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Stock your PBL toolbox with the right tools for the job

By Team ISTE
March 24, 2015
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There's no shortage of tools to drive project-based learning. The trick to choosing the right tool for the job is to first think about what you are trying to accomplish, then select accordingly from the apps, websites and hardware at your disposal.

Suzie Boss, co-author of Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age with Jane Krauss, suggests that you always ask: What is the essential learning goal?

" "With that in mind, there will be a range of tools you can use," " Boss said. " "It can be like recipe substitutions. If you don't have this, use that instead." "

If students are at the research level of a PBL project, for example, consider free, searchable sites like the American Memory Historical Collections from the Library of Congress.

Or, if your goal is to make ideas visible and discussable so that they can be shared with others — which is often the case with PBL — consider tools for creating infographics or digital posters. Boss recommends Lucidchart and Glogster.

One tool category that you shouldn't leave out of your kit is a learning management system, says Krauss. The teacher should act as the chief project manager, keeping things organized and handling overarching project management. Krauss recommends you select a tool that includes a calendar, a research depository, a blogging space, a pooling tool and an assignments manager. Her picks include Edmodo and Google Classroom.

" "The beauty is that students then have anywhere, anytime access and can check in and work from home or from mobile devices," " Krauss said.

Here are a few tools that members of the ISTE community keep in their PBL toolboxes:

LEGO Education WeDo. This software interface and the connected plug-and-teach curriculum packs can be used for STEM projects across a range of subjects. Put it to work to teach elementary students about animals and the sounds they make, for example, with the Drumming Monkey kit. Employing the kit after students have studied how monkeys use sounds to communicate and warn of danger allows teachers to expand the PBL experience.  

— Cathy Dalimonte, assistant principal, Queens Creek Elementary, Swansboro, North Carolina

Marvel's Create Your Own Superhero. This Marvel avatar creation game lets students create, name, dress and customize their own superheroes. Students can use the game to show their understanding of science concepts, such as weather, by representing them as either superheroes or villains. Students choose the best hero shape and colors to represent specific weather concepts and then write rationales for their choices. The payoff? Students remember the concepts better and are highly engaged in learning.

— Cathy Dalimonte, assistant principal, Queens Creek Elementary, Swansboro, North Carolina

SonicPics. The SonicPics storytelling app helps students engage in digital storytelling using hand-drawn pictures or photos that can be combined with voice-overs. Use the app in leveled reading groups to have students sketch scenes, make predictions, identify connections, write summaries, create vocabulary pages and ask essential questions. The project can spiral to include development of a sequential timeline of events. Students can add their presentations to your classroom blog or share them with the class or parents.

— Hilary Haber, teacher and ed tech guru, Temple Beth Am Day School, Miami, Florida

Comic Life. Students can use this comic desktop publishing app to record science experiments with photos while reflecting on the processes included in each frame. You can also use the app to record the process and decision-making during any project-based learning lesson, explain historical events by identifying key characters and having them share their thoughts or explain important facts from a story.

— Hilary Haber, teacher and ed tech guru, Temple Beth Am Day School, Miami, Florida

Tinkercad. The Tinkercad app allows students to create and print 3D models. Consider this app to help students model solutions to real-world problems. For a PBL project on pollution, for example, students can engineer products to help reduce air pollution, such as electric bikes, industrial smoke stack caps or solar power plants. They can then print their models and present them at a science or engineering fair.

— Damon Rickett, teacher, Anglo American School of Sofia, Sofia, Bulgaria

Problem Based Learning Experiences (PBLE) app. Teachers who are new to the PBL approach can get started using this app. Developed by educational and instructional consultants at the Hamilton County Educational Service Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, PBLE provides more than 50 ideas to jumpstart PBL projects and help launch this type of learning in the classroom.

— Renita Heideman, director of technology, Hamilton County Educational Service Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

Skype in the Classroom.When starting a new project, students can benefit from connecting with an expert in the field they are studying. Teachers can use Skype in the Classroom to track down willing subject-matter experts, who can answer students' questions and give them feedback.

— Brandon Larson, teacher, Eastwood Elementary, West Fargo, North Dakota