials for yourself here. Make a copy of the Forms and the Log file and place it in a folder of your choosing. Besure your forms are linked to the spreadsheet appropriately and you should be good to go.

When working this way the educator becomes the facilitator. they are no longer the only person in the room with the answers students are expected to work to solve problems on their own. The educator is there to support and direct learning. I've experienced a need to collect formative feedback while facilitating. To do this I created a drop down menu which feeds a spreadsheet I can monitor. You can see and modify the sample called Demo. The Spreadsheet key in the Tools>Script editor section will need to be modified for a spreadsheet you have edit rights on or simply one you make for yourself.

The code in these documents is fully modifiable by you. I've left some comments to help in understanding what it does. I do hope it helps someone in the coming school year. You can access the Google Apps Script Code by going to the Tools menu at the top and selecting Script editor. 

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