Why PBL?

This year, I’m leading a group of teachers in our school who want to learn about project-based learning. I thought my goal was simple – to familarize teachers with the fundomentals of PBL and to help them develop and implement first projects. During our first meeting, however, I discovered my biggest challenge. No teacher would give it a try unless I demonstrated clear connections bewtween PBL  and best teaching practices. I had to demolish the myth about PBL being something we don’t have time for in a classroom, a belief that is well fed on the pressure to cover all standards on time. I wanted to prove that PBL would cover and uncover standards in a timely manner and allow studetns to experience their depth in an engaging and relevant way.

Since most of our staff  read the book, I decided to build my case on  “Focus” by Mike Schmoker. I needed to connect the three essentials described by the author with the three pillars of PBL. According to Schmoker, the three elements of effective teaching are:

  • What We Teach – a coherent curriculum with “power standards”
  • How We Teach – all students must learn each segment of each lesson before moving on to the next one; scaffolding and differentiation
  • Authentic Literacy – purposeful, usually argumentative, reading, writing, and talking (Schmoker, 2011)

Critical thinking, collaboration, and communication in PBL are perfectly parallel with Schmoker’s teaching essentials. PBL may be a different way of teaching, but it is effective in every way. It creates classrooms full of deep thinkers and independent learners.  Finding such connections helped me win teachers over. They took a risk and  stepped forward with a very much doable approach – PBL.

This is the prezi presentation I used with my group to discuss connections between the essentials described by Schmoker and PBL. I thank all my colleagues for the wonderful discussion we had!

What 21st Century Teachers Don’t Do

“The six areas of the FC Graduate Profile define the academic skills and personal characteristics that will make students successful as they continue their education, enter the workspace, or join the military…All staff members K-12 play an active role in building young men and women who personify the Graduate Profile.” (from FC website)

When I look at the Graduate Profile, I see the list of characteristics that are recognized today as 21st century skills. Does it mean that those of us who grew up in 20th century don’t possess such skills?  Can we effectively teach the digital generation of today? Of course, we can… if we welcome change, regularly reflect on the work we do, and never stop learning.  Otherwise, we fall behind the times and drag students with us, robbing them of great possibilities. 

After reading professional literature, articles and blogs, I’ve attempted to identity characteristics of a typical classroom from the past. Take a look….You are falling behind the times if:

  • You talk more in class (small or big group) than your students whom you handicap by taking away opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other.
  • You create more content for your lessons than your students do. Your students never take an active part in creating assessments.
  • You rarely share the stylus with your students and view a flipchart presentation or PowerPoint as satisfying technology integration in a classroom.
  • You believe that there is not enough time in your classroom for project-based learning and you focus your energy on preparing students for a test instead.
  • Your students always turn in their home or class assignments on printed paper instead of digitally (Angel, BYOT, web-based tools) and the only feedback you give them is a smiley face/check mark or a final grade. You don’t set milestones for any assignments.
  • You think that the BYOT initiative will never take roots in schools and it is something that will surely die out and go away in a few years.
  • Students use classroom desktops primarily to type the stories they wrote on paper to be printed out and sent home for keepsake. The only audience the papers ever see is you.
  • You use printers and copier machines every day.
  • You’ve never used or heard of Collaborize Classroom, Prezi, Evernote, Voki, Wallwisher, Glogster, Typewith.me, Storybird, JayCut, Museum Box, or Tiki-Toci. 
  • You rarely volunteer your time to attend a training, free webinar or join a teacher learning community on Twitter or another social network to communicate with teachers around the world.
  • You use your webpage to post only homework assignments and newsletters instead of sharing students’ blogs, podcasts and published work.
  • “I’ve used it for many years and it’s almost a tradition now,” is a phrase you use to escape innovation and change.
  • You only contact your ITS when technical issues arise. You don’t find at least one thing to call or email your ITS about at least twice a month (showing off students’ work, planning, share ideas, implementing lessons, learning a new tool, etc.)

I know you said “not me” to many of these characteristics because you are great teachers. But you know you said “kind of me” to some of them. Maybe there is something you want to alter. Change is hard to endure, but the outcome is worth every bit of your effort. Reflect on your work… Would you like to be in your classroom?

Additional resources that are worth your time:

21 Century Pedagogy  

 21 Century Assessment     

 21 Century  Teacher   

 10 Question to Ask Yourself