Personalize and Project Based Learning…A Plan in Action

Alright, so personalize learning and project based learning (A great article) isn’t all that new.  However, if you were one of the many who sat

An amazing infographic that explains the ideals of personalized learning.

An amazing infographic that explains the ideals of personalized learning.

through high school and university biology lectures (you know, the ones you jolt awake from), then you know how boring it can sometimes be.  In an attempt to change the minds of the few who now sit in front of me in my Grade 12 bio class, I am about to force them on a journey of learning.  Perhaps force is a strong word… motivate and support them.  In spurts of learning throughout the beginning of this year, my grade 12 bio class has been lectured to only a handful of times (I do see it’s importance), and instead, have been challenged to investigate protein transport disorders, play with lego in a TPACK inspired DNA/RNA learning challenge, create videos to explain processes of DNA replication, transcription, and protein synthesis, use twitter to share and discuss ethics surrounding biology and technology, and now I am taking them to a new level…I hope. My current and most arduous assignment is what I am calling the Molecular Genetics Challenge; a very open, personalized, and project based journey.

Alright, some background on why first.  My learning community is pretty amazing. Through Cohort 21, colleagues, and those I follow on Twitter, I have been exposed to many ideas on project based learning.  This community is what has motivated me to look at things in a new light.  After some discussion with various people, I gained the confidence to do something different and break away from more traditional biology classroom; especially in a grade 12 class where pressure to perform is at all time highs.  My goal or action plan is to take project based learning and combine it with the ideals of personalized learning.  It was the infographic to the right that really got me thinking (click to see full size).  After reading through it I went back to the curriculum and realized that the Molecular Genetics unit in Grade 12 biology is designed perfectly for a personalized project based learning assignment…or journey.


Here’s the plan: The Assignment (Feel free to make a copy!)

Step 1: Curriculum Documents. Using the curriculum documents and the essential questions for the unit, students will decide on a project/thesis that will best lead them down their path of learning.

Step 2: Proposal: Students will create a one page proposal with their thesis and rationale which will be submitted for approval during a conference with me.

Step 3: Research. Students will need to compile resources and create an annotated bibliography to demonstrate their research and to mimic expectations that post-secondary institutions have.

Step 4: Project completion. How the project is completed and the final project will be entirely up to the student. I will provide resources and feedback daily.

Step 5: Project defence. Like with a thesis defence in a Masters program, students will defend their project to another faculty member and myself.  This will be limited to a 10 minute presentation of their journey and learning.

How collaboration will be a part of this process:

The classroom will be divided into working spaces to ensure that students are directed and that they have support from others who are working on the same stage of the project. They will also be encouraged to share successes, questions, and concerns via their classroom hashtag on twitter.



Using DocAppender, an add on for Google Forms, the students will submit goals at the begining of each class.  They will also complete my Reflective Survey at the end of each class.  Why do I mention DocAppender? By using this add-on, I am able to populate a single Google Document with information from each survey that is specific to a student.  It’s a great conversation piece for conferencing with my students. Feel free to watch the following video on how I am using DocAppender:

I am continuing to look for ways of making this better for the students.  Please feel free to comment and share your ideas.  What are your thoughts on personalized and project based learning?





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6 Responses to Personalize and Project Based Learning…A Plan in Action

  1. Graham Vogt says:

    Yes Rollwagen, this looks incredible. Perhaps even I could absorb some biology in this environment… though I’m no sure I’d know where to begin. Student directed learning, forming their own paths in response to the essential questions? Amazing and congratulations for being so bold in a 12th Grade Class. I look forward to following your journey. And thank you for the tip on DocAppender, I will definitely explore.

    • Graham! Great to hear from you. It might be a little brazen to attempt this with the Grade 12’s but if anyone can handle the freedom to embark on a learning journey, I am hoping they can.

  2. Derek Doucet says:

    Hey Tim, What an endeavour! I think you’ll be blazing new trails in the Science Team and will be an inspiration to many! I am excited to see how this goes and look forward to working with you and supporting you through you action plan. You should touch base with Les on this one as she and were planning to talk about our experiences in this journey you’re embarking on. There are definitely pitfalls but it’s all in the name of learning.

    I am excited for you! Brent Hurley is also on a similar journey. You need to touch base with him and read his blog posts.

    Check out this video for 5 keys to rigorous pbl

    Will you be using any of the tools in our toolkit for students? Have you considered the Networked Learner stuff we talked about?

    • Thanks for the links Derek! I have been chatting with Hurley regarding this and loved his post. There are several people taking the PBL initiative and I feel that I have many people to lean on when I run into a problem. My students will continue to use Twitter to comment and share their journey and I have toyed with implementing Diigo for sharing resources that they find. This could increase the collaborative efforts in the class. Today is day one. I expect to see some great things and perhaps a few short-falls or issues which I should be able to assist and facilitate students through.

  3. Hey Tim,

    I’m going to send one more awesome project based resource your way. Have you done any learning with High Tech High yet? They are a beyond inspiring family of schools in California and they have figured some awesome stuff out about PBL that is worth a Saturday morning read:

    Get ready for some awesome:

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