The Project Pals Platform

Project Pals is founded on a pedagogical framework that guides students in compiling, evaluating and analyzing information. Project Pals is comprised of four phases of project analysis–Components, Events, Relationships, and Analysis–each providing a distinct view of data, leading to multiple layers of understanding and innovative thinking.

A powerful set of composition tools allow students to mark, annotate, and interconnect the elements of a project. Students transpose their collaborative workspace efforts into reports, diagrams and custom presentations.

The application features administration tools for teachers to follow projects as mentors and suprevisors, edit and manipulate the project, add comments, and follow student activity through project analytics

What Students Learn

How Students Benefit

  • Deal with complexity
  • Classify information
  • Discover relationships
  • Identify problems
  • Bring information to life
  • Discern solutions
  • View multiple perspectives
  • See the big picture
  • Focus on “How to Solve the Problem”
  • Develop executive functions
  • Develop a deep level of understanding
  • Develop questions at the heart of the matter
  • Recognize patterns and identify related events
  • Analyze and synthesize occurences
  • Consturct mental models of phenomena
  • Reduce content to an abbreviated form
  • See both the detail and the big picture

What It Is Based On

External Representations

We practice external representations when performing many cognitive tasks, such as concept mapping, graphic organizers for capturing patterns, narrative, compare contrast, relationships, etc. External representations provide an immense support system for cognition. According to Jiajie Zhang, those “external representations are not simply inputs and stimuli to the internal mind; rather they are so intrinsic to many cognitive tasks that they guide, constrain, and even determine cognitive behavior.” Our thinking gets altered by them because much of the structure of the internal mind is a reflection of the structure of the external environment (Zhang, 1997). By creating a well designed external representation we provide a surrogate short-term memory that supports learners in attaining the new concepts they are trying to learn.

Zhang, J. “The Nature of External Representations in Problem Solving.” Cognitive Science Vol 21 (2) 1997, pp. 179-217


pattern location



Computational Thinking

Programmers use the following practices to solve problems: breaking down the problem into its component parts, logically organizing and analyzing data, representing data through abstractions such as models and simulations, automating solutions through algorithmic thinking, generalizing and transferring this problem solving process to a wide variety of problems.

By using these problem solving strategies, expert programmers build knowledge schemas leading to an increased capacity to remember larger “chunks” of information.

Pea, D. Roy, Kurland, Midian. On the Cognitive Effects of Learning Computer Programming. New Ideas Psychol. Vol. 2 No. 2 pp. 137-168, 1984

Design Thinking

Parts, Purposes, Complexities helps students enter the practices of looking closely and exploring complexity. The simple structure begins with the learner’s observations and ideas about an object or system, as they are asked to respond to the prompt, “what are the parts?”

Learners are next prompted to construct evidence based interpretations and explanations in order to respond to, “what are its purposes? or what are the purposes of the parts?” With the open ended final question, “what are its complexities?” learners are invited to ask questions, seek out problems, notice relationships, and challenge previously held assumptions.

Maker-centered Learning and the Development of Self. Agency by Design |

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system’s constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems.

Visual Thinking

The act of making ideas visible – representing situations as visual interconnected systems composed of nodes and links – can convert unproductive discussions into effective working sessions that foster clarity, engagement and alignment.

Wujec, Tom. Draw Toast: A Primer in Systems Thinking

Collaborative Problem Solving

Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) is a critical and necessary skill across educational settings and in the workforce. While problem solving as defined for PISA 2012 (OECD, 2010) relates to individuals working alone on resolving problem situations where a method of solution is not immediately obvious, in CPS groups of individuals join their understandings and efforts and work together on solving these problem situations.

PISA 2015: Draft Collaborative Problem Solving Frameworks