Project Based Learning

We write a lot about project based learning. Just what qualifies as a learning project? I guess I have never generated a list of “must includes.” Some folks worry about such things and as long as such lists are intended as a way to stimulate thinking, I feel they are useful.

A group at the University of Michigan has generated a list of design principles for science inquiry projects. You can read their analysis of project essentials in the Educational Psychologist, 35(3), 165-178 or online.

The design principles follow from a social constructivist perspective (sounds abstract, but translating the basics is a useful exercise). The social constructivist features include: (a) active construction (e.g., collect evidence, find examples), (b) situated cogntiion (experience how knowledge and skills are applied within the discipline of study). (c) community (a community of practice, e.g., biologists, have a vocabulary, methods for answering questions, procedures for communication) and (d) discourse (symbolic forms used to communicate).

The authors propose that projects should: (a) be based on general guiding questions and domain standards, (b) involve inquiry – an extended process of posing questions, gathering evidence, reaching conclusions, (c) require collaboration (working with peers and perhaps experts), (d) use learning tools that provide opportunities for data collection and interpretation, and (e) generate artifacts (products that can be shared and evaluated).


This blog was created as a record of some of our experiences at NECC. Blogs are organized chronologically and the more recent entries appear at the top of the page. This blog allowed us to learn a little about how blogs work and to consider how blogs might be used as an educational communications tool. Comments on the creation of a blog appear in the entries generated during the first couple of days (see bottom of this page).

Global Schoolhouse sponsored a session on online collaborative learning. The purposes of the session were to introduce the audience to the resources of online collaboration and to provide some examples from the registry of more than 800 online projects Global Schoolhouse maintains.

Guest presenter at the GSN session was Karen Eini winner of the 2002 Shared Learning Award is responsible for developing and maintaining Friends and Flags a project dedicated to multicultural learning. Karen presented her structure for successful online collaborative projects.

Children’s Software Review offered a presentation based on their process for identifying the most innovative learning products of the year. The specific products that were discussed were used to illustrate the design features the review committee looked for in identifying quality products deserving recognition,. An interesting side light of the presentation involved comments about the difficulties involved in delivering quality learning experiences online.

Finally, we had an opportunity to catch up with the people from Tech4Learning. We have previously commented on several of their products (MediaBlender and Claymation) and spent time at the conference learning a little bit about VideoBlender (product for student video projects). Cindy and Melinda Koch have known each other for some time and we follow what Tech4Learning does because of their focus on support for student projects. We appreciate their willingness to allow us to use these pictures and wish we knew the entire cast of characters.

Melinda Koch of Tech4Learning


David Wagner and Tech4Learning Colleague



Today was the final day of the conference. I have a number of final comments to make in finishing this blog, but I am going to spend time tomorrow on the trip back putting this material together.
nA few words to recognize our sponsor. Cindy and I spend some time consulting with a technology innovation challenge grant awarded to the Grand Forks Schools and the Dakota Science Center. This organization attended NECC to promote the resources NatureShift makes available. The following pictures are from their convention booth – note the URL for the grant

Dakota Science

One of the more popular demonstrations in the NatureShift booth involved robot kits allowing the creation of BoBots. See the NatureShift site for details.


Blogs can be community projects. Blogger allows the blog administrator to “invite” other participants. These individuals are sent an invitation by email and establish a username and password. These individuals can sign in and submit contributions. They are unable to edit other entries to the blog. The administrator can edit (including remove) any entry. Because the NECC blog is stored on my personal server, an entry submitted by a participant would be stored by Blogger.Com until I (administrator) upload the blog to my server by FTP. I am certain how this would work when serving the blog from the Blogger site. I am guessing that all participants would be able to immediately update the blog.


We presented today. We really like poster sessions because of the opportunity to talk with individuals. It is a great opportunity to exchange information and make contacts.

Cindy presents

Product evolution – we have now been involved with technology long enough that we find the evolution of projects to be of interest. New products with potential continually surface. Some survive and some do not. I have little insight into the business end of the educational software industry, but gaining and maintaining a group of adopters in the face of great competition and expectations for continual product development must be quite a struggle. Before iMovie, we used MovieWorks in our discussion of how description of how students might incorporate video in content area products. IMovie caught our attention and we shifted our emphasis because of its cost and power. I had an opportunity to become reacquainted with MovieWorks and it is nice to see that it has continued to evolve. Why would one pay for another product, even a product under $100, focused mostly on video? I am not certain that I would, but I am not certain that the company would want MovieWorks to be described as a video editing tool. The “works” part of the name is supposed to suggest something more – more of a suite of tools associated with video. The one feature that interested me was the opportunity to make use of buttons to program interactivity into video. I think this is a great feature. Interactive Solutions is working on a way to make available similar interactivity in on-line products created with MovieWorks. This is a possibility for the next version.



There is never enough time to see what you want to see and hear what you want to hear at a major conference like NECC. We end up splitting our time between presentations and the exhibit hall. Here are samples from each.The exhibits hall at NECC very possibly contains the largest collection of vendors focused on the education market of any conference. It is immense and one could spend the entire conference talking with the sales people and sitting through short instructional presentations.

NECC Exhibits 2oo2

This is our opportunity to learn about new products and services. We often spend a lot of time at some of the smaller booths that attract our attention. Jeff Patterson of Gaggle.Net told us about new online service for schools (and gave us permission to use his picture). We had heard about Gaggle.Net before, but this was an opportunity to speak with someone from the company. Not every school operates an e-mail service for students and schools may find limitations if they tried to use services such as Hotmail. Services such as Hotmail may not be appropriate because unsolicited email may contain inappropriate content and because students cannot be monitored when using the e-mail service. If classroom teachers were to remake Hotmail, they might create something like Gaggle.Net. This service allows the school to deal with the concerns of inappropriate content and student responsibility.

Gaggle Booth

If you use one of our books, you are familiar with Dr. Bernie Dodge and WebQuests. We attended Bernie Dodge??s session on WebQuesting in 3D ( – this may not be immediately operational due to some technical difficulties). The presentation challenged teachers and software developers to consider how education can compete with other experiences in students?? lives and explored the tension educators interested in technology feel between the educational and entertainment components of edutainment. Bernie presented a soon to be released technology from Adobe ( Adobe Atmosphere) that allows the development of 3D multi-user online environments (some of you who enjoy computer games may recognize this terminology). He demonstrated how it may soon be possible to extend 2D WebQuests into online 3D and how certain applications would allow some very exciting experiences for learners. We have always been interested in exploratory learning environments (see of present chapter on instructional software) and Adobe Atmosphere and what it might allow looked pretty cool.


Welcome to the conference.

Unless you are enrolled in a pre-session workshop, Sunday is check-in day. NECC conferences are always held in large convention centers.

NECC Sign 02

In San Antonio, the center is located on the famous River Walk.

NECC Riverwalk

Convention attendees have opportunities learn about technology in various ways, but there is an emphasis on using technology. One new opportunity this year involves “beaming” info about the convention to your hand-held. I knew I would forget something so unfortunately I will not be able to say much about how it works.

Palm at NECC02

Bluefish Wireless.

NECC 2002

We are now in the last phase of our preparation for NECC


We will attempt to add some images from the conference tomorrow.

A blogger comment: I have used and even written the scripts for a web pages that can append new content to an existing web page. At first, I thought this might be what a blog server did. However, this is not exactly the case. Entries are saved in a way that allows an individual entry to be edited at a later point in time. The opportunity to edit individual entries increasing the efficiency of maintaining a blog.’, ‘NECC 2002’, 1, 0);

We will attempt to add some images from the conference tomorrow.

A blogger comment: I have used and even written the scripts for a web pages that can append new content to an existing web page. At first, I thought this might be what a blog server did. However, this is not exactly the case. Entries are saved in a way that allows an individual entry to be edited at a later point in time. The opportunity to edit individual entries increasing the efficiency of maintaining a blog.