Almost 20 years ago, when Paul Curtis was a social studies teacher at the just-opened New Technology High School in Napa, Calif., there wasn’t much “tech” to support project-based learning. “We didn’t even give the kids email addresses back then,” he chuckles.
Even now, Curtis, Director of Curriculum for the New Tech Network, is confident that project-based learning can happen without much technology. But use it right, he adds, and technology can change the “tone” of the classroom in powerful ways. “It asks teachers to give up ‘the script’ for the classroom,” he says.
Curtis sees technology shaping project-based learning in multiple ways. First technology can fuel students’ curiosity and put them in charge of learning and exploration. Next: technology can provide teachers a construct or scaffolding for doing project-based work. A well-built learning management system, Curtis says, is an essential tool for helping teachers structure classroom time and manage work. (New Tech Network has been fine-tuning an LMS, Curtis confides. Expect to hear more about the work soon, he promises.)
Finally, Curtis’ third level of technology for supporting PBL involves wielding software tools that enable students to learn at home in a flipped classroom model—then use classroom time for collaboration and “more robust thinking,” he says. “You can’t start with the canned curriculum.” Instead he looks for content tools that support teacher—and student choice.
“The best curriculum comes from the passions of teachers and students,” Curtis says. “And the best way to improve student performance is to improve the capability of teachers. So we’re looking for tools that enhance, not replace the teachers.”
At last week’s PBL World conference in Napa, EdSurge’s Tech for Schools Ed Leader Workshop surfaced 14 tools aimed at supporting teachers and students engaged in project-based learning. Here they are (and their uses):