From daTeechur's Desk: Five PBL Hacks for Educators

Plus...surviving the doctoral program

Happy Friday, friends!!!

Ughhhh…like it or not, we are approaching August. I’m seeing some friends posting about going back to work, and others of us are not that far behind. This is your reminder to live it up! When I was “living la vida 10 month,” summertime was my absolute favorite. Yes, I worked hard on my professional learning, but I also played hard! We all need that time to rest and recover in order to gear up for the year ahead.

Speaking of preparing for the year ahead, now’s the time to start thinking on how you can make it the best year ever for you and your students. Here’s a blog post I wrote almost 9 years ago (give or take a week or two) about how you can do exactly that.

Five PBL Hacks for Educators

I don’t remember much from high school, but I will never forget chorus. I spent so much time in the choir room that I could have received mail there.

Every year, we would put on a big production, where we’d cover songs from musicals, decades, or movie soundtracks. Senior year, one song we did was “What a Feeling” from Flashdance. One day in rehearsal, my teacher, Mr. Johnson, told us, “those lyrics are so true. (dramatic voice) If there’s one thing you need to remember in life, it’s to take your passion and make it happen.

At the time, being 17, I laughed it off, thinking it was the corniest thing that I had ever heard. However, it always stuck in the back of my head. Now, cough cough years later, I finally get it.

What is PBL?

If you’re hip to the current best practices of teaching, you know that PBL means many things to different people:

  • Problem-Based Learning

  • Project-Based Learning (edit: a rockstar member of my PLN just enlightened me about terminology regarding PBL. Read her blog post here.)

  • Passion-Based Learning

I heard the third definition more recently, and I think I like that one the best. For the purposes of this post, let’s stick with that, shall we?

As educators, part of our duty is to model life-long learning, and what better way to do that than to become living examples of PBL for our students? Take your passion, and make it happen. Here’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

My PBL Journey

Last year, at approximately this time, I received an email that would change my life. I’m not going to tell you about it just yet; that would ruin the suspense. Muhahahahaha.

For the months leading up to summer 2013, I had begun my journey to connectivity, creating a Twitter account exclusively (well, almost) for #edtech stuff, participating in chats, and getting to know other educators via social media.

One day, I saw a “Call for Presenters” come through my Twitter feed, for a conference called Edscape. On a whim, I filled out a Google Form to present on flipped instruction. We had tried it the last few weeks of school and it had worked well for us. However, I wasn’t quite comfortable with the idea of leading a session on it.

I was also very uneasy about the traveling aspect, knowing darn well that I lived in the DC area, and this conference was all the way in New Jersey. I had presented a couple of times at conferences in my area, but this was different. This was traveling. I had no idea what I would do, on the off-chance that my session would be accepted.


Well, guess what? It was. (For those of you playing along at home, the acceptance letter was the life-altering email that I alluded to before.) A little punk voice in my head kept screaming, “OMG, what do we do now?!?” Thanks to the unwavering support of my family, I decided to go for it. My parents made the six hour drive with me.

Once I arrived, I was so happy that I actually took the plunge. I learned so much and made some amazing connections. For the first time, I met members of my PLN face-to-face. One person would serve as a super-mentor and we’d present together at ISTE in a matter of months. Another would inspire me to found (find?) our county’s first ever edcamp.

Looking back, my Edscape experience was like walking to the edge of a huge diving board. Once I dove in, I was no longer afraid…I have presented approximately 15 times in 10 months, in six states and two countries, and twice online to international audiences. I have learned so much from others, and made lifelong friends, but I could never have done so without activating my PBL.

Here are a few takeaways that I’ve encountered.

The Hacks

Step outside of your comfort zone. Well, duh. Sometimes you are going to have to yell at that little punk voice in your head. I personally enjoy, “break yo’self foo!” However, feel free to use whatever terminology you choose. Another case in point: some of you may have seen my free interactive tutorials. If not, I have attached the link for your viewing pleasure (insert shameless self-promo here). Well, I had this idea a couple of years ago, but was too afraid to start. “Ooh, nobody will watch! We’re wasting our time,” the little stupid voice said. Well, so what? When I finally got around to it last December, I was having so much fun that I didn’t care if nobody watched. (Spoiler: some folks did, which opened even more doors.)

Bet on yourself. If you want to live your dreams, you’re going to need to invest in yourself. It could be money for conferences, transportation, etc. It could be the time that you invest in building your brand. Just be prepared to foot the bill, because nothing in this world comes for free, sweetheart. (I hope you read that in a Humphrey Bogart voice.) BUT, the joy that you get from chasing your passion will be more than worth it.

  • Use all of the free avenues available to you (i.e. Twitter chats, conferences on The Future of Education, Google Hangouts, etc…be creative!)

  • Organize your time wisely! (I ❤ Kanban Flow, a Chrome extension.)

Make lists. If you’re one of those people who is always flooded with thoughts, you may be struck with a great idea, only to lose it minutes later. This is why lists can come in handy. I like to use Evernote because it can sync across multiple devices. Check this old post for more tips.

Be an innovator. Allow me to be dead honest for a moment. A lot of the time, I get more credit than I deserve. I did not invent any of the topics on which I present (maybe in the future, I’ll invent something. Who knows?). Most of the praise I get comes from being an innovator/early adopter.

I was first introduced to this chart during an educational technology class I took a couple semesters ago. You can apply it to technology, but really, it goes along with most concepts. Example: I happened to be in the right place at the right time when I heard about flipping, and was able to share my experiences with others. If this infographic is correct, you can see how the practice has grown. Here’s how to be an innovator:

  • Stay connected to the latest developments in your field. Do this by learning everything you can about your passion. Go to conferences, connect on Twitter, etc.

  • If you see a strategy that may work for you, try it. The worst that can happen is that you learn from your mistakes.

  • If the strategy pays off, don’t do it in isolation…tell others about it so that they can reap the benefits as well. It’s not bragging; sharing is caring. To that point:

Never walk alone. Just like the grown-ups in your life told you when you were little, always have a buddy. As a matter of fact, get as many good buddies as you can! Build up that PLN. It’s a learning party, people! As I keep saying, I love Twitter…it’s totally changed my life. You never know what allies you will find.

  • Use social media to your advantage.

  • Go to conferences. Find tips here if you’re a little shy.


PBL…it’s not just for students. Just remember to stay true to your passion. You may see results, and you may not. Either way is fine…it’s all about feeding your soul and doing what makes you happy.

Surviving the Doc Program

You know what else August reminds me of? A new semester. Many of my friends are currently pursuing Masters or Doctorate degrees. I must hold the world record for time continuously served in a doctoral program: 10 years and three months. There was sweat, and lots of tears (thankfully, no blood…well, actually…we won’t go there 😂). Somehow, I survived it! In December 2017, I walked across that stage, defying my own expectations. Here’s how I did it.

📚 Publish Your Manuscript!📚

Exciting news! Our online Intro to Self-Publishing for Educators course is thriving, thanks to our fantastic participants. And now, registration for Course 2: From Manuscript to Published Book is open! If you're ready to take your book idea further, this course will guide you through Amazon Kindle Direct and the basics of audiobooks.

Alright folks, that does it for me. Thanks so much for reading!

Have a video to share or interested in being a guest blogger? Email me at [email protected].

Stay connected, stay curious, and let the sharing begin!



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