Education Chat

Technology's Promise in Project-Based Learning

Two educators from High Tech High, a San Diego-based charter school that emphasizes project-based learning, answer your questions on this topic.

Technology’s Promise in Project-Based Learning

Feb. 22, 2006

Our guests:

  • Theresa Gilly and Ben Daley, educators from High Tech High, a San Diego-based charter school that emphasizes project-based learning.

Kevin Bushweller, (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s online chat about technology’s changing role in project-based learning. What challenges arise when educators emphasize the use of technology for project-based learning? What new technologies are today’s educators using to enhance this way of learning? And what impact has the No Child Left Behind Act had on technology-rich, project-based learning?

Our guests will address those and other questions.

We already have a large volume of questions. So let’s get the discussion started...

Question from Malual Majok Ring / lecturer-College Education UBG, Khartoum -Sudan:
What is meant by project based learning? What are the advantages and disadvantages ?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
For me, project based learning means getting kids making and building cool stuff. We believe that the biggest problem facing most high schools is that kids are bored; they do not find listening to lectures to be engaging. So we begin by designing an interesting project that will get kids interested. Then we can pull in content that is relevant to the project. The disadvantage is that you can not plow through as much curriculum when you teach in this way. In our high stakes frenzied world, it can be hard to go against the grain and teach in ways that engage students’ interests.

Question from Michael Simkins, Director, Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project (former); now director, TICAL:
What advice do you have for educators who know the value of technology-supported project-based learning but work in school settings that emphasize direct instruction, test scores, and accountability?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
I believe that PBL does not always require technology. Technology is used as a tool as a means for making products nice looking or for research on the internet. These things could be accomplished by having students do this research in libraries and making final products handmade rather than computer generated. I believe the PBL improves test scores with or without technology.

Question from Doreen Warren, Science Department Chairperson, Robeson High School:
Can you suggest powerful ways to conduct PBL WITHOUT technology?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
One of our junior humanities teachers (U.S. History and American Literature) had students write plays about the Vietnam War. The students picked the play they liked the best and put on this play, with the student who wrote the play working as the director. Ninth grade students built roller coasters out of wood and glue to look at the physics principles involved. Other ninth grade students built boats that raced in a channel of water that the teacher created. Much of the fantastic artwork in our school did not need technology to be created.

Question from Walter Smith, Jr., Dir. of Fine Arts, Project GRAD Houston:
Is there a curriculum already in existence for this project-based learning? If so, how can I get it?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
We design all of our own curriculum. We do not try to make every ninth grade math/physics teacher teach the same thing in the same way at the same pace. So you would see that different teachers are doing different projects every year. To see examples of projects that our students have done, you can go to our webpage ( and click on “Resource Center” in the top right corner. There are examples of projects down on the right column.

Question from Anthea Clarke, Teacher, Maxfield Park Primary Jamaica:
What age group would you suggest that Project Based Learning begins?

Theresa Gilly, High Tech High:
I believe PBL could begin at any age. All students can benefit from learning this way.

Question from Michael Bertram, BOE, Denville School System:
How do you measure PBL to determine if it is successfull? Can statistical analysis be done?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
We are really crazed right now about standardized test scores. I think we should take all the resources we are devoting to standardized testing and use it to develop a system to track college entrance and college completion rates. Standardized tests are supposed to be a means to an end. The end is college graduation. Maybe we should focus on what we really want. I am most confident that project based learning would do very well using that measure.

So far, all of our students have gone off to college and 90% or more are still in college. Our oldest graduates are juniors in college, so we don’t yet have data on college completion. I feel pretty good about what our results will be.

Question from Sheri Steinke, Rapid City:
What have you used to educate faculty to know how to use performance based or project based assessment?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
Looking at student work is probably the most powerful protocol that we use as a faculty at getting better at project based work. Teachers bring in examples of student work that we look at and discuss. This breaks down one of the biggest taboos in school, which is talking about one another’s practice. The protocol allows for honest conversations in a safe space, especially after you do it many times.

Question from gerald r. pitzl, ph.d. New Mexico Public Education Department:
Are your project-based assignments handled by student teams? or individual students? In either case, do you use discussion sessions to bring others into the learning arena? The web can be a great place to ‘get lost’ in isolation!

Theresa Gilly, High Tech High:
I agree that the web is a location for students to find other things to do other than their immediate task at hand. Project based assignments are created both by the teacher as well as student groups and individual students based on the needs for the project they are currently working on. Assignments may come in the form of a traditional direct instruction format or assignments may be created by the student group itself. Assignments vary by project.

Question from Sharon Krasner, Technology Teacher, Pontiac Academy for Excellence:
Currently, all computer classes in my school are taught in a lab setting, rather than being fully integrated into the core curriculum. I need to convince my principal and staff that this needs to be changed. Any suggestions?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
Great question! We do not have computer classes as a separate class at all. We integrate technology into the core classes (math/science & humanities). Maybe you and your principal should come visit us!

Question from Linda Hines, University Instructor and PhD learner, EWU and GCU:
Is it the post-secondary universities where the changes must originate, or is it in the schools where our youngsters are receiving their education? How can we ensure technological equity as we move forward with the NCLB? Thank you sincerely, Linda Hines, Spokane, WA

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
Change can only occur in places that we have control. Of course, I could blame the college admissions process for driving high schools to make kids merely sit in their seats accumulating carnegie units. But I am working in a high school so I am going to try to make that work. I think it would be great if universities started teaching with fewer lectures and more innovative types of teaching, but when class size is 100 or more, I don’t really see that happening. Perhaps a surprising lesson of High Tech High is that you can teach using alternative methods and kids still seem to be doing well once they get to college. In fact, our alums report that their peers seem to be adjusting to college while they feel like they have already been in college.

Question from Adrienne Sonnek Instructor St. Mary’s University:
While I agree to your premise (of the promise), isn’t it made under the assumption that every school/student has access to the state-of-the-art equipment required for this way of learning? How can we provide the appropriate hardware to ALL schools/students in an equitable way?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
I don’t believe that technology is necessary for project based learning to succeed. I know of many teachers who are engaging students in real-world project based work that is not dependent on fancy technology. In fact, we do many projects like that at our school.

Having said that, students at our school use technology for three basic purposes: Research, Production, and Presentation.

Research: the internet is a great resource for learning about many things.

Production: students make documentaries, build robots, invent products using CAD software, create flash presentations, etc.

Presentation: we have projectors in most rooms so that students can present their work to panels of adults from outside the school.

Note that I did not include using technology to teach students, as I believe that we can not replace the teacher-student relationship that is critical for learning to take place.

Finally, we operate on $6200 per pupil, 10% of which goes towards facilities costs. We update our hardware and software out of this $6200 per pupil. However, we don’t have a tackle football team. We make choices about where to spend our resources.

Question from Charles Schiller, Coord. of Information Technology Educ., UMass President’s Office Donahue Institute:
At HTH, since you focus on project-based learning, do you also promulgate Information Technology Fluency as defined by the Nat’l Research Council 1999 Report ( and summarized by CITI ( from Prof. Larry Snyder’s (U of Wash) book?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
I had not read this report but went to the website you mention. The site mentions skills, concepts, and capabilities.

At HTH, our students do learn a lot of computer skills, such as web searching, web site creation, and using flash. For the most part, this is learned in the context of a humanities class or math-science class, not in a separate stand alone course.

We are not particularly interested in teaching the concepts fundamental to IT, such as Cisco networking or Oracle database management. I’m not particularly opposed to it, but that hasn’t been a major focus. We use technology as a context for a liberal arts education, not as a subject unto itself.

According to the site, capabilities refers to higher order thinking processes like problem solving and reasoning. I believe that is why we engage our students in complex, real world projects.

Question from Chilton Reid, Transition Specialist, District of Columbia Public Schools, Special Education:
If students share terminals, will the student without a terminal benefit from this model in the same way as the student at the terminal.

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
We have tried to have no more than two students using a computer, as I think a lot is lost once you get to more than three students per computer.

I want to emphasize that we have gotten to that level on $6200 per pupil. We put our resources into 22-25 students per class and the computers. There’s a lot of other things we don’t have, however. For example, textbooks for every student.

Question from Shane Krukowski, Member, C.A.R.M.E.N Charter School Planning Team, Milwaukee, WI:
1) How do you ensure PBL activities prepare students for the questions they’ll face in a standarized test situtation?

2) How do you build a transcript that tells a better story of student achievement, while still meeting the needs of higher education institutions?

3) Have you heard about Project Foundry and the project-based learning management software they’ve developed?

Theresa Gilly, High Tech High:
I try to incorporate as many standards as possible into the types of projects I create. While teaching Chemistry I taught gas laws through scuba diving. While teaching Marine Biology I took students out into the field in Mexico to investigate marine turtles. I incorporated many standards into these projects. I did not cover all of the standards nor do I worry about that fact. It is more important to get students developing a deep understanding in fewer areas than broad knowledge that they often don’t remember.

Question from Joseph Moses, Lecturer, University of Minnestoa:
How viable are desktop publishing technologies as teaching tools for high school students? (I’m assuming they’re great IF teachers know the technologies, IF schools can afford the software and the hardware, and IF teachers agree that self-publishing student works meets teaching goals). How big are the ifs?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
I presume that you are referring to students creating school newsletters, for example. When we opened our school, we worried about how we were going to teach technology to the students. Then once the kids arrived, we shifted to worrying how we could keep up with the kids! I don’t think it is necessary for teachers to know the technology to engage students in projects. I think the big “IF” is agreeing that students publishing their work is a worthwhile goal. I think that depends on the professional culture that is built in the school and the extent to which the school can become a mission driven organization, rather than all things for all people. As for affording the software and hardware, I believe this is an issue of priorities more than anything else. I’m not sure that schools should be spending more money on technology, but I’m definitely sure that they could if they stopped spending the money on other things. We have prioritized getting technology but we do it on less money than traditional public schools in California.

Question from Susan Hoffer:
How do you ensure that standards and difficult concepts are mastered?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
Ted Sizer often asks the important question, “Compared to what?” If you are teaching using traditional methods, how do you ensure that standards and difficult concepts are mastered? The answer is that you can’t, but teachers do their best job to teach the kids as well as they can and then create assessments that they hope measure whether students have learned what they want.

The same applies to project based learning.

Question from Michael Moreno, Author:
Do you think this methodology will have negative impact on “individual thinking” and problem solving?

Theresa Gilly, High Tech High:
This methodology does not have a negative impact on the abilities of people to think individually. PBL has both group and individual components in most projects. I think it improves individual thinking by forcing students to find solutions to problems they have in getting to a final product.

Question from Martha Gribble:
Can this be effective with middle school studens- specifically 6th grade ?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
On our village of schools, we have three high schools, two middle schools, and an elementary school. So yes, projects work with younger students.

Debbie Meier has argued that kindergarten and graduate school are the only places where we have it right in education. Students are pursuing their interests, they are producing something, it is personalized, they have only one or a few teachers, etc. We try to make our high schools and our middle schools more like a kindergarten.

Question from Esther Trhlik, eLearning Developer, COUNTRY Insurance:
I think there are several opportunities in this arena. I see a lot of resistance from teachers, unions and even administration as using Project Based Learning is a heavy shift away from the traditional way of teaching used over the last 60 or more years. What evaluations have been done on the impact financially of moving toward project based learning as compared to costs of paying teachers and paying for text books to teach material. Have any studies been done to evaluate outcomes?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
I agree that there is lots of resistance to engaging students in doing interesting project work, as we are more interested in getting students to memorize facts and recall them on multiple choice tests. Textbook publishers (who mostly also make standardized tests), of course, are a major force in maintaining the status quo.

I do not see a cost savings or expense in doing projects with students. You still need teachers and materials, just not textbooks so much. We are operating our school at about 80% of what the local district is (public charter schools in California receive less money per pupil than traditional public schools). And we have to pay the occupancy cost on the mortgage on our building.

Question from David Monteith, Teacher, International School of the Americas:
What strategies can be used to be certain that each person in a group masters the variety of technological skills associated with the project?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
This is a great question, as students can sometimes fall into patterns that are easy for them. “Hey, you’re good at websites. You take on that part of the project.” Then no one else improves at creating a website and that student doesn’t get better at anything else. We fall into that trap sometimes.

I don’t think there are easy answers. There is a tension between group accountability and individual accountability. We are trying to get better at doing interesting group projects that require real collaboration while still holding each student responsible as an individual. Sometimes we make every student do one page of the website, for example.

Question from John Calvert, retired professor of political science:
Project-based education has been around since the 1920s and its results have been studied exhaustively. It is regarded by the most prominent reformers (e.g., Jeanne Chall, E.D. HIrsch, Dianne Ravitch, Todd Oppenheimer, etc.) as being not only inferior to the traditional didactic method, but as failing even to achieve the rather dubious, often non-academic, goals that it sets for itself. Do you know of any research from outside the education establishment itself that suggests PBE has any value at all?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
Well, John, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to convince you on this one! I would challenge your assertion that project based learning has been found to be inferior by most prominent reformers. E.D. Hirsch and Dianne Ravitch obviously represent one particular view of teaching and learning. I guess my question for you is do you believe that the traditional American high school, as it currently exists, is working well for most kids? If you think it does, then you would probably want to stick to didactic types of instruction. If you think 60% or higher dropout rates among low income students in our urban centers is a problem, you’d probably want to try to change the status quo. You might even think that getting students engaged in real, authentic projects where the students are excited to come to school every day would be a place to start. As for research that demonstrates the effectiveness of project based learning, I would modestly suggest that 100% of High Tech High’s first three graduating classes going to college is an indication that perhaps something is working.

Question from Bob Frangione, Graduate Student:
What advantages does high tech offer over the conventional classroom as a learning experience?

Theresa Gilly, High Tech High:
I believe that the three design principles are what High Tech High offers to students that is different then the conventional classroom. They are Personalization, Adult-World Connection, and Common Intellectual Mission. You can look up the formal definition how we define them on our website at Those are fine buzz words but what do they really mean for students in my classroom.

Personalization I know all of my students. I have met my student’s families. I communicate regularly to my students families. I get to know the students needs academically and assist them better because I know them so well. Personalization occurs because HTH keeps our class sizes small. I have 50 students total that I teach daily and I have them all year long. I also have an advisory of 15 students that I know as well and I visit their homes each year. Adult-World Connection

Make projects that have real world applications to keep student interest high.

Common Intellectual Mission Everyone can learn anything you want them to. In my classroom I have heterogeneously groupings of students. No tracking. When students are all afforded the same opportunities those who would not normally succeed do better.

Question from Caron Newman, The Oracle Academy:
When a student misses a section of a project what strategy is employed to “catch-up” the student so they can continue learning at the same pace as the other students in their class?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
Challenging question. We work really hard to explain to families how important it is for students to attend school every day. It is actually more disruptive in project based learning to have students absent than from a traditional class where you can say, get the notes, do problems 1-10. In projects, most of the work is done at school, so it’s a real problem. We have about 96.5% attendance, so fortunately this is not a major problem for us. When it does happen, teachers just do their best to get kids caught up.

Question from Joe Petrosino, Mid career Student , Penn:
How do you address issues of equity and access in your high school? How do you formulate policy and action plans to address the above mentioned topics?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
We do not ability group in our schools. I think this is one of the biggest civil rights issue in our country right now. When certain types of kids are grouped together in advanced placement courses and other types of kids are grouped together in remedial courses, we have a real problem.

We believe that not separating the students who know they are going to college from the students who aren’t so sure is better for all the students. Within our heterogeneous classrooms, students work on projects in groups and get to know one another across class and ethnic lines. Sometimes students of similar skill level work together and sometimes mixed skill level groups work together.

As a policy question, recruiting a diverse student body to a city wide school of choice is a tough issue. While we enroll students by random lottery, we currently only have 25% of our students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, compared to 40% of high school students in the local district. We are trying to match the district through intensive outreach during our admissions process this year.

Question from Lauren Ward, Student, Baldwin-Wallace:
How do you mesh project based learning with pacing guides that tell you what you should be teaching each and every day?

Theresa Gilly, High Tech High:
I am lucky to teach at a school where what I teach each and every day is not told to me. I would ask the question? Is the pacing guide you speak of required to be followed daily, or are you following it right now because that was what you were given?

If you have the option of not following the guide but want to ensure you teach to those standards that the pacing guide gives you, I would recommend you take a class or training on creating projects that align with standards rather than following a textbook guide. I am sure many groups are offering trainings around PBL. The Buck Institute is one as well as High Tech High which offers training on designing projects that meet standards several times a year. The next training is this summer in June just contact

I have taken pacing guides and created projects from the content that would have been taught had I done it following the pacing guide. I do not get all of the content into the project, but most of it. If you have the option of creating a project around the content and not following the pacing guide daily, I would recommend that.

Question from Maria Cleary, Educational Leadership student, Seton Hall University:
Given the nature of PBL, students often do not master some competencies within the same time frame as they might with more traditional learning. How does that square with the demands of standardized testing?

Theresa Gilly, High Tech High:
Let’s assume that we use standardized testing as the final word in determining if students have mastered competencies. Based on test scores I have seen, I would say traditional teaching and learning has not worked. PBL allows me to have material “stick” with students. Kids are interested and engaged more often in my classroom when we are doing and building then when I am lecturing and having them fill in worksheets. I believe students do better on standardized tests coming from good project based schools because they are able to 1) critically think about things that they may not know about which allows them to answer questions they have not necessarily been taught and 2) things they have been taught through projects they remember by the time they take the standardized test.

Question from Diane Witt, Gifted Education Consultant, Nantucket, MA.:
How has technology provided opportunity for students that are tech savvy? Are these students allowed to create their own solutions to projects based on their computer talent? How do you deal with students that demonstrate abilities beyond their peers in this area? Thanks!

Theresa Gilly, High Tech High:
Many students will tell you that having someone “tech savvy” on the project is useful because they assist with technology based questions. I would caution you to always have an individual component to ensure that all of your students are learning that technology you want them to learn. Utilize your tech students to help the entire project and class make something above and beyond what you originally expected. This allows everyone to learn the tech you want while allowing those who know more to excel.

Question from Martha Foster, Retired teacher, HoustonISD:
Even though I am an intense advocate of PBL and technology integrated into the classroom, I have to ask this. Has it been shown that Project Based Learning has an impact on overall learning that exceeds that of more traditional applied teaching?

Theresa Gilly, High Tech High:
I don’t know of any resent research that answered this specific question. I can tell you anecdotally that my students are more interested today with projects and seem to be learning more than when I taught six years ago. Students are excited to come to school and hang out with me on weekends working on projects. They always have work they could be doing and seem to enjoy it. I hope that High Tech High will be able to add to the research around your question.

Question from Lee Allen, Asst. Prof., Univ. of Memphis:
Project-based learning, incorporating thematic units across various disciplines, has been around at least since the late ‘80s when I was teaching in a middle school. Since I have dedicated myself to the field of educational/instructional technology, please tell us why now, in this age of extreme emphasis on test scores, that this is an idea who’s time has come (again)? Will the school district buy-in be there? Thanks - Lee Allen

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
Candidly, I don’t think school district buy-in really will be there. I believe our schools for the most part are locked in to business as usual by the co-monopolistic school boards and teacher unions. I don’t know what to do about it, but that is why we are trying to change the system from outside a district. Perhaps we can show that even in this standardized test focused era, it can work in a school where the principal picks their staff and has control of their budget. Incidentally, I don’t think every school needs to be project based. I would like to see a system of differentiated schools where like minded educators can work together towards common goals and families can pick the school that appeals most to them. I think this could work in urban areas. In one small school towns like my hometown in Hillsboro, New Hampshire, it’s trickier to see how multiple small schools might work.

Question from Linda Olson 6th Grade Science Teacher, Altoona, Wisconsin:
For the sake of clarity, could you give us an example of project-based learning?

Theresa Gilly, High Tech High:
Here is a typical project proposal to a 10th grade class. It does not really tell you the detail of literature and science that was taught to get the students to their final product. In this case students displayed artwork and read poetry to over 250 people that were in attendance. This unit was taught by two of us that are not experts. I taught the chemistry of paint and looked at biological warfare of today. The other teacher taught different wars through the use of poets at the time to examine the activities of the times.

Expressions of War
You are a concerned citizen of a war-torn nation. You have many feelings about how the war has affected you, your family, your community, and your nation. You decide you must share your feelings with others. First you must begin by thoroughly researching the history of the conflict with your nation. During your research you look at primary and secondary documents. You study texts, photographs, first person accounts, and poetry. Then you will write an eight page research paper describing how the war has affected your nation and people.

After this thorough research, you decide you must share your findings, and opinions with others. You begin by writing poetry similar in style and tone to the other poets from your nation. At this time you also paint a picture that is similar to a photograph that you have studied. Since you now have a through understanding of the conflict and have dabbled in the creative process, you will find your own style of conveying your feelings through poetry and artwork. You will create one personal interpretation of the previous art piece, and will compile a portfolio of your own poetry on the war that has ravaged your nation. You will display your work and recite your poetry at a local café on March 17th, 2005.

Question from Richarde W. Donelan, Asst. Principal, West Middle School, Ypsilanti (MI) Public Schools:
What strategies have proven helpful to encourage and prepare teachers to use and/or design projects that engage students?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
I think the most important thing that we do in this regard is to make student work public. We have presentations of learning twice a year where every student in the school stands up and presents the work they have been doing. We have an evening exhibition every year where students display documentaries, web sites, tri-fold posterboards, and other products of student learning. Students post their work on their digital portfolio, which can be found on our website. When students present really good work, teachers and students say, “I want my work to look more like that!” I tell new teachers at the beginning of the year: do whatever you know how to do well. Bad project based learning is really bad, so if right now, your class looks more like textbooks, lectures, and worksheets, fine. Just know that in mid December, we’re going to have presentations of learning, and your students need to get up in front of a panel of adults from outside the school and present their work. If they don’t have anything interesting to talk about, you’re going to be sitting through a lot of boring presentations. So consider that as you plan curriculum. The point is that this expectation is enough, because if you get everyone presenting their work publicly, positive peer pressure is all the encouragement that you need to get teachers and students excited about doing engaging projects.

Question from myra brand, 4th grade teacher, stratford rd. school:
There’s not a lot of written material that is “teacher friendly” available. Where does one go to find out how to better utilize the project-based approach?

Theresa Gilly, High Tech High:
I agree with you on the “teacher friendly” statement. As a teacher we need to know how to do it. I would recommend taking an actual training on project based learning. I have not found any one “project based” paradigm the one I use. As a teacher I take from many different ways of designing projects.

Steps to designing integrated projects 1) Both members are open to the opportunity to try and both teachers may need to give up something and be ok with that. Teach something you are passionate about. 2) Figure out a product you want to have in the end. Think of things that will help the greater community. 3) Create a mind map to get all disciplines and their content on the mind map. 4) Start to develop your lesson plans from the mind map.

If you don’t know what to teach ask the students what they want to learn about and create, then go back to step 2

Question from K. Kramer, Instructor, Kansas State University:
When implementing a PBL philosophy at HTH, what were the greatest challenges faced by the faculty and students? How did the use of PBL enable the development of a robotics course? And, how did robotics impact other areas in the school’s curriculum?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
Since I was the teacher who developed this project, I’m going to steal this one from Theresa. The first year of the school (6 years ago), I was a full time physics teacher at the school. Students said they wanted to build battlebots. I said how about robots. They said, no we want to build battlebots. I said, no, how about robots. So it was a combination of student interest, faculty interest, my skill set (I did not know about robots but thought I could probably learn), and my knowledge about content matter that I thought was important for students to learn. So we built robots and presented what we had done to scientists and engineers at the end of the marking period. Students learned about capacitors, Ohm’s laws, adding resistors in parallel (which can include some tricky fraction calculations), relays, and other concepts from electricity and magnetism. They also developed as oral presenters, collaborators within groups, and other “non academic” skills. Project based learning and a principal who encouraged risk taking allowed me the freedom to take on something I didn’t know that much about. I learned a ton, and I think the kids learned something too.

Question from Shelley Shott - Lecturer - Northern Arizona University:
Not a question - comment - I don’t agree that PBL is about “making cool stuff” - this is exactly what a ministry of education or head of a district is looking for when they do not want to engage in this style of teaching - and one should start with standards no matter what!

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
Lots of people argue that you can do projects. Just start with the standards and develop projects that address those standards. Here’s what we have found: when you design projects in that way, you mostly end up with uninspiring projects and then you say, well that didn’t work. If you start with making cool stuff, you have students hooked. Then as a professional you have to figure out what content lines up with that project and pull it in. For people who really love the standards, they can figure out what standards to pull in. For others, it is about pulling in the content from their discipline. Pulling in the standards and pulling in the content may be the same thing in practice. I am resistant to the urge to “cover all the standards,” since nobody could really cover them all, not to mention whether the students would actually learn them all. Shelley, you and I probably agree that students need to learn a lot of academic content. My point is that starting with making cool stuff is a better way to think about curriculum development.

Question from Gordon Worley, Ed Technology Integrator, Univ. South Florida:
Classroom management seems to be a concern for many educators considering starting PBL. What guidance can you provide to educators who want to start PBL but are concerned about behavior problems?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
My experience has been that traditional “classroom managment problems” tend to fade away when students are engaged in the work at hand. When teachers tell me they are having classroom management problems, my first question is, “What are you asking the students to do?”

Question from Joann Hartmann, MAT student, Gran Canyon Universtiy:
I am a new teacher degreed in Elementary Education. My experience is very limited. what I’ve seen so far in my practicums and internship, one cannot just “throw-out” a project and expect students in the lower grades to know what to do. How does one teach project based learning to students who are used to, well, not really thinking on their own too much?

Theresa Gilly, High Tech High:
I really believe project based curriculum only get better with time. I agree that “throwing-out” a project for students is not ideal. I believe that you must support students all the way through a project. Project Based Learning is not to put a project out and get the product in the end and it is over. You must teach along the way to support the students toward their final product. I would use the same scaffolding that you currently use in your teaching. In elementary school I would do projects that focus around service learning and problems affecting their local community. I agree with you to not just put out the project, but to scaffold the learning or “content” you wish to cover while the student gets to the final goal. I would recommend going to a kindergarten classroom and observing. Students learn by investigating their surroundings. Do that at the other levels as well. Create projects that allow students to investigate and then come back together as a class and graph and discuss. No child is really ever use to project based learning the only way to get them there is to do projects that are well designed and bring the student out into the adult world by putting meaning to what and why they are learning.

Question from Jay McGrath, Instructor, Santa Barbara City College:
What are the challenges unique to high school student projects, particularly late teens?

Theresa Gilly, High Tech High:
What are the challenges unique to high school student projects, particularly late teens? I think the challenges have always varied by project, but the one that stands out the most is keeping everyone on task while you have project time and you are working with various students. Create a way of keeping students on task and accountable. I use a simple daily log that they create for me everyday of what they are going to accomplish. I receive it at the start of project time and they tell me at the end if they accomplished their goals and tell me their next steps. This is a time management piece for them and an accountability item as well.

Question from Jim Bonnes Math/Computer Teacher Liberty School Blue Hill, Maine:
I teach at a small 70 student high school in a rural community. We are considering going towards project based learning. One question I have for you is: What do students have to do to stay in good academic standing? Is it based on doing a certain number of projects or on a log of their hours or something else? We currrently require that each student recieve at least three credits to stay off academic probation.

Theresa Gilly, High Tech High:
Our project based work is all done as part of a class. Students do not just leave and go off and appear later to show me product. Project based learning requires teachers to help students through all aspects of projects. Projects do not replace teachers. Projects enhance learning by placing meaning to the learning.

I think of it as a fileing cabinet that I help them create to put the pieces of knowledge I would like them to know into so that they can recall it later.

Question from Linda Kelly, high school teacher, Virginia:
Many teachers I know seem to feel that the use of technology for learning should be limited to the top students. What is your view? Should it be used for all students, even those who are more limited in ability? How effective will it be for those students?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
I think it is ironic that so many people feel this way. I don’t understand why we would want to limit technology to the top few students. I think all students can learn using projects and technology can help make it easier for students and teachers.

Question from Sujata Chaitanya, Teacher, OakVillage Middle, NorthForest ISD:
It is a great idea provided there is a good technical support. I would like to implement this in my classroom.How do we get funds?

Ben Daley, High Tech High:
Unfortunately or fortunately, the answer is that districts can afford technology if they decide to prioritize it over other expenses.

Kevin Bushweller, (Moderator):

That’s all we have time for today, folks.

I’d like to thank our guests, Ben Daley and Theresa Gilly, for taking time out of their busy day to answer our questions. We had a tremendous number of questions, so our apologies if we didn’t get to yours. This is obviously a popular topic!

A transcript of this chat will be posted shortly. Thanks for tuning in.