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Digital Tools for Project Based Learning

by Lindsey Fuller
February 12, 2014

One of the greatest impacts of having 1:1 mobile devices in my classroom has been the opportunity to change the way I approached teaching and learning. I realized early on in this journey that I had the chance to give my students an incredible educational experience in the year they spent with me—and that even a single year could have far-reaching impacts on their future as learners.

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As I began to form new ideas about how I wanted to teach, I realized that project-based learning (PBL) was one of the approaches I was interested in bringing into my classroom. Implementing a new technology and a new learning approach at the same time, with little to no training, was a daunting undertaking that required a lot of time spent researching. One of the more time-consuming tasks was figuring out the right tools for allowing the technology to enhance the learning without overshadowing it. A lot of trial and error was involved, but eventually my students and I figured out how our devices could be most useful in facilitating our learning.

The PBL process begins with a driving, or "essential," question. Whether this question is teacher or student generated, a source for topic ideas can be highly useful. Technology gives both teachers and students immediate access to the happenings of the world at a level never known in years past. Apps such as Problem Based Learning Experience, Zite, and TED provide a deep reserve of real-world news and discussion points that can be developed into PBL experiences. These resources help keep PBL projects real and relevant for students, which is vital to creating an engaging learning experience.

Once a topic has been decided and students are beginning their projects, organization and workflow are two areas in which technology can provide valuable assistance. Task list apps, such as Wunderlist and WorkFlowy, can provide students with a place to plan their projects, track their own progress, and create reminders for deadlines. As an added benefit, many of these apps provide the tools to share and even collaborate on task lists, making them highly useful for use by student groups. Workflow is an ever-present challenge in any classroom using mobile devices, especially when students are too young for individual email accounts. Showbie, Edmodo, and Google Drive all provide options for sharing documents, assisting the workflow process immensely.

Another facet of PBL that can be greatly enhanced by technology integration is the research process. Students with internet access have a massive collection of resources at their disposal. General research apps, such as ArticleSearch and WolframAlpha, provide a rich variety of informational sources. For younger students, kid-friendly websites and search engines may prove most useful. Yahoo Kids, Internet Public Library's Kidspace, and Fact Monster are all excellent starting points. Along with finding information, an important aspect of research is citing sources—which can be difficult for any age group. Apps such as EasyBib and sites such as Citation Machine can ease this struggle and aid students in properly crediting their sources.

Of all the areas in which technology can enhance PBL, creation of a product and presentation to an authentic audience is perhaps where this pair shines the brightest. It is impossible to do justice to all the possibilities opened to students and teachers when technology tools are utilized for creative purposes. Students can create graphs, documents, cartoons, books, movies, podcasts, and interactive presentations—and that is just the beginning. I highly recommend browsing the resources on sites such as The Buck Institute that are devoted to PBL, as these are bursting with articles, videos, and blogs that can provide inspiration.

The ability to connect to authentic audiences is one of the most important pieces of PBL, and can be greatly enhanced by the use of services such as EduBlogs and Skype in the Classroom. Sites such as these allow both teachers and students the opportunity to connect with the world as they explore their ideas and present their projects.

The technology tools that can be applied to PBL are endless, as are the creative ways they can be utilized. These are just a starting point. The effective use of technology and PBL in combination with each other enhances both aspects, so it is worth taking the time to try different apps and programs with your students to see for yourself how they work out. The goal is to figure out what is best for your classroom, so you can create a unique environment that will engage students in significant learning and help them develop the skills they will use throughout the rest of their lives.

Lindsey Fuller on Reading Today OnlineLindsey Fuller is a sixth grade teacher in Decatur, Illinois. Her interests are classroom technology integration, literacy instruction, and Common Core curriculum development and implementation. You can read more from Lindsey on these topics at her blog, Tales of a 6th Grade Classroom
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