Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fall 2010 UTeach PBI Class 9- Sept 30: Krajcik, Rivet, Blumenfeld

Class started today with a quick word from Lynn Kirby, one of the master teachers. Students should be aware that next Saturday (Oct 9th) is the field trip to McKinney Falls to see the opportunities there for working with students in the field. Students should meet near Sanchez around 9 to take vans to McKinney Falls. We will hike from the upper falls to the lower falls and should be back by 12. If you wish to drive yourself you can either pay the fee or follow the vans. More details forthcoming.

Also, if students plan to attend the Blanton Museum field trip on Friday, Oct 8th, they should meet at 3pm in the main entrance of the museum. Please bring a notebook and a pencil (no pen).

Note: Observation assignment is on hold for now due to some scheduling difficulties. You will be informed what is expected of you as soon as we have the details.

Dr. Petrosino began class by listing some of the readings that the class has done and explaining the academic origins of the work.

Michigan group: Krajcik & Blumenfeld, Krajcik & Rivit

Vanderbilt group: Barron et al, LTC, Jasper.

He also briefly discussed the difference between these readings and the Buck Institute book. The Buck Institute is more derivative as they do not conduct their own research, and a little more general in terms of domain. It is a resource, but not a substitute for the primary literature.

He then pointed out that the Michigan and Vanderbilt groups are not in opposition to each other; Barron et al’s four principles of PBI (learning appropriate goals, scaffolding, formative assessment and social structures) are very similar to those outlined in the Krajcik and Blumenfeld chapter reading. From these different readings, students should be forming a picture of what it is necessary to create a learning environment that facilitates “big P” Projects.

Dr. Petrosino then moved on to discussing the Krajcik and Rivit article from the Journal of Research in Science Teaching and went into detail about why he feels it is a core reading for PBI. It delineates and gives valid proof for the feasibility of implementing PBI in a complex urban setting with quantifiable robust results. Done over 4 years in Detroit public schools with 2500 kids and 24 teachers, the study starts out with university intervention and becomes a district project. Results showed that kids performed well on content measures and process measures, which shows the value of good design and good units. He also pointed out that this study shows that there is variance in how PBI is implemented; it doesn’t have to be perfect to work. He advised students to “free yourself of being perfect”; it’s not necessary to be perfect at a particular type of pedagogy to implement it effectively.

The class was asked to consider the question, “Is PBI more cognitively demanding on a teacher than good lecturing? Why?” and discussed it in small groups.

Students responded with the following:

What goes into a good lecture: research, preparation, communication skills, knowing your audience, know the content ahead, storytelling, interacting with audience (Socratic, just-in-time decisions), balance between rigidity and flexibility.

Some good questions that were asked:

-Does a lecture transcend place and time?

-Does being flexible change the message?

What goes into a good PBI unit: lots of preparation, knowledge about related fields, many of the same skills that go into a good lecture.

A question that caused some debate:

-Will PBI units open-ended if they have good learning goals?

Dr. Petrosino drew the following chart on the board and asked students to think about how “traditional” teachers and PBI teachers might compare on these skills:

Teacher skills



Content Comprehension

Memory Demands

Synthesis of Content

Analysis of Content




He noted that there is a lot more variance in lectures (i.e., there are more people doing it at all levels), though there is a general sense that PBI is more cognitively demanding than traditional. Dr. Petrosino notes that this is researchable question, because it is not an empirically supported conclusion. He also noted that having a captive audience does not necessarily mean you’re doing lecture or PBI well … either takes lots of preparation and understanding of learning.

Returning to the Rivit and Krajcik article, Dr. Petrosino pointed out that contextualized learning is really where the two schools of PBI academics align. He turned to the examples of assessment in the paper, and asked the students to define the difference between low, medium, and high level questions:

Low level questions primarily require recall and comprehension; medium involve simple relationships and application; high level were short answer that required students to create hypotheses, isolate variables, describe data, etc. The class examined some of the sample assessment items and discussed the cognitive demands of different types of questions.

During this discussion, students brought up the possibility that student experience might affect their ability to answer some of the questions, and Dr. Petrosino explained to the students that English skill level is the best predictor of success in other subject areas. Sara gave an example of students in her class not being able to answer a Science TAKS question because they did not know what a porcupine was even though they understood the content that was technically being tested. Students who will soon be in the classroom definitely need to consider these sorts of issues when they think about curriculum, assessment, and accountability.

Students in the morning section conducted an activity on reaction time. The afternoon section will do this activity on Tuesday, October 5th.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fall 2010 UTeach PBI Class 8- Sept 21: Rockets, Planning Nets, Hands-on Activities...

Dr. Petrosino began class by passing back the planning maps for the circumference of the Earth problem. He commented that many students may want to revise their maps to make them more problem-specifc and spend time with the content in order to better understand the nature of the problem and how content would flow when doing it in class. He encouraged students to look at others' work in order to get ideas of how others approached the assignment.

Pam Powell, a UTeach master teacher, came to class to introduce herself to students who do not know here and give some of her thoughts on the field experience and scheduling. Students who have not emailed Pam regarding their schedule should do so as soon as possible.

The “Big Picture” for the day was to look at the Barron et al article through the lens of the rocket activity and attempt to develop arguments for hands on activities with reflection and revision.

Before beginning discussion about the rocket activity, Dr. Petrosino showed two youtube videos: Phineas and Farb- “Got these Chains” and Pink Floyd- “Another Brick in the Wall.” In each of these videos, education is portrayed as lacking in creativity and imagination and robbing students of the ability to think freely. He urged students to think about the things we (as educators) are in tension with, e.g. high stakes testing, numbers, thinking of students as homogenous, and efficiency. Imagination and play are thought to be unnecessary in education, even though we know from Developmental Psychology that play is necessary for children. Dr. Petrosino reminded the students that creativity huge part of the advancement of knowledge in any subject area, and asked students think about this as they become teachers. He suggested they look for opportunities for innovation and creativity in their field as this has always been the hallmark of an American education.

Dr. Petrosino began the discussion of the rocket activity by showing a Far Side cartoon that depicted scientists standing around a poorly built rocket saying, “Let’s face it, we’re not exactly Rocket Scientists.” He pointed out to students that two professions have the status of being the archetype of intelligence: brain surgeons and rocket scientists. The way these professions are used in conversation to indicate intelligence give insight to what we value formally and informally in terms of expertise. Developing projects that put students in the role of a practitioner they generally consider to be brilliant has implications for how students view themselves as learners and their own estimation of their intelligence.

The class then looked at an ad for Lockheed Martin that depicted students looking up at a rocket launching and contained text about students “forgetting that they were learning.” Dr. Petrosino then showed some of the videos of the rocket activity launches and the press coverage of the project.

He then posed the question to the class: Are these kids learning? He showed two videos of students at the rocket launch estimating how high they thought their rockets went. One student said, “Close to the clouds” and estimated 9000 ft. Another guessed 1000ft and stated that he guessed this answer. Dr. Petrosino asked the PBI students to offer their critiques of the project, and one student wondered if this was a “little p” project in the sense that students are engaged and having fun, but not connecting with the content to the degree they should. Another student wondered about the internal structure project- how was classwork structured?

Dr. Petrosino went into some detail about the scaffolding of this project in order to give the students an idea of how the class proceeded prior to the rocket launches. The anchor of the project was a letter from NASA that gave the students details about the research they needed to conduct, specifically three questions: Which goes higher: round vs. pointed nose cone, 3 fins vs. 4 fins, and painted vs. unpainted. The students also had data, tools, data sheets, diagrams and discussions as part of this project.

He explained that having three research questions was critical to the success of the project, since the opportunity to reflect and revise is key to success in PBI and ultimately builds self-regulation and metacognition. If there is only one trial, students are concerned primarily with procedures and do not think about that larger questions. By the third trial, the procedures are old hat and students are free to reflect about their results. This is not to say that procedures are not important- the number one concern of most new teachers is classroom management- but rather that procedures should ultimately not overshadow thinking.

The class was shown a video of a student hypothesizing (incorrectly) that a pointed nose cone would help a rocket go higher. [The PBI class shared this misconception.] When data began coming in that the round nose cone went higher, the students had cognitive problems and searched for procedural errors to explain this. However, they were able to resolves this issue by hearing a guest lecture on laminar flow. It is important to realize that direct instruction like this can occur in a PBI classroom- there just needs to be need for the instruction and it must come at the right time.

The class viewed another video of a student being asked about nose cones. Her first response is, “that’s a tough question.” This indicates that, though the student might not fully grasp the principles at hand yet, she knows enough to realize that the question is not as simple as it seems. Perhaps this is a result of PBI for some students: they don’t ask more questions, they just ask better questions- what they don’t know is as important as what they do know. The project then is not about launching rockets, but about the structure and discourse.

More videos of students were shown. One was about students not measuring the proper distance from the launch site, and another was about painted vs. unpainted rockets. Dr. Petrosino pointed out that the content taught through this project was experimentation, and these students were thinking about the aspects of an experiment. This same project could be used to teach math concepts, such as statistics. It is important to realize that the activity is not important itself, but becomes important because of what you can draw from it. It is part of the design process that the teacher/designer is creating.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fall 2010 UTeach PBI Class 7- Sept 16: Barron et al (1998) / Planning Nets

Students were broken into groups and discussed the Barron et al (1998) paper entitled "Doing with Understanding: Lessons from Research on Problem to Project Based Instruction" (see below). Dr. Petrosino assigned random groups. Each group was assigned a different discussion topic: “Little p” projects vs. “Big P” Projects; Problems to Projects; Assessment; Scaffolding Use; and Implications of the article on PBI Practice. These topics were inspired and emphasized in the article. After small group discussions, individual groups were asked to share some of their thoughts and insights:

Big P/Little p: Big P Projects are Goal Driven (with objectives), Contain Scaffolding, and have a Social Structure promoting participatory practices.

Scaffolding: Examples found by the group included contrasting cases, starting with problems and building to a project.

Assessment: Students noticed the importance of using feedback from students to alter instruction and student self-assessment

Implications: The group discussed budgetary concerns, and Dr. Petrosino gave his thoughts regarding alternate sources of funding.

Students then showed their “planning net” for the Circumference of the Earth problem and explained their thought process in creating this document (see picture) . Planning Nets were introduced a few lessons ago while students solved the "Rescue at Boone's Meadow" problem and read a subsequent article.

Barron, B. J. S., D. L. Schwartz, Et Al. (1998). Doing With Understanding Lessons From Research on Problem-...

Fall 2010 UTeach PBI Class 6- Sept 14: Field Experience

The primary purpose of this class day was to discuss the field experience for the course. Sara, the TA for the course, asked students to introduce themselves once more, this time focusing on who they are personally and what they are motivated by professionally. She spoke briefly about how this activity can give insight into your students and help to begin to build relationships in the classroom.

We then discussed the field experience. Students received a handout outlining the dates and requirements and Sara addressed questions and provided some advice about creativity, observing teachers, and approaching the field experience with a positive attitude and an open mind.

A Quick Guide to the PBI Field Experience

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fall 2010 UTeach PBI Class 5- Sept 9: Planning Nets

Class began with students continuing to work on the "Rescue at Boone's Meadow" (RBM) problem. After about 25 minutes groups began to arrive at answers. A few groups presented their solutions to the class. Most solutions were similar, and involved a combination of plane-flying and car-driving to solve the problem. One issue that came up was the iterative cycle of the problem solving process. Dr. Petrosino also brought up issues of "max-mim" problem solving strategies as well as multiple solution paths. Students presentations were well done and articulate.

Returning to the RBM problem, Dr. Petrosino explained that the best predictor of success in school is reading, and that one of the goals of a video-type anchor video is to remove reading from the equation while engaging students in math. He then contrasted the RBM problem (with 16 or so steps) to a “traditional” math problem with 2-3 steps. Students were asked to attempt to break down the RBM problem into its “steps” with their group; answers were recorded in a document in class (see picture).

Dr. Petrosino was trying to establish as few things. First, he wanted students to be aware of a formal way of representing the solution to a complex problem. It's one thing to talk about it, it's another thing entirely to represent the solution as a formalism. Second, Dr. Petrosino is trying to continually emphasis the important role that design plays as an instructor/teacher. He wants his UTeach students to be more than mere consumers of instruction and curriculum--- he wants them to be designers. Finally, Dr. Petrosino is trying to scaffold (support) the process of design as he "gives" students various representations but then asks them to create their own planning nets. For homework, Dr. Petrosino gave the students 1 week to create a planning net for the circumference of the earth problem (Eratosthenes problem) completed last week.

Afterwards, Dr. Petrosino highlighted the use of the blog as a resource, pointing out some links (including a solution) that were related to the RBM problem. He also explained that the blog is a nice narrative of what is actually done in class in contrast to the plan presented by the syllabus. The blog is a good resource for students who miss class as well as people who are interested in the UTeach program. Dr. Petrosino pointed out a resource for students that documented how students tried to solve the problems and compared to college students and posted this paper on the Blackboard site.

Paper comparing 6th graders to college students in solving RBM problem:

Jasper Solution Space

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fall 2010 UTeach PBI Class 4- Sept 7

Dr. Petrosino began today’s class by going over some final changes to the syllabus. Most important were the addition of a Midterm and Final exam that will cover the theoretical principles covered in class. He also advised students to make note of the dates of the field experience and keep those dates free on their calendars. Students had some questions regarding the location and details of the field experience, which will largely be addressed by TAs and Master Teachers when they formally introduce the assignment.

Students were given a handout showing an example of aligning TEKS to the Eratosthenes problem from last class, as well as a sample rubric and project calendar for expanding this problem into a project. Sara Hawkins went over this rubric and calendar, pointing out to students how the tasks were aligned to the standards, and how the activities in the calendar would correspond to the students’ need to know. She also mentioned Bloom’s Taxonomy as a starting point to guide differentiating rubric tasks.

Students had questions about whether a project would cover “a chapter” of material, and Dr. Petrosino questioned whether it is useful to write curriculum based on the sequence of material in a book. He reinforced that context is critical for preventing inert learning. Sara gave some input regarding her experience in the classroom following district curriculum maps while doing PBI.

Students were then shown the “Rescue at Boone’s Meadow” video from the The Jasper Project. Students took notes on the information given in the video and then began to solve the problem. This activity will be continued in the next class.

Best solution to Rescue at Boone's Meadow---

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Circumference Handout


Fall 2010 UTeach PBI Class 3- Sept 2

Today, Profesor Petrosino started the class by giving student the same quiz from the very first day of class, this time as a post-test of their factual knowledge to solve the Circumference of the Earth problem. The class average for the pre-test from the first day was 95% and the class average for the post-test after working with the actual problem was a 98.1%, showing a mild increase.Professor Petrosino then opened up a class discussion about why students did so well on test of individual facts, but not so well on actually finding the circumference of the Earth even though they knew all the facts. After all, if problem based learning was so good in terms of helping students connect their factual knowledge to actual concepts, then why is what we’re seeing when we visit actual classrooms more aligned with the factual recall quiz questions rather than the deep concepts from the problem? After some thoughts by the students, Professor Petrosino posed that, perhaps it’s the fault of all of us in the room. This class, and the UTeach cohort in general, is filled with students who have excelled in math and science, namely because we’ve done well at these sorts of factual recall based tests. All of us, including theProfessor Petrosino, have been systemized to teaching and learning math and science into bite-size factual chunks. Professor Petrsoino then started to talk about how we know that experts and novices in fact hold the same sorts of factual and often conceptual knowledge. But what differs in experts is their ability to transfer this knowledge to different situations. Students then broke up into smaller groups to discuss what they thought about this framework: Is it possible to teach basic skills through complex problems?

Fall 2010 UTeach PBI Class 2- Aug 31

Today we went over the body of the syllabus. For the most part we followed many aspects of the Powerpoint slides below. There were a fair amount of questions and clarifications made during the 75 minutes of class. Basically, the objective was to help align the objectives of the course with the syllabus and to increase student familiarity with the course, syllabus and objectives.

Fall 2010 UTeach PBI Class 1- Aug 26

Today was the first day of class for UTeach Project Based Instruction in SME (Science, Mathematics, Engineering). This semester we will be teaching 3 sections of PBI. Dr. Petrosino will be teaching 2 sections (Tu-Th 11am-12:15pm; Tu-Th 2:00pm- 3:15pm) and Dr. Delgado will be teaching 1 section (Tu-Th 11am-12:15pm). We did basic introductions of the course and distribution of a draft syllabus.

There will be 3 Teaching Assistants associated with the course:

Sara Hawkins- former UTeach graduate, 3 year veteran of project based instruction at Manor New Tech High School, current Graduate Student in Information Sciences. Primarily working with Dr. Petrosino.

Matt Chalker- background in engineering and art history. Previous TA for PBI for 3 semesters. Masters student. Primarily working with Dr. Delgado.

Teddy Chao- senior PhD student with experience at the Dane Center and as a GRA on projects in Mathematics Education. Veteran teacher in New York City. Primarily working with Dr. Petrosino.

There will be 2 Clinical Assistant Professors (Master Teachers) associated with the course:

Ms. Lynn Kirby- veteran Master Teacher working closely with STEP courses as well as field experiences.

Ms. Pam Powell- veteran Master Teacher working closely with Apprentice Teaching courses as well as field experiences.