Project Based Learning Cimy's Learning Diary for SchoolEducationGateway June/July 2016

My name is Laura Cimetta and I'm a teacher of English as a Second Language. I teach language & literatures at Liceo Linguistico "M.Grigoletti" in Pordenone, a pretty small town in the North East of Italy. I've been teaching for 30 years and I still love it! The quotation by B.Franklin's been my favourite for decades, since I embraced a Humanistic Approach to my teaching. I always gave my students a paper with those lines the first day of school, what a coincidence! I graduated at Udine University and during my life I also lived in Dublin (Ireland) for two unforgettable years. My passions are several and I can mention just a few: my schnauzer Dream, photography ( I loved taking pictures of the Irish skies and joined a camera Club there), poetry, travelling around the world, teaching (Yes!), learning, reading, music (couldn't live without!), going to concerts, watching good movies & yoga. I'm only sorry that a day is made of 24 hours because I'd need more to do well everything I'm interested in.
With my Dream, my alter-ego
Ireland's Eye from my balcony
I Miss my Irish view - sea, wind, skies and my babies playing


This chart was created by Amy Mayer and clarifies so well what PBL is .

After reading the above chart I've realized that somehow I've already done PBL - I share defined rubrics, constantly give the students choice, use digital tools chosen by students, ask them to present their work to a real audience - but now I know what I'll have to do to improve: above all I need a TEAM of colleagues that is the most difficult element to find. Then, I definitely need to work on "real"world problems although I now find it difficult when I teach literature. Last but not least I have to practice the Driving Question.

8 years ago (that was my Blog at the time, using iWeb), my students wrote to the novelist Zephaniah - a real audience! - and he replied to us. I still remember their happiness!!!

Why do you think PBL is not used more widely in our education systems? I think the problem with the Italian High School system is that we are not used to working in teams and, as a matter of fact, in a Liceo Linguistico there are something like 12 subjects and is therefore hard to synchronize all colleagues and find the time to work together on a "real" project.

What is stopping us from achieving what is outlined in the video? What are the biggest challenges we as educators face and who is stopping us from adopting the PBL approach in our classrooms? I honestly believe that what is stopping us from adopting the PBL in our classrooms is the fear of "not having enough time" because most of the teachers are not willing to question their traditional methods and do not want to share their lessons with the others, nor find the time to analyze and try new approaches.

This video by Edutopia is so clear and engaging, a real eye-opener! In lots of schools students are still considered as sponges to be filled. I've never regarded teaching as the "filling of a vase but rather the sparkling of a fire", therefore I've always followed Edutopia with great interest and have never been disappointed. For sure PBL well integrates with the Humanistic Approach I've chosen.

Five KEYS to PBL

I will find Real World Connection the most challenging and demanding for me to realize because I teach Literature and have been used to taking for granted that a certain degree of "abstraction" is a natural feature of appreciating poetry. Not everything should necessarily be "useful" to daily life; human beings read poetry because it's "beautiful" because it gives emotions and satisfies the senses. Still it's true that in order to interest, involve and engage teenagers it's imperative and vital to find a "connection" to their lives. I'm looking forward to learning how to do it in my subject!

The following video is an example of a CREATIVE ACTIVITY carried out in my 11th grade where the students - in this case led by Beatrice - after reading the novel "Face" by B.Zephaniah, wrote the lyrics of a song inspired by the main character and then made the video. The musician at the guitar is Beatrice's father. I consider this a successful example of the 5 KEYS mentioned above.

Educating others, convincing & thinking divergently better suit my subject
My class life. Learning can be fun!

"How straight-forward is it to answer the question by asking Google? Good driving questions, according to Mergendoller, are non-Googleable questions. So in this context, let's see if we can turn some Googleable questions into non-Googleable questions." All this reminds me so much of Challenge based Learning as at its core there's always this idea of the importance of Developing Critical Skills.

MY REFLECTIONS ON MY TEACHING PRACTICE: What teaching strategy do you use most commonly? What do YOU do most of the time in the classroom? What do the students do most of the time? Do you feel your current approach could be easily complemented with a PBL approach? Do you sometimes have the problem that students don't remember what they "learned" the day before? How do you address this? Do you already use some of the PBL approaches mentioned in the video? What works, doesn't work? Why? How do you find out about your student needs and how do you incorporate this knowledge in your teaching? Finish your reflection by identifying a class and a subject topic that you teach which you can use to experiment with PBL

Well, I've been experimenting the FLIPPED CLASSROOM for a few years now and, since I teach English language and literature I share my materials with the students using my Blog, the LMS Schoology and GoogleDocs. In class we work in groups, in a BYOD mode and I'm very fortunate 'cause I have my own classroom that I share with a dear colleague and friend of mine Cristiana. The students are always given a "CHOICE" as regards activities and tools to use. We devote the class time to discuss, do creative writing and presentations. As a teacher I'm their "guide" and help them if they want to. My approach could be easily complemented with a PBL approach and I tried already one on Human Rights.(see link). In Italy we call it Unità di Apprendimento. The problem that some of my students don't "remember" what they previously learnt or better say, studied, the day before in theory should be addressed by assigning topics "relevant" and "meaningful" to them. On the other hand I also admit that, since they have 5 subjects per day to study - 10 subjects all in all including Italian literature, German, Spanish, Philosophy, History, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, History of Art - and some of them are just "notions" to memorize, I guess it's human that their minds get overloaded and they forget. For sure if we teachers collaborated and cooperated more and better, the students "deep acquisition" would benefit but involving my colleagues is, for me, much harder than involving the most reluctant student! I'd like to experiment a PBL with my 4th Liceo Linguistico with a Literary topic.

DRIVING QUESTIONS. Here I am. Quoting from Andrew Miller (Edutopia) I can now devise a Product oriented question such as "How do we create a podcast to debunk myths and stereotypes of world religions? Not What is epic poetry?" but How do I create an epic poem about an important episode in my daily life?" or a ROLE ORIENTED with a real world problem to solve such as : "How do we as architects design an outdoor classroom for our school? How I as a scientist design an experiment to debunk and common scientific myth?" So What is epic poetry? While thinking about my question I found the checklist by Tony Vincent in his webpage Learning in Hand.
by John Larmer, John Mergendoller, Suzie Boss (ASCD 2015).

MY DRIVING QUESTION: How might we redesign our literature course to better meet your needs by creating an e-book relevant to your life and fun?

The class I'd like to implement this PBL is a 4th Liceo linguistico (12th grade) of 25 students aged 17 whose level of English is B2. Most of them are very motivated and enjoy working in groups and doing activities that imply using their creativity in a cooperative way. As regards the subject I thought of creating an e-book that can also refer to the British novels Robinson Crusoe by Defoe & Frankenstein by M. Shelley because they can be linked to the theme of the Rebel & Outcast and also to a lot of contemporary issues that usually appeal to students of their age. (All this will be developed during this Mooc, it's just an idea!). At the end of the Project the class should have created an e-book covering the content dealt with during our Literature sessions, containing their videos, podcasts, creative writings, comic strips, anything they consider useful to achieve the goal of the Driving Question. The competences involved will be: critical thinking, collaboration and communication in a second language. Furthermore - last but not least - we'll work on developing their digital skills using a variety of digital tools at their choice. No need to say that what they discover doing this PBL can be extended to the other languages they study.

MODULE 2. Developing effective collaboration for PBL


Just like the pebbles and stones by the sea

  • In this module the learning objectives are therefore: Understand how different types of collaboration can be used in the context of PBL
  • Develop a series of strategies and activities to promote effective collaboration between students
  • Develop a series of strategies and activities to promote effective collaboration with actors outside of the classroom
Collaboration to me is overcoming our personal ego, going one step beyond to reach out and sharing with the others the best that we can, that is to say our competencies, skills, beliefs, dreams and failures. We have to learn a lot from our students who enjoy working in groups in spite of the academic tendency to isolate them and make them seek the individual success thus forgetting that without the others we are worth less than zero.

PERSONAL REFLECTION: After 30 years of teaching in Italy and 19 in a Liceo - the most academically oriented institution in Italy but somehow quite traditional in its methodological approach - I'm a bit cynical and disheartened because the world COLLABORATION is something a lot of colleagues use in a hypocritical way because it's just one way, taking without giving. Too many "Prime donne" on our educational stage and wit every new reform they keep on adding new commitments and new chores thus leaving us little time to "spend quality time together", looking into each other's eyes, listening and "doing" things together. But true collaboration requires TIME, TRUST and that TUNING IN attitude I haven't found in a long time. I know, after having shared even my underpants 🤔( so to speak) with colleagues who've plagiarized the plagiarisable and never acknowledged nor given feedback, I have turned into a loner but, since I'm here, I know somewhere it's different, we mustn't lose hope as our students believe in our values and maybe one day ... things will change.

2.2 What is effective collaboration? First of all, remember that a key goal of PBL is not the project but rather the process of building the project. Learning happens while working on the project. And one of the key things students should be learning as part of this process is effective collaboration. Therefore let's briefly look at what collaboration is and isn't.

21CLD Learning Activity Rubrics by Microsoft Partners in Learning
21CLD Learning Activity Rubrics by Microsoft Partners in Learning
Screenshot of SELF-ASSESSMENT I definitely need to improve on INTERDEPENDENCE


  1. Make sure team members know what is expected of them
  2. Create norms and roles where appropriate
  3. Monitor progress constantly
  4. Celebrate even little successes
  5. Give students ways to informally develop cohesion
IDEA TO DEVELOP EFFECTIVE COLLABORATION Writing on your schoolmates' backs. It can be done at the beginning of an activity or at the end and the idea id to "tell" the others something important that he/she'll keep with him at the end of the activity. Only positive remarks are allowed. It does magic at the end of the schoolyear and the teachers takes part in the activity too. Nevertheless, it can be used for any kind of activity. I first did it as a student at a Teacher Training Course at Pilgrim's and have always used it ever since :) In a folder I keep all the end of school year good-bye papers.

E-Twinning projects. I've been a member of e-Twinning for some years but only last year I joined a training session although I'd never thought of actually actively participating. Well, after this PBL course, next year I'm definitely joining in and it will be my priority!!

TO GET OUR COMMUNITY ON BOARD I must remember to Lay the groundwork. Inform community members about the benefits of PBL; Recruit content-area experts;Recruit community clients that is to say build relationships with nonprofit organizations, local agencies, and others who can benefit from your students’ 21st century expertise; Offer students as problem-solvers; Open our doors. (

REFLECTION: Which people from your community you or your students could engage with? I'm so grateful to this course because it has sparkled my creativity and boosted my enthusiasm up to the stars. I've been involved for several years now in the project "School goes to Hospital" working as a volunteer with the students who are undergoing chemo treatments at the Cancer Clinic CRO in Aviano. The purpose behind it is to allow those young kids and teenagers not to fail the school year or better say to give them a purpose to focus on something else rather than their illness. During this school year the students of my town Pordenone have launched a fund-raising for that AREA GIOVANI and also organized a march around town to raising awareness among people. It was such a great success! Which means that when young people are involved in a meaningful good cause they give their heart and soul. Now I'm thinking of engaging the local Rotaract that launched the project among teachers, the Area Giovani of the CRO Hospital & also sports organizations. The goal will be to implement or improve communication in English via web to be used by those student-patients to improve and support their studying while far away from home. (It's a work in progress)!!

COLLABORATION TOOLS: I didn't know TeamUp and for sure I'll try it. It looks great. To form groups at random I've used Random Picker. It's just fun! You've mentioned all tools already. I personally use Schoology, Socrative, Kahoot, Padlet, Symbaloo (don't like it very much), Dropbox, Google Docs & have started using with some students What'sUp.

Students in the town square for the fund-raising march to sponsor the Area Giovani Cro


Thank you so much for this assessment review !! I'm so grateful to Giovanna who wrote: Dear Laura, you have very well structured your work and identified very clear learning aims. The idea of building an ebook is extraordinary as to involve teens in a group work and for them is always something engaging to become ebook producers!!! I love the fact that you have chosen a technological tool to implement Literature and creative writing without neglecting the emotional aspect - so important at any age!! Collaboration with each other is well structured and you have linked them with the achievement of happiness and balance. We really need to start the whole process at school: collaboration = satisfaction for sharing and producing something together = happiness and balance in our relationships. I would implement the emotional aspect by finding evidence and reasons for literatural conflicts. Interpreting the writings from the past and compare them with our days conflicts. And finally finding strategies and means to solve them. Fantastic job and thanks for sharing. Giovanna Wiplinger Croce from Sardinia (Italy)



Next to developing collaborative skills of students, another key part of PBL is for students to take ownership of tasks, initiative at solving problems, and most importantly to stick with these tasks and problems until they have come to a satisfactory conclusion. In other words, we try to develop a student-driven environment in which the energy and persistence of what is happening in the classroom does not primarily come from us but from the students. Albert Einstein's quote above captures one of the key essences of this module: getting students' to develop grit and resilience to stay with a problem or project even though they have failed previously is one the most difficult parts of PBL and at the core of developing a student-driven environment. As an example and at a quite simple level, when students work for the first time in a group as part of PBL, the first attempts at collaboration might not be successful. It is essential that students don't become frustrated and demotivated but rather excited and motivated to try again and improve, again and again and again. Creating an environment that allows and promotes this, is what the module is all about." All this is so true and so important in my own experience too.

As a starter activity, briefly describe a situation in your professional or personal life where you were first unsuccessful but because you stuck with it you succeeded in the end. Finish by identifying why you stuck with the problem/task and did not give up. Last year I started a PBL on Human Rights with two of my classes a 3rd liceo I had inherited from a colleague who had retired (11th graders) and my 4th (12th graders). In the last of the two classes things went smooth since the very beginning while in the other it was a daily disappointment. The class dynamics were appalling: boys refused to cooperate with girls, very few people showed involvement or any kind of caring towards the others. On top of that, instead of a "lively & noisy" atmosphere I seemed to sank deeper and deeper into a dull and boring teaching. All stimuli seemed to fall into the void and the only concern of the students was getting a good mark, possibly in a traditional test without too much use of their critical thinking nor any effort in using technology or working in groups. They refused participating in what I posted on Schoology and we even had a fight. Well, I was about to give up since I was so frustrated and felt inadequate. :( Well, I gritted my teeth and kept on keeping the door of "dialogue" open. I built empathy with the leader students who actually cared and who, little bu little, infected the others. I kept on working with all the passion and enthusiasm I had and showed them that, in spite of their indifference, I cared and that I believed so much in what I was doing and teaching that nobody, not even them, could destroy my faith in education and innovative teaching methods. Well, to cut the long story short, at the end of the year they did some beautiful works and thanked me for what they had been able to learn and do "together". It's not all roses and flowers mind! I cannot deny that during this academic year we have sometimes fell apart and they have relapsed into the old apathy while I have thought of giving up on them but, again, I couldn't give up and by showing grit and resilience they have changed their attitude towards each others and towards learning. I didnt try to change their personalities, I didn't expect this class to be flamboyant and enthralling but by the end of the year they have succeeded in respecting and appreciating eachother and thanked me for my PERSEVERANCE and passion.

Facilitating Learning in a Student-Driven Environment (Keys to PBL Series Part 4)
I love this image

DOTSTORMING: I was sent this image by a dear & brilliant student of mine and found it relevant to the topic of today's discussion since I find it so true & inspiring. I disagree with a system of education that provides students with pre-given answers, that spon feeds them and then require them to "parrot" the teacher's ideas. I'd rather have students fail but try to find their own inner voice than have students succeeds without making their own effort or using their own brain. Quoting R. Schuller "I'd rather attempt to do something great and fail than to attempt to do nothing and succeed."


It comes from the Latin resilire, “to bounce back”. Resilience refers to the capacity to return to good mental health after challenging and difficult situations. It is not one specific thing, but a combination of skills and attributes that help to solve problems, cope with challenges, adapt and bounce back when things don´t go as planned. Resilient people learn from their mistakes, they look at their failures and mistakes as lessons to be learned from, and as opportunities for growth.
This quiz made me reflect upon my strengths & weaknesses .

In Reverse Brainstorming we will answer the opposite question of what we actually want to achieve. This triggers some unusual thinking and brings a new perspective on the problem. So while we ultimately want to be able to build confidence and independence in our students, we would like you, in the Padlet below, identify how we as teachers can weaken our student's confidence and independence. Use your own and others' reflections to help you create a classroom environment that supports students to become confident and independent learners.

MY reverse brainstorming: I loved the above videos and this activity!! We can weaken our student's confidence and independence by telling them constantly what they have to do, by not giving them any choice, by stifling their enthusiasm, by making them feel as if their mistakes were a result of their lack of intelligence, by isolating them within the classroom, by treating them as dummies, by showing we have little expectations from them, by not listening to their divergent ideas, by telling them off instead of being supportive, by focusing on mistakes and failures, by criticizing and never rewarding them, by killing their motivation with our insensitivity & cynicism, in a word ... by being just like some of the teachers I had at school and hated!

An Entrepreneurial Mindset

For students to take ownership of the PBL process and move their own and their peer's learning forward, they need to have an entrepreneurial mindset. It'a about a positive attitude! IMPROVEMENT, CHANGE & INNOVATION ARE EKEYWORDS.
Building my PBL Learning Design. For this module I' going to add TLAs (Teaching and Learning Activities) to my Design, with a focus on scaffolding for student independence and ownership, building resilience and an entrepreneurial mindset in general.

After adding these TLAs your Design should ideally provide opportunity for students

  1. to identify the questions they would like to pursue (within the context of your Driving Question)
  2. to make choices on all key project-related aspects such as resources used, products created, use of time, etc.
  3. to take significant responsibility and work independently from the teacher, but with guidance if necessary
  4. to reflect during the project about their own work and learning
I'm using this framework to continue my Learning Designer
Thank you so much Marija Fridl



As the quote above suggests, assessment should be about "sitting beside someone", providing feedback and helping them to improve. Assessment should not only be about giving a grade at the end but it should be an on-going process, where teachers and students alike assess their learning as they work on the projects. However, as most of you will work in environments where you'll have to give students a grade at the end of the year, we will also look at some techniques and tools that can help you with this.

The learning objectives for this module are:

  1. Understanding the difference between formative and summative assessment
  2. Understanding how assessment can be embedded into PBL activities
  3. Understanding what a rubric is and why it can help us assess PBL
  4. Develop a finalised and rigorous PBL implementation Learning Design

Share your assessment context. Are you free to assess students in any way you want? Or do you have to follow a strict testing system with regular standardised tests every few months? What types of assessment are common at your school/in your country? Do you collaborate with colleagues when it comes to assessment? In our system we have marks from 0 to 10 and are now heading towards standardized tests (Invalsi) but it's not that strict yet. We teachers of EFL assess language fluency, accuracy, interaction, knowledge of content & critical skills. I personally also assess collaboration skills and creativity/originality when it comes to PBL. I must admit this is nt that common among my colleagues who focus more on knowledge and accuracy. I collaborate with few colleagues and with the "lecturer" with whom I share some assessments done during the session of "conversation".

Assessment as part of PBL should not only come at the end but should be seen as a learning activity that is embedded throughout the PBL process. It should become a standard feature of any scaffolding activities you might plan for your PBL implementation

I also use the fingers from 1 to five, thumbs up & down in my classes! But most of the times I use Socrative exit tickets, quizzes or open questions. Sometimes also a Kahoot survey.

WHAT IS PEER ASSESSMENT? Peer assessment is simply a matter of students giving informed feedback to one another on an assignment. Effective peer assessment is related to clear standards and is supported by a constructive process of critique. Peer assessment is a valuable tool because feedback from peers can be delivered with more immediacy and in greater volume than teacher feedback. Peer assessment should happen during the learning process, on works-in-progress, and be followed by opportunities for students to use the feedback they received to revise their work.

WHAT IS NOT PEER ASSESSMENT? Peer assessment is not a process by which peers determine grades for one another. Although some teachers have had success with peer grading, turning peer assessment into peer evaluation is risky and may lead to negative attitudes toward the peer assessment process. In general, peers provide feedback; teachers provide grades.

MY REFLECTIONS: I found this document very interesting and inspiring and kept me focused on the real essence of Peer assessment. I've been using Peer Assessment for years and I am convinced that students most of the times are very honest and lucid when it comes to highlighting someone else's work strengths & weaknesses. I've never had problems in using this kind f assessment. I usually provide students with Rubrics and they discuss in groups. Then I give them my feed-back on their assessment and most of the times it's more positive than their own ;). Anyway, this LADDER OF FEEDBACK is awesome and had never considered its visual impact until now. Thanks again!

4.4 Creating & Using Rubrics for PBL Assessment

Rubrics are grading tools that can be used for summative as well as formative assessment and they are also a very useful tool to help students with self- and peer assessment. While they can be used for grading, they should in fact be seen as a learning resource that is used by students throughout their work. Rubrics lend themselves especially well for PBL because they can capture a complex range of criteria in an organized and clear way.

Well it's time to say goodbye & I'm grateful to all the people who took part in planning this awesome MOOC but also to the committed colleagues - like you who're now reading and reached the end of my Learning Diary - for the new insights they've given me.

Why this green waterfall? Well, because its waters are full of energy & refreshing but will all merge, flow into a deeper & wider lake and come together, eventually. Green as a wish for cascades of successful new PBL spreading all around the world!


Dear Laura, I'm Alice Cabrelle and I'm going to review your LD but first I want to say how much I loved your Learnind Diary: I've so much to learn from you, I added it in my bookmark and I'm also going to contact you on facebook. If you want, you can find my Learning Diary and I'd really appreciate a feedback about my LD from you. Going to my peer review...The project is focused on teaching students specific and important knowledge, understanding, and skills derived from standards and central to academic subject areas. Important success skills are explicitly targeted to be taught and assessed. The project is focused on a central problem or question, at the appropriate level of challenge. The central problem or question is framed by a driving question for the project, which is:- open-ended; it will allow students to develop more than one reasonable answer. - understandable and inspiring to students. - aligned with learning goals; to answer it, students will need to gain the intended knowledge, understanding, and skills. Inquiry is sustained over time and academically rigorous and it is driven by student-generated questions throughout the project. The project has an authentic context, involves real-world tasks, tools, and quality standards-Students have opportunities to express voice and choice on important matters and they have opportunities to take significant responsibility. Students and teachers engage in thoughtful, comprehensive reflection about what and how students learn. Students are provided with opportunities to give and receive feedback about the quality of products and work-in-progress. Student work is made public only to classmates and the teacher.Your work is excellent and inspiring!!! Thank you Alice

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