Design the Dream

Dream big, design the dream and go for it!


The fundamentals of Instructional Design are design, develop, implement and evaluate. That is my perspective as a graduate from Syracuse University’s Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation program. The purpose of this article is to explain my Instructional Design (ID) process in an effort to help educators with creating learning activities that are highly effective and prepare students for 21st Century challenges.


What is a Project Based Learning environment? What does it look like? In my classroom, PBL looks and feels like controlled chaos. The notion of giving up control in the classroom is mind blowing for most teachers, including myself. But when you see students taking ownership of their learning, that restiveness pays off.

When students are engaged in a Project Based Learning activity, they are accessing prior knowledge that was delivered in your classroom (or in other classrooms for an interdisciplinary approach) and apply that knowledge to a learning activity. Designing a PBL learning activity allows the educator to identify the outcome of instruction delivered in one, or many, classroom settings.

For example, my goal is to get my students hired or accepted into the college of their choice. I use PBL activities to directly prepare my students for 21st Century challenges and opportunities. My Canastota Apprentice students demonstrate professionalism and confidence building through conference calls with corporations, presentations to judges (including teachers and administrators), and through collaborating with business leaders in the community.

In my view, my classroom is practice for the corporate or college world. Within your classroom walls lies the opportunity to make mistakes, learn from mistakes and move forward without looking back. Businesses and colleges want to accept and hire students with this competitive edge. Designing PBL learning activities that engage deep learning is one way to provide that edge to our 21st Century learners.


Let’s shake things up in the classroom and write a completely original learning activity! Start with a goal that you want your students to realize. For example, my goal is for my students to employ Skype in a professional setting. Next, determine what exactly you want to see your students accomplish at the end of this project. Then, write a performance objective that more specifically states what the student will do and what you will measure. For example “the student will answer three questions via video conference with a community member.” One good way to map your ideas is to describe the steps you will take for the project.


The critical element of implementing a PBL activity into the classroom is to “let go” and give up some control in your classroom. You are now the facilitator of learning. You are observing interactions, taking note of gaps, assessing student development and providing feedback as needed. The Project Based Learning environment is fluid, always moving without boundaries. I find that by stepping out of the driver’s seat, my students begin to self-regulate and take ownership of their learning. This is the power of the PBL environment.


Now that you created the PBL activity, it is time to evaluate student performance. I like to provide verbal and written feedback as my student’s progress through the project as well as provide the formal evaluation at the conclusion of the project. I provide students with a performance based rubric. As part of the learning process, I typically allow students to revise their work leading up to the final due date. Corporations will offer feedback to an employee before publishing a piece of work so why not afford students the same luxury? This is planning for the world of careers and college.


CEO: Collaborative and Enterprising Opportunity

I wrote a PBL learning activity after being inspired by Skype logos on display on the Microsoft campus and as a result implemented my CEO program in 2012. My learning activity, CEO: Collaborative and Enterprising Opportunity can be found on the Microsoft Partner’s in Learning Network. My goal was to use Skype in the classroom and to have my Entrepreneurship students collaborate with business owners from across the country for advice and feedback as students developed the business plan. Once I had my goal in mind, the learning activity started to unfold. I wrote the program and had students collaborating with entrepreneurs via Skype for a period of five weeks.  I was fortunate enough to be selected as a Microsoft in Education Innovative Expert Educator.  As an Expert Educator, I presented the CEO program in Barcelona Spain as part of the Microsoft in Education Global Forum.  I met educators from around the globe and although I was going for gold for the USA, I found that my purpose was much different.  It was not to win, but to learn from other cultures how to be an effective educator.  For more on my trip to Barcelona and lessons learned, please visit my blog post.  At the forum I attended trainings including 21st Century Design, 1:1 Deployments and a panel discussion with educational leaders.  The technology showcase provided the opportunity to “play” with various types of technology to implement into the classroom.  Partnerships and products such as Office 365, Corinth and Edmodo left an impression.

It is my sincere hope that this blog post helps educators to write their own learning activities and implement. The most important step is going for it…try it out once and evaluate your process later. Please let me know if I can be of assistance to anyone working to write and implement a new learning activity. Now go for it!

Twitter: PatriciaRagan1

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