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I’m here as a guest of The Achievers Programme (TAP), an India-based organization that aspires to help students prepare for the future by becoming more critical thinkers and self-directed learners. In addition to hosting cultural exchanges and other enriching experiences for students, TAP invites about 15 international presenters a year to conduct hands-on workshops for teachers. Since 1995, more than 10,000 teachers have taken part in workshops addressing everything from multiple intelligences to bullying prevention. My workshop focus is project-based learning, with an emphasis on real-world projects supported by technology.
Here are a few highlights from the road.
When I arrived a few days ago at Alwar Public School in the state of Rajasthan, I was greeted by a welcoming committee of students who placed a red bindi on my forehead and a garland of marigolds around my neck. The night before, over platters of delicious Indian food shared with several teachers and administrators, I had a chance to learn about this 30-year-old private school that enrolls 1,600 students. One of three schools managed by the Good Earth Foundation, it’s considered the highest-achieving school in this city of about half a million.
Key to the school’s success, I quickly discovered, is its collaborative faculty and progressive leadership. Anshu Beniwal, a veteran educator who is coordinator of academics, started introducing and encouraging project-based learning here about two years ago. “I planted the seed,” she said, “but teachers have made it grow.”
When it was time to talk about project assessment, I was happy to learn that teachers here have already designed common rubrics that are used across subject areas and grade levels. They also understand the importance of having students present their project results to an authentic audience. These shared practices are helping to build a culture that supports PBL.
The students I had a chance to talk with were enthusiastic about their first project experiences — especially the social aspect of working in teams and taking field trips for research. What they seemed most curious about, however, was how they compare to American students. “Ma’am, do we study harder?” one girl asked me. I pointed out that she and her classmates were attending school on a Saturday — a day off for U.S. students. Their school year lasts more than 220 days, several weeks longer than in my home state of Oregon. The formality of their classroom — where teachers are addressed as ma’am or sir and students stand when a visitor enters the room — was another difference between East and West.
When I suggested that they might want to connect with American students — perhaps for a collaborative project that would enable them to get acquainted virtually — I was greeted with a flurry of head bobs.
PBL Taking Hold
Alwar Public School is just one of many I’m getting a chance to visit, but in many ways it represents the future of education in India. It’s in private schools that progressive ideas like PBL are gaining a foothold. Meanwhile, tradition-bound government schools stick with covering the curriculum and preparing students for big tests.
In a recent article here in the Hindustan Times, the perils of tradition were spelled out in an op-ed piece by Abhijit Banerjee, Ford Foundation international professor of economics and director, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT. Citing a recent report on the status of Indian education, he bemoaned the fact that about half of students in government schools lag years behind grade level in reading and fare even worse in math. Results are only slightly better at private schools, where even poor families struggle to send their children to help them gain an edge.
Why? Here’s Banerjee’s theory: “The goal of education is to permit the most successful students to get through the difficult exams that get thrown at them and hit the jackpot of a government job or a place in an engineering school. The rest, unavoidably, will just drop out.”
Shifting to PBL offers an alternative. It’s not without challenges, especially when class sizes approach 40 and technology is confined to a computer lab. But so far, the teachers I’ve met seem to think it’s worth the effort to help their students prepare for the future.
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Over the last seven years, I have found numerous ways of incorporating project-based learning into my curriculum to make learning come alive. I’ve discovered that, while teaching the content is critical, the larger challenge involves creating educational lessons that are stimulating and meet the needs of my students as they actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge . A few of my past projects have ranged from students creating public service announcements about an interest group, to recreating the 1920s including the music and dance, to creating a senior digital portfolio project.A Civic Engagement Project
I recently developed a unit about the legislative branch of government. My students addressed two challenges through a PBL approach, which applied my civics content in a meaningful way. I began planning my unit with the end goal in mind. Through a UbD approach, I started with the classroom outcomes and then planned the curriculum choosing activities and materials that fostered student learning (Wiggins). My students were asked to create solutions to real-world problems related to the legislative branch. Some of their projects included tracking a bill, proposing and sending a bill to our congressional representative, redrawing a congressional district, writing an email of support to a member of Congress, creating a Facebook page as a congressional representative, and making a political cartoon that could appear in the local newspaper to support or criticize the legislative branch.
One of the many benefits of PBL is that students start to see learning as interdisciplinary. They learn to collaborate with others because they have the opportunity to be creative in how they think about a problem and then put their own spin on a solution. For example, a student that normally struggles in my class became the expert with our redistricting game. Another student who is normally very reserved is able shine through her artistic ability. Students make connections between different content areas as well as developing deeper critical thinking skills while they are learning content. After learning about Lyme disease in health class, one student wrote a letter in support of a related bill that is currently being proposed in our state legislature. Another student contacted Congressman Schumer to express an opinion about a Federal minimum wage increase. Both students received a formal response to their letters from our congressional representatives, which made this project a valuable experience.A Different Way of Teaching
I no longer stand in the front of the room, but maneuver between different groups of students. As a teacher, you cannot just throw a project at a student and expect him or her to be successful. PBL requires careful planning, preparation, and scaffolding. Every time I create a project, I provide a clear checklist of requirements, goals, helpful tips, and rubrics to support success in the classroom. It’s very important to plan ahead and anticipate any challenges that students may encounter.
In this case, knowledge becomes relevant when applied to real-world situations. It’s critical for teachers to build opportunities into the classroom to insure that all students are successful. At the end of the project, I had students share their products in small groups through an edcafe presentation. This “bottom-up approach shifts energy, engagement, and opportunity for exploration to the students, and transforms the teacher into expert facilitator instead of gatekeeper/manager” (Kennett). An edcafe is a way of structuring class to promote student choice and ownership over learning.The Power of Reflection
Effective PBL incorporates student reflection into the learning process. After the legislative project, students were asked to share these thoughts:
Middle school teachers can update their assessments by offering students authentic opportunities to display what they have learned.
There are many mixed messages in education. For instance, there are tons of mandated tests to help schools identify and analyze data, but I believe there’s also a moral imperative to ensure that learning is authentic and meaningful to students. These two principles, assessments and authenticity, need not be an oxymoron. They can support each other, but it does take 21st-century student-centered design.
The students of 2023 aren’t the students of 2023, and our pacing guides, grading practices, and traditional assessments are showing the dust of inflexibility. The research on student engagement always showed the need for lessons and assessments to be meaningful and relevant, but as students returned to school, we’re seeing evidence in behavior and academic issues that students aren’t just hoping for more authenticity, they are demanding it.
Making Assessments More Authentic
To make your assessments more authentic, you don’t need to start over. It’s important, however, to ensure that student voices are heard. Many times, assessments exist as a task created by the teacher or a program, but authenticity considers each individual student.
To make an assessment more authentic, just think of turning up the dial on any of the following ideas:
Having students reflect on and assess their own work
Ensuring that there are audiences for their work beyond the teacher
Using assessments that focus on topics of real-world significance, structure, and problem-solving
Allowing students to select topics of focus
Here’s a document I created with a list of options to help turn up the dial on authentic assessments.
Authentic Assessments Chart
A list of assessments that provide authentic ways for teachers to gauge student learning.
Authenticity as a Part of the Classroom Culture
One of the ways to ensure that assessments are authentic is to use more elements from project-based learning (PBL) in the classroom. In PBL and in any of its many branches—design-based learning, inquiry-based learning, service-based learning, etc.—systemic authenticity is a prime directive. Assessments are utilized to help a teacher understand the students’ trajectories, strengths, and growth areas without sacrificing authenticity.
For instance, Telannia Norfar, an Oklahoma high school teacher and coauthor of Project-Based Learning in the Math Classroom, uses a more authentic assessment system in her math classroom. This system is a cycle of formative assessments, each followed by critique and revision, that lead to a summative assessment, all of which are based in real-world scenarios. After interviewing a family, her students create an individual financial analysis for it. Formative assessments, like first explaining the basic compound interest formula, scaffold students toward their final presentation to their clients. You can view her authentic system of assessment in action on YouTube.
Then there’s Sara Lev, a transitional kindergarten teacher in Los Angeles and coauthor of Implementing Project Based Learning in Early Childhood. In her latest project, students mimicked a recent touring Lego Art exhibit by creating their own. According to Lev, she assessed students throughout her project, sorting Legos “in different ways in order to organize them for their Lego Art Studio—by size, shape, color, number of studs, shiny/dull—as a means of assessing this standard: Classify objects into given categories; count the numbers of objects in each category and sort the categories by count.”
So, rather than create an inauthentic test time when all students sat down solely for the purpose of being assessed, Lev used observation and walked around the students as they created their exhibit.
Creating a more authentic assessment experience isn’t just about occasionally offering more choices of prompts or allowing students to write a letter to a principal. It’s about creating a classroom culture that honors student voice and agency, where students know that what they are learning will make an impact on the world outside of school.
On its own, this yearly share drop is not particularly alarming. However, it follows a complete collapse of Samsung’s market share in China just a few years ago.
Samsung’s market share in China currently registers below one percent, leaving the company well outside the top five in recent data from both IDC and Counterpoint. You have to return to 2024 to find Samsung’s peak market share in China. The company was once a dominant brand capturing 20 percent of the market. Samsung’s second-place position in India is by no means assured, in even the short term.
Market share in India has started a downward trajectory, following a complete collapse in China.
In just four years, the world’s biggest phone brand completely disappeared from the world’s largest smartphone market. Samsung’s market share is also on a downward trajectory in the world’s second-largest market, India, while the US — the third-largest market — has been stagnant for years. If Samsung’s performance in India goes the way of China, the smartphone giant will be out of the two biggest and still fastest growing mobile markets. This will inevitably have implications for its global market presence and financial performance. The outlook isn’t great in this scenario, following Samsung’s weak Q3 2023 financial statement.
Competing with China’s affordable brands
The comparison between China and India is apt for one key reason — Samsung’s Chinese competitors.
The Chinese smartphone market is currently carved up mostly between Huawei (42%), vivo (18.3%), and OPPO (16.6%), with Xiaomi in fourth place on 9.8%. These brands are dominant in India too, ranking in order of Xiaomi (27.1%), Samsung (18.9%), vivo (15.2%), realme (14.3%), and OPPO (11.8%). Furthermore, these Chinese brands are expanding fast in India, ranging from 8.5 to 400% growth in the last year.
2024 is a defining year
As the smartphone industry’s biggest manufacturer, the pressure is on Samsung to sustain momentum. An increasingly difficult task as the global smartphone market has stuttered to a halt. Another failure in India over the coming years would certainly be problematic for Samsung’s future growth prospects. Despite the brand’s continued dominance in Europe, Korea, and a hefty slice of the US, these markets are saturated. A sales contraction seems possible as consumers hold onto devices for longer. That wouldn’t just bad news for Samsung’s mobile sales, but for its other businesses that supply processing, display, and other components to its smartphone division as well.
On the plus side, Samsung is still a major brand in Brazil, with a 40% or so share of the world’s fourth-largest phone market. Brazil still has plenty of growth left in it too, as does Russia, although Samsung’s market share has been falling there, too.
2024 could be a make or break year for Samsung in these markets. It’s very difficult to break through once growing markets mature and are carved up among the big players. The company has to stem to loss of share quickly, which will require substantial investments not only in competitive phones but in marketing and distribution channels.
The Samsung Galaxy brand certainly won’t be disappearing from Western markets any time soon, but there’s a real possibility that it will be Chinese phone brands that rule the biggest markets in the wider world.
How to Successfully Transition to an E-commerce Revenue Model
Reduced shelf space has spared no product category. Giant retailers like Target have been steadily reducing items they stock on their shelves to cut down on the number of items filling up their storerooms. While reducing shelf space might make life easier for retailers, it’s making things tough on product manufacturers.
Shelf space is the retail version of the “chicken and egg” dilemma. If your product sells, the retailer will stock more of it, and you’ll get increasingly valuable shelf space. If your product doesn’t sell, you’ll be forced off the shelf. This puts pressure on baby product manufacturers to sell more product faster, bolster their sales relationships with retailers, and innovate their products and packaging to be more space-efficient. And if those measures don’t work, they’ll have to find alternative ways to sell.E-Commerce Isn’t Easy
Self-powered e-commerce success is rare when facing off against competitors like Amazon. While retailers like Macy’s, Walmart, and Target are reporting weaker consumer spending, Amazon has seen growth in its apparel sales — about 19 percent in the first quarter of 2024. It’s set to be the largest apparel retailer in the U.S. by 2023.
And Amazon has its own products in more than a dozen categories. The company competes heavily in categories like batteries, speakers, and baby wipes. Amazon Elements, the company’s new baby product line, now has 16 percent of the baby wipe market share, and sales are growing at about 266 percent per year. Although the product is exclusively for Amazon Prime members, customers are three times more likely to buy it over other brands.Controlling Your Brand’s Destiny
When going toe to toe with powerhouses like Amazon, especially in categories like baby products, brands that don’t make a strong effort to quickly drive product awareness, equity, and credibility risk a quick death.
Unless you are a house brand or control a retailer’s promotion and shelf placement decisions, your product’s future is completely out of your hands if you don’t take action. The key to pursuing authority in the baby product category is to build and nurture relationships with consumers on every digital platform.
Parents are some of the most diligent researchers of any audience. They want the best for their children, so they incessantly scour the internet for product info, reviews, ratings, and expert and peer opinions.
Mothers, in particular, frequently use the internet as a resource. Nine in 10 mothers with children under 18 spend more time online than the general population. Digital resources can be incredibly useful, especially for first-time mothers.
About half of mothers like to research products digitally before buying them in the store, and Millennial moms are even less likely to research products in the store even if they end up buying them there. With an additional quarter of moms both researching and buying online, few mothers are conducting both their research and their purchases in the actual store.Building Digital Consumer Relationships
Moms and babies quickly age in and out of the target market, so you don’t have 10 years to build loyalty. Unless you have an unlimited budget, digital is the key to effectively moving moms down the path to purchase and achieving online dominance. Brands need to be where their education-hungry audience members are and give them what they’re looking for. Here are three digital platforms to focus on:1. Search
Focus on long variations of head keywords to maximize the effectiveness of search engines. Seventy percent of all search queries are long-tail, meaning they contain a generic search term, such as “car seat,” but cater to a very specific audience, such as “top infant car seat brand.” It’s difficult to know the user’s intent behind head keywords. It gets easier when a user uses a longer variation of a search term, and these key phrases are 2.5 times more likely to convert.
If brands truly own their keywords, they can drive qualified traffic to their website to see product information and reviews. These are experiences the brand can control. Amazon generates 57 percent of its sales through long-tail product descriptions.2. Social Media
Millennial moms are especially social media conscious and follow brands’ social media channels. About 90 percent of all Millennial women research a product before purchasing, but that percentage is even greater for Millennial moms. They want to receive information from the brands they follow on social media and get coupons and other deals.3. Email
Nothing delivers engagement, deep education, loyalty, and sales better than email. Email is also the largest driver to social activity and brand websites, and the number of worldwide email accounts is expected to increase to almost 5 billion by the end of 2023. That’s more than half of the entire world’s population.
If a parent is interested enough to give personal info and permission to a brand to find out more or receive a discount, you have the invitation to connect deeply and close the deal. The world’s most successful brands use email to invite feedback, drive social activity, invite ratings and reviews, reward, and sell. More than 7 percent of all e-commerce user acquisitions happen through email, and when these customers are acquired, they spend more money, making their lifetime value about 12 percent higher than the average.
Reduced shelf space is a reality, and if you don’t gain online authority, you run the risk of your product not being seen anywhere. While it might seem daunting to compete with retail giants like Amazon, online success is possible through strong customer relationships. Take your brand’s destiny into your own hands by nurturing consumer relationships across multiple digital platforms.
When teaching in challenging times like these, it’s easy to get so mired in the day-to-day minutiae of making online learning work that you can lose sight of how important fun is to learning. Not only does fun build engagement in remote environments, but it alleviates some of the trauma experienced by kids this year.
Based on my experience as a seventh-grade teacher and now as a professor of education, I believe that project-based learning (PBL)—often a key strategy in physical classrooms—can be a critical component of rigorous online learning, and to turning frowns upside down.
Authentic learning does not need to stop just because students are learning from home. In fact, the current situation gives us a great opportunity to show students why what we are teaching them matters and how authentic learning connects to real-world problems. PBL is a great way to facilitate this understanding—and it takes just a few steps to facilitate active, engaging lessons in the online setting.
How the Driving Question Helps
Driving questions are core to project-based learning, and there’s no reason why they can’t work in a virtual environment. Think of a driving question as one that gets students engaged and active. Don’t think “what,” think “how.” For example, if you’re a science teacher discussing ocean pollution, rather than asking, “What are three main elements contributing to ocean pollution?” (yawn), you could ask, “How would you solve the problem of ocean pollution?” Chances are, then you will see the brain engines start to rev with possibilities.
Send Students on a Quest
From there, you’d send students on a quest to find answers, perhaps with the prompt “Come up with a three-step solution to one aspect of ocean pollution.” The original “how” question has gotten their brains going, and the solution assignment unleashes their problem-solving skills, increasing their engagement. Once they’re on that path to discovery, they will start to have fun.
There are many ways you can help students on their quest for information. A few ideas:
Invite guest speakers whom they can interview during synchronous class time.
Share guiding questions through your learning management system (e.g., Google Classroom) to help focus their thinking and websites that they can use to help find the answer.
Create a virtual “escape room” where teams of students complete puzzles and solve riddles to help guide their research and increase focus.
The quest can be done at any age. You can guide younger students with more specific focusing questions and specific websites or videos when you include the links. For older students, point them in a general direction and let them run. Freedom to innovate is one of the hallmarks of invention, after all.Offer Students Choices
In her theory of differentiated instruction, University of Virginia professor of education Carol Ann Tomlinson asserts that because students learn at different speeds and can vary dramatically in terms of their learning styles, teachers need to create learning environments and approaches that reflect those variations. Yet so often we teach one lesson with one assessment.
Project-based learning is an ideal solution to that challenge: It’s up to the students to showcase their best idea in the best format for them. So, if we return to solving the problem of ocean pollution, some students might invent a machine, others might create a documentary in which they highlight problems and solutions, and still others might write a paper explaining their ideas. They are all answering the driving question, in their own way.
The beauty of this aspect of PBL is that students are engaged and excited; they want to go on a quest to find the best answer, and they want to solve the problem. They are highly motivated to turn in their best work.
I have found that PBL, with a little practice, is highly engaging to teach, as well as a highly engaging format in which to learn. I always tell my education students, “If you’re not having fun, neither are your students.” In my years of using PBL, I have been astounded by the creativity of my students. The future generation is bright and imaginative. Using project-based learning to teach, including online, opens the doors of students’ minds to their own strengths and interests, allowing them to soar, even in a difficult learning environment.
Tips for Success
Administrators: In the scramble to provide educators with curriculum during this crazy season, do not take away their ability to engage students. So many of the online curricula being used cover standards but do not create students who love to learn. Give your teachers permission to be creative.
Teachers: Be organized. If supplies are needed, get that information to parents at least a week ahead of time, and share with them an overview of the week you are infusing your instruction with remote project-based learning approaches. Tell them to be patient and emphasize that project-based learning will likely engage their child in online instruction. While some may balk initially at having to get supplies, in the end they will be thankful because their child actually wants to do the required assignments.
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