Blooming Confusing

I have a confession. I collect Blooms adaptations. It seems like the making up new Blooms is a very popular pass time of teachers using the Internet these days. Most of them don’t feel particularly interesting, but I tend to bookmark them as I find them as a sort of personal Blooms Museum. Every now and again I find one that is interesting such as this.


You can grab a copy from the author here and get a better quality version. What I like about this is that it’s a loop, not a triangle. It’s also a good attempt at describing the typical problem-solution cycle evident in video games. The author is proposing that these stages can be constructively aligned with Blooms taxonomy.

If you are teaching though an enquiry process, then this loop is relevant. Rather than learning being a series of steps, which might take place over several days or weeks – consider how this could be uses as a daily activity loop. I’d argue that if a child is involved in this cycle – and more importantly can IDENTIFY where they are in the loop at anytime, then it’s highly likely they will be reasonably engaged and productive. Of course the key is to make sure they are immersed in a learning episode that uses these stages.

The start here, I’d suggest is a good way to pre-test and find a way for students to make something that reveals their interests, knowledge, skills, assumptions, biases and errors. All to often lessons seem to start without doing this at all. If the kid can get 60/60 on a pre-test, then why would they bother doing the task.

Think of a video game, the first thing you get to do is choose gender, race, class and a small selection of gear to get started. We all have our preferences here … as we’re often used to playing (learning) in a certain, familiar modality. There’s nothing wrong with allowing kids to work from their preferences – comfort zone – as ultimately they are going to have to move away from it with the problems you set later.

This loop is something that can be actively tracked and reinforced to students during the enquiry. It can be designed into the sequence of learning with ease. It doesn’t have to use the rigid language of Blooms (high to low) and I’ll declare here that I think this is too dogmatic for modern learners anyway. I think this is a pretty innovative way of looking at learning-loops, and if kids get to try and repeat these loops, know where they are, and why they are doing it — then it’s going to help reinforce the essential value of enquiry based learning.

Active Production Networks: Simplifying PBL for middle-school with media.

Next year, I’m labeling my teaching as ‘active productive network’ based (APN). This is based on Goodyear (1992) SHARP learning cycles. Among several other scholars interested in how networks produce and reproduce knowlege, Peter Goodyear at Sydney University is someone I recommend you discover.

The key idea in APN is that it places students in a persistent, iterative corporeal and hyper-mediated process of rendering tacit knowledge (the things we are required to teach) inside local working practices (and cultures) through a share-able media interchange.

Unlike the ‘flipped classroom’, APN doesn’t attempt to jump-start learning with a media blitz, compensate for a lack of time, money, resources or make a shallow effort to reform teacher behavior to the technological determinism of Web2.0. It relies on every day culture. While  SHARP learning pre-dates YouTube and the subsequent rise and dull fall of Web2.0, APN learning is socially designed and embedded in today’s media culture. The re-production of knowledge, error checking and correction occurs through and because of this network culture. To me, this allows children to explore decision-making processes which have been traditionally denied in schools — even schools which claim to be “Voodle Sites” and so forth.

20141216_084116In this model, there is a pre-defined structure to the learning, where membership allows for constant, mediated, peer-review which I don’t see the same as PBL’s ‘critical friends’ approach. There is also an expert-prompt, which I don’t see the same as a lesson hook.

For example, we might start by asking why do some soccer fans sing and others don’t at matches?. Then we design experiments to find out, collect some raw data, then share and report what we find. The process of designing the experiments is not the same as selecting a method, or being told what method would work best from the outset (classic teaching).

The APN cycle is simpler than PBL, and closer to research than to art or design methods such as design thinking. Inside it, students provide and are provided with persistent peer review (even though as individuals they come and go) online. All they need is a simple communications interchange. The cycle is simple to follow and focuses on the social design of networks which actively reproduce information effectively. First, research problems and questions are defined. Next, experiments are designed which students think will help them process the problem (some will work better than others). The network produces raw data (which can be re-used by anyone) and finally the product appears through student reports and discussions. The discussion of the method (experiment) and the data is vitally important. Some students will repeat the cycle, others will come to a conclusion (at that point). The environment can be open or closed social-media, an open or close video game, open or closed online course … and much more.

Anyway, this is something that I’ll be using in order to compress the seven step PBL process (which does not take into account media networks or cultures) into four in order to accelerate and increase the active cycles that can be had in the classroom (middle school). Here’s a diagram I drew, based on Goodyear (1992; 2014) and the open source bio medical research site design ( The main aim (for me) is to use media spaces as social design, not necessarily an ePortfolio … and so the hunt for the right tool/space to do that begins.

Is your school global or snow global?


Is your school global or snow global? That was the question sketched out by @kevinhoneycut this week. I liked the question and the ease of which middle schoolers could reflect on their own lives with it. For me, it makes a great, short, getting to know you project. .The image of the snow globe, famously used by Pixar, can be easily extended to escapism, globalization and consumer filter bubbles. All great fodder for visual arts and design … I hope this turns out to be a global collaboration with my American friends. Its been a long time since I got to do this. Boom.

Student Evaluation: The day one method

tumblr_mluyz16Nk01qzi5bfo1_1280This post is for teachers, especially new PBL teachers. Its about getting student evaluations of your practice. If you’re new to PBL or new to teaching there’s a natural concern about how well you are teaching for understanding not just to be interesting, fun or charismatic.

Inspired by a lengthy explanation of how to go about “student evaluations” (related to higher education) I’ve found over several years, there is often an assumption that this is an end-of-course diagnostic. I won’t go back over the issues students have with evaluation of courses — and teaching, there is a ton of literature about that — yet we’re still seeing lots of discussion about the most effective ‘survey’ which is related to what kind of survey tool to use. Again, not interested in that debate either.

What Project Based Learning taught me, though observation, experience and theory is that all PBL course designs begin with the end in mind. So how can you create an effective student evaluation at the beginning, if in actual fact you’re not too sure how each session will go during the project? In higher education, courses are often required to submit exams in say week 5 of a 16 week course, meaning that teachers are often locked into things they can’t easily change. In schools, the hallowed “scope and sequence” is a compliance document and often only certain people can change it, and many teachers see it as bondage. Do not move off the path!

Of course PBL is all about reducing the distance you can see down the path. You know where the end is, you have plan of how to get there and the kind of resources to take on the trip … but can you really design an effective ‘student evaluation’ at the outset?

Yes. It’s remarkably simple if you’re using technology. Just create a blank Google Document and share the link with your students. That document is something you get to comment on, but they get to author. Personally, I like to have students create ‘anon’ gmail accounts from day one too. but I understand some people will have some regulation which might prevent this method. For you, just share a OneNote or a bank document via Dropbox, some internal drive and so on. There is a way you can do this I assure you. Also, share this document with your colleagues … because they too can give you advice and tips just at the time you might be struggling or unsure.

It’s a critical document because it creates trust between you and them — and shows that throughout the coursework/project you are actively thinking about teaching, and what it means to be an effective teacher. As you change, your students change and society changes around you — this approach lets you revisit your values, technologies and what is important to you and your students THIS time not everytime.

In short, the most important document you can share with a student is a blank one.

Now who’s too busy to do that?

A-W of Useful PBL Words

PBL is known for its open ended questions which can’t be easily answered. Cynically, some will say that PBL can’t be assessed “properly” because of it. Not true. In fact, one reason to become a PBL teacher is because you want to ask questions which demand focused and specific responses. Here is a quick start list of words to build questions and measurable tasks.

Useful objective words for PBL

adjust, alter, analyse, amend, answer, approve, assemble, assess, audit, build, calculate, call, carry out, categorise, check, cross, close, complete, decide, describe, develop, diagnose, divide, draft, draw, eliminate, explain, estimate, extract, file, find, fit, generate, hire, hold, identify, implement, inform, interview, justify, label, lift, list, locate, lower, make, mark, map, monitor, name, negotiate, obtain, operate, perform, pitch, prepare, place, plan, prove, question, read, recommend, remove, report, research, review, schedule, select, sell, solve, spend, state, supervise, spell, test, train, translate, turn, update, use, verify, weigh, write.

Using the Disney Method in teaching

So the Disney method? Well it’s quite simple. Disney thought that in order to engage the natural thinking styles of a group of people (we all think differently) the it’s important to understand both their communication and relational skills. Without doing this, whatever is being introduced will be un-matched to the group and fail to influence. If you’ve ever watched a powerpoint and fell asleep, this is the opposite of Disney’s theory of engaging audiences. It’s a parallel thinking technique.

Disney saw people in four ways. This also connects with Kieren Egan’s theories of imaginative education which is why I like it for games. The Spectator, The Dreamer, Realist and Critic provide a model of thinking styles that is relevant to children’s approach to transformational play (something that Bron Stuckey) talks about so well. Classroom games are experiences, not necessarily digital objects, so the importance here is to offer experiences around a game object or game-like scenario that match or influence the thinking style of the students.

The SPECTATOR looks at how this is viewed from the outside. You look at facts and evidence, rather than opinion. They use data to argue facts.

The DREAMER is critical to developing new ideas and goals – to widen the areas of thought. These don’t have to be achievable or even real. To the dreamer, anything is possible. They are not constrained by reality or judgement or criticism. In students, this helps develop agency.

The REALIST is necessary as a means of transferring those ideas in concrete expression – defines actions to be taken. This means taking what is being communicating and un-packing it using cognitive knowledge and skills. What can be done in reality, and what is best left to the imagination. The problem with realists is that if they don’t learn to balance what CAN be done with what is imagined, hypothesised and unreal, is that they become lock-stepped by narrow thinking. In other words, even the most realistic and pragmatic, need to act as if anything is possible more often.

The CRITIC is necessary as a filter and as a stimulus to refinement – evaluates pay-offs and draw backs. This isn’t the hater, the non-participator or the saboteur who often uses rhetorical fallacies to assert their opinion. In Disney’s model, the are learning how to make arguments and predictions based on evidence presented and experience. They learn strategies for ‘what if’ problems occur or ‘how can’ we make this better.

So when we ask a question to direct children’s learning: there is a need to ensure that we communicate the problem and under pinning ideas and concepts such that they match or influence the thinking styles of children.

This is a common method used in German Engineering for example, but little known these days. It was a method used by Disney to create ideas and evaluate them towards a workable solution. It was used at the height of Disney’s studio system.


  • Allows students to discuss an issue from 4 different methods (Spectators view, Dreamers View, Realisers view and Critics view).
  • Spectators view – look at problem analysis from the outside. It uses facts and data to make arguments  not opinions. For example. If trying to understand why countries go to war, children would look at data and facts external actual war. How many countries are at war, what was the longest war, the shortest. Which war has the most post-war problems or benefits (how can we tell). Looking at the problem from this perfective allows problem analysis.
  • Dreamers view – They ask what is the ideal, dream view of this solution if we made it. What is that we wish to happen. What is the extreme boundaries of our ambition. This is divergent thinking.
  • Realists view – Their job is to use convergent thinking. To look at the ideas presented, consider them mindfully with the spectators view and start to organise them such that they roughly appear as: done before, reasonably do-able now, could be done in the near future. They are not judging the dreamers, just helping to organise them. They would come up with a PLAN and they will have agreed and set CRITERIA. This helps students sift ideas and identify the most significant elements in the ideas. The PLAN is a set of steps to implement the IDEAS.
  • The Critics: Are looking at the risks and dangers, who would oppose the plan, what could be done to the plan to improve it. On what evidence should the plan be refined, rejected or implemented.

The Disney method was designed to be simple, and to allow teams to rapidly develop ideas and put forward workable plans for production, but also to ensure that the organisation had sufficient ‘dreams’ documented that could be revisited. This method was central to the development of much of Disney’s films, television, literature and theme parks.

I think that this method could be used towards games in the classroom. It could be applied to any topic, if presented as a problem – and even in PBL, it encourages teachers to approach the same problem in four ways using a method – it’s a way to overcome PBL fatigue where students quickly learn the seven steps and become bored with it.

The Flipped PBL classroom

What’s a PBL flipped classroom?. It’s really about flipping the emphasis of time. In a PBL flipped scenario, the teacher mainly works before the project begins (rather than lesson) and not after. They do work during, but unlike even a video-flip, the teacher isn’t doing the bulk of the work (marking) at the end. The end is a celebration and feedback time. Almost all the assessment will have been handled during the project.

Assumptions: Dangerous habits of mind.

A common phrase in Project Based Learning (PBL) is the idea of creating classroom routines such that they develop “habits of mind”. Nominally, this is regarded as practices and behaviours.

Habermas (1981) said that problem solving and learning may be instrumental—learning to manipulate or control the environment or other people to enhance efficacy in improving performance; impressionistic—learning to enhance one’s impression on others, to present one-self; normative—learning oriented to common values and a normative sense of entitlement (members of the group are entitled to expect certain behavior); or communicative—learning to understand the meaning of what is being communicated.

So habits of mind – as a routine is linked to human ‘point of view’. Habits of mind are more durable than points of view. Points of view are subject to continuing change as we reflect on either the content or process by which we solve problems and identify the need to modify assumptions.

When I began learning about PBL, I assumed habits of mind related to behavioural routines. Things like working on a digital diary, responding to things I posted online and so on. I didn’t take the time (as I didn’t read enough) to consider the student’s point of view – which today I think was some variation of instrumentalism.

Over-time, and especially with an interest in gaming, ‘habits of mind’ have become purposes, values, beliefs, and feelings. These are less amenable to empirical testing of course.

Critical reflection is the ‘thing’ presented via the teacher-networks as the 21st Century imperative (crap detection and so on). What I think, take it or leave it, has become the essential habit of mind for anyone using online-media is this.

Technology should be used in PBL not to make ‘things’ but to predominantly demonstrate how students are testing assumptions upon which their interpretations, beliefs, and habits of mind or points of view are based.

There’s no reason that ‘content’ heavy curriculum should not attempt to test students assumptions as not doing it, appears to me, to impose our belief about ‘their’ point of view and what new habits of mind they need. I know I blundered into this at the time – but it seems worth pointing out.

Testing assumptions is the habit of mind. I think games do this rather well.

Thankfully I didn’t write this

The fact that you might be reading about PBL and even thinking about giving it a second thought is not because I might have highlighted or offered some new insight, method or use.

What is remarkable about PBL being brought to your attention is that thousands of people have been working as a collective intelligence on it, and shared some/all of their ideas and experience using digital text platforms – laptops, tablets and smartphones.

We can’t promote any one person – especially the Twitter famous – as the darling or hero of PBL (or anything else). In any form of progress, we have to admit that corporations, governments and institutions also play enabling roles. Progress is achieved because everyone has a part to play these days.

This is why technology matters in education, because it enables progress in ways which were not possible before – and gives people new parts to play. It’s also why it’s dangerous, as progress spreads like lichen on a damp wall, rather than in a neat or orderly garden tended by specialists.

The confluence of events that might have brought you here are the same as those that took me to the same doorstep. Each passing day, there are millions of words typed and posted about PBL – and some of those should be mine and yours I guess.

Maintaining motivation to enquire

Asking a driving question laced with teen-interesting dilemmas and undertones get’s their attention – once. It’s my belief that when kids experience teachers asking them questions which they feel is because they are a person of interest – so they pay attention. If they don’t detect this feeling, it’s taken as a disingenuous attempt to disguise “school-work”. They’ll probably comply, but with no HUD display over their head via your ARG powered iPad – how do you tell?

Kids, like adults pay more attention to “meaningful work” and that is motivating.

I’m going to explain how to experiment with this, so in anticipation, I’d love it if you could TWEET this for me, just to get the ball rolling.

If not, you are not allowed to read the rest. Deal?

How to maintain the learning rage

The challenge of PBL is not to motivate students (though I believe it can awaken them from sleep if teachers know how). The challenge is to keep them motivated during an enquiry.  This, I don’t see being explained by the popular PBL-talkers too much, so I thought I’d add it.  It’s not a learning thing, they teach you this in ad-school.

We are bombarded with brain-memos, the loudest being “is this too easy or too hard right now”. If ourbrain say’s yes or even maybe then we are likely to feel bored. Bored kids invent less boring realities for teachers – which teachers tend to dislike. Adults are no better, at conferences some people actually fall asleep in response, where most of us politely disappear into cyber-interests.

You are a person of interest

To keep kids interested – and therefore at least willing to pay attention to school work, a great PBL teacher learns how to see (and treat) kids as a person of interest. I don’t give a monkeys about your learning-cycles, design thinking steps – unless you can find ways to show kids (or adults) they are a person of interest – they are mentally out of there ASAP.

Imaginative Education Trick: Level 1

Here’s one from the IE box of tricks, it’s a trust builder – as trust comes before powerpoint (snigger).

Using sleek, smooth, plush, slick, salty, hot, crisp, and juicy, which combination of two would make…

                            …the ideal teacher for you? 

                            …the ideal friend for you?

                            …the ideal enemy that could defeat you?

                            …the ideal minion for you?

                            …the ideal leader of the free world?

                            …the ideal sauce?

                            …the ideal snack food?

If students respond, let’s agree that you got their attention. Ding, level up. If not, check for signs of life – they might be so deep in sleep we’ll need to do something more radical. But I digress …

Getting students motivated (again and again) is best achieved by deliberately tapping into their emotions and saying to them – you are a person of interest to me.

Imaginative Education Trick: Level 2

Split kids into two groups – Get them to sit around and talk about the next 10 years (10 year being infinity to kids). This pitches the conversation out into their imagination and away from more immediate anxieties and pressures.  Give them 10 mins for each question, then get them to explain the differences (critical thinking).

Ask them – “In 10 years …

“How Much Better Do You Want To Feel?”


“How Much Happier Do You Want To Be?”

Now give them 10 mins to list out

“in 10 years,  what are five things that will get you there?”

When they’ve done that,ask each individual to come up with five steps for each thing that they think will help them as individuals – which should round you up to an hour.

If they can do this, then chances are your students will make great PBL students once you get your head around this stuff and they’ll leave, wondering what all that was about … kids who wonder about stuff as they leave are engaged.

Don’t be afraid to ask them using the good old voice box to target kids with emotionally provocative questions which are not in the syllabus.

PBL teachers learn how to use these bad-boys. It’s challenging because teacher questions are (historically) tied to a certain Blooms taxonomy (aligned with selected content) which disrupts the way our minds naturally question the world and each other. Natural language is impossible to achieve therefore communicative learning is equally un-realistic.

Think how dumb it would be if each time you came home from work and your partner asked “list what you did to today” followed by “compare this day to any other day” … see it’s just not a natural way to learn or communicate with others is it?

Here are some templates to use:

How Much Better…..?

How Much Energy ….?

How much more/less time …?

Is this the same as…..?

Isn’t it time you….?

Isn’t this the most unusual….?

Is this the most …?

Is that the least?

Wouldn’t you be better off……?

This is of course how advertising works. So if you have a design background you’ll be saying “deh” right now. In ad-land, we’d write “How much younger do you want to look?” where as in education we’re asking “how much more do you want to learn”. This to me is why you should get someone to teach you about PBL – most kids are told what to learn, what the limits (and consequences for not learning) are. This is of course stupid, but convenient.

Tapping into emotions using these kind of lead in questions will allow you to re-tap personal-emotional motivation – but over time, you’ll forget and it will just be natural. So if you’re tire of the same old battles with student bevaviour, buy a PBL coach.