PBL Software Review
From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis
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Project Pals is a powerful new tool that lets students organize projects. Starting from a template that you’ve designed to guide your students through the project, they can collaborate or work together to explore, learn, brainstorm, and create.
As I’ve been testing this app with my students, I’ve found some exciting features. In this post, I’ll share how this app works and my thoughts on how you can use it in your classroom.
How to Start Using Project Pals
First, Project Pals is free for teachers who sign up. I just clicked on the Google button and signed in with my Google account. Your first 20 projects
are free, so it’s easy to get started.
Your 20 free projects are counted by how many student projects you have. That means one collaborative project with 20 students counts as a single project, but 20 individual projects count as 20.
When you launch Project Pals, you can see the catalog of projects that you can use as “starter projects. You can copy these projects and use them with your students. In fact, I suggest using one of these to get started. Just click the image and click “clone” to start using it in one of your classes. You can also create your projects from scratch as I did with our podcast project.
Standards Aligned Project Search
These starter projects are aligned with Common Core standards and are already built for you. You can also tag and create your own standards to find them later.
Tracking Student Participation
After a student creates the project from the template, they can add other collaborators. This
method of setting up collaboration is important — students are doing the creating and initiating. So have one student begin, and then add the other students on their team.
After the collaboration project has been established, you’ll start seeing statistics immediately.
Before I go into Project Pals’ many features, I should mention the feature that I’ve wished I could have forever in project-based tools. In the past, I’ve often used wikis to manage and track projects. However, this wouldn’t really let me see what the students were doing.
The easiest way to explain the power of tracking is to compare the Project Pals workspace to a wiki. On a wiki, each page has a history and a teacher can see which student added or made changes to a wiki page. However, Project Pals is even more powerful. Every single object added to a workspace — from a graphic to text to a photograph of some kind — each object has a “history.” This means that you can not only see who added an object, but who changed it. You just right click on the object and click the information button to see the history.
Each project includes not only a workspace (more on that later) but also a Kanban-like task board like you would use in Trello.
Editor’s Note: Kanban is a method of task management for groups. Some people call it “task boards.” Here’s a YouTube video I made some time ago about this method of collaborating on projects using a tool called Trello. For those of you familiar with Trello, this task board feature is built right into Project Pals.
Students create tasks and assign them to themselves or one another. They can assign dates and priorities, and drag them from “to do” to “in progress” and “done.” This is a powerful dashboard for looking at the project work and for teaching students a Silicon Valley-style system of tracking projects.
Basic Features in Project Pals
When entering a project, you’ll see several links:
- Project Details – explain the details and include an introductory “trailer” to start the project.
- Standards – include the standards aligned with this project.
- Supporting Materials – the rubrics, materials, and handouts for this project.
- Tasks – the task board that we’ve already discussed.
- Presentations – the collaborative presentations created by group members for this project.
- Statistics – the details of recent activity and the pie chart breaking down participation.
- Evaluation – information on the rubrics for this project.
- Workspace – where students brainstorm, work, and collaborate. The heart of any project in Project Pals, this is where students typically spend most of their time.
Working Together in the Workspace
Students work together in the workspace. As you can see in the example below, they were brainstorming about names for their podcast. First, they added their thoughts. Then another student organized the thoughts as they discussed them in class.
There are so many features inside Project Pals, including:
- Components – charts, explanatory units, and graphics that you can add for students to use.
- Events – step-by-step processes including examples like photosynthesis or a sequence of events in a piece of literature. (See video below.)
- Analysis – some typical methods of analysis are included and ready to add for students to analyze pieces of a project.
- Scenes – a typical way to group things in the workspace.
Who Can Use Project Pals?
When experimenting with this tool, I found that I couldn’t really compare it to anything on the market now. For example, some parts work like Wikispaces used to, but not quite. Some parts let you attach Google Docs and other tools, so the tight integration with Google actually adds project management on top of the collaborative tools that we’re already using.
Project Pals is perfect for any student capable of using an electronic tablet, Chromebook, or device to create and share. Usefully, it can easily let students add the graphics and everything they might create in apps on those devices.
However, Project Pals does something that no other tool does – it creates the collaborative workspace, task boards, and connective space to let projects thrive and grow.
I hope you’ll try Project Pals and let me know what you think! I’m excited by what I see. I think this is a novel approach to project management. Students are creating and collaborating while their teacher coaches them — just the way projects should be!
Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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