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Problem Based Learning at its Best

Today, there is a lot of excitement happening in our front yard. My husband, my 83 year-old dad, and our 86 year-old next door neighbour are drilling holes for the new fence to be built. My husband has been plotting this for WEEKS. He has consulted with fence building experts, asked for quotes from a number of nearby mills for the wood, drawn out our yard (to scale) to map out where the new holes should go, and reserved the necessary equipment for when this day arrived.

These men are out there communicating, presenting ideas, discussing, disagreeing, and collectively figuring things out as they work to build this fence. What has been fun to watch is them all trying to figure out how to work the auger. None of them have ever used this machine before. My dad, a former farmer and teacher, has built many many fences in his lifetime, but mechanical augers came after his life on the farm. Our next door neighbour, a former construction engineer, has designed and built many structures (including the fence we're replacing), but has never used a mechanical auger to do so. And my husband, a retired data architect, math/physics guy, and general handy-man, has never had need to use a mechanical auger until now. But here they are. Figuring it out.

To me, this screams applicability to schools', principals', and educators' relationship with technology. We have a real world problem to solve in education - our students need to be able to leverage technology to collaborate, communicate, and create to solve complex problems or address issues of local to global significance. Yet only 10% of teachers feel comfortable teaching students technology skills (Marquez, 2019). So, how do we go about fixing this?

Learn from the men in my yard.

Here are FIVE things I have learned from watching the men in my yard.

1) I encourage all educators to trust in themselves that first and foremost they are excellent educators. The men in my yard are all experts in their own rights and collectively are bringing all their experiences and wisdom to solve the problem.

2) Choose a problem to focus on. The men in my backyard, obviously, are focusing on the problem of building a fence. They have carefully considered and selected only those tools needed to complete the task at hand. Today, it was a mechanical auger. Tomorrow, who knows what they'll need? But their problem is driving their choice in tools.

For teachers, the problem to solve might be building students' collaboration, communication, creative, or problem solving skills. Be sure, though, to define the goal and objectives. After defining the problem and what needs to be accomplished by the end of the project, THEN investigate the tools needed to accomplish the task. Choosing apps and platforms BEFORE knowing what you need them for is premature. Let the problem guide the tools needed.

3) Gain confidence in learning how to use technology by just jumping in and figuring it out. The men in my backyard have not been 100% successful, they've needed to fill in a couple of holes to try again to get things right. Keep focused on the goal and do not be afraid to fail and try again.

4) Learn together. Grab a colleague from down the hall (not literally), and brainstorm ideas and solutions. Join Twitter chats or follow hashtags (#edtech #futureready) to gain insight or source ideas. The men in my yard have had to try 1-3 strategies to finally be able to manoeuvre that auger to get the holes the way they need them to be. But they have persisted because the end goal is more appealing than suffering from their failures. Learning new technologies will be messy.

5) Have fun. These men are having a blast out there because they are trying to solve a problem and accomplish something together. Solving a real world problem can be fun, engaging, and inspiring. Give it a go and have fun.

Marquez, J. (2019). K-12 professional development is critical: Personalization, coaching and flexibility help teachers get the most out of coaching on educational technology. Ed-Tech: Focus on K-12. Retrieved from

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