PBL is Career, College, and “Now” Ready

 

This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >

 

Project-based learning (PBL) is rightfully touted as a way not only to create engagement in the classroom, but also to prepare students for their lives once they leave the confines of our classrooms. When given an authentic task to complete that is aligned to standards, students engage in an inquiry process, both as a team and individually, to innovate a solution. The task creates engagement in learning content and also 21st century skills. But let’s cut to the chase and see exactly what about PBL aligns to aspects of being career and college ready.

Public Audience

Every project in which students engage demands a public presentation of their learning. Similar to a board of directors presentation or a sales pitch, students are required to present their products to the public, whether through YouTube, a formal presentation, a podcast, or a portfolio. The audience usually comprises experts in the field. As in the work world, when there is accountability not only to ourselves, but experts, our level of work increases. Students will do the same. If you give them the opportunity to present to an expert, they will rise to the challenge and emulate a real-world experience.

Driving Question and Student Voice and Choice

These two foundations for PBL are closely related in terms of preparing students for college and careers. The driving question creates a feeling of challenge and interest in solving a real and authentic problem. It can be abstract: “How does who we are as teenagers affect who we become as adults?” It can be concrete: “How do we create an ideal outside classroom for our school?” Regardless, students create authentic products for an audience to answer the question, similar to a project in the real world. In addition, the question is open-ended and complex, and allows for student voice and choice in creating a product to answer the question. In college, although requirements are defined, there is often space for students to express their own viewpoint or method. As adults, we have complex and open-ended questions we answer in the career world every day. Students need to be given the opportunity to not “look for one answer” but solve complex, open-ended questions that allow for different ways of knowing in order to prepare for them for that post-secondary experience.

Revision and Reflection

PBL fosters a culture on ongoing feedback and revision. Students learn that it is OK to make mistakes and revise work. This is counter-paradigm. Some traditional teachers might demand a rough draft, but PBL creates multiple opportunities to revise and reflect on work before the actual due date. Like in the workplace, students critique each other, critique themselves, and receive critique from teachers and experts. It helps to prepare students to be independent in their critique and to continually seek feedback from peers and experts, a skill not taught explicitly at the college or career level, but nevertheless is needed and valued.

21st Century Skills

The Buck Institute for Education currently focuses on three major 21st century skills: collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. All are critical to being prepared for college or career. Whether it’s problem solving with teammates, being able to articulate work to a client, or analyzing a solution for effectiveness, all of these skills can be at practice in a PBL project. In fact, they can be taught and assessed. Instead of simply allowing students to experience these 21st century skills, PBL values them as part of the grade and demands teachers not only assess them, but teach them. They are just as important as the content that is being learned in the project.

“Now” Ready

One of the pitfalls to avoid with the idea of being career- and college-ready is just what the term can imply: “This will matter when you go to college.” “This will prepare you for college.” As Chris Lehmann in a recent TED talk espoused, “why can’t what students do matter now?” Why do we as educators default to the response that this material will help you later? For some kids, that idea of college and career is well out of their realm of possibility. The language of being career- and college-ready will not break through to them. However, when done well, PBL frames the content to be learned in a relevant and engaging current problem. With PBL, you can make students “now” ready. You can make the learning and project matter to them now, honoring them as critical to creating and innovating in the current world around them. Use PBL to not only make your students career- and college-ready, but also “now” ready. By making them “now” ready, you will make them college- and career-ready.

Rethinking Time with Online Learning

 

This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

 

Online learning was created to fill a variety of needs for students. Some students are not successful in the traditional school. Some are bullied and feel unsafe. Some need to catch up. Some learn online in order to prevent dropping out of school. All of these scenarios cause us to rethink what time means to student learning.

Yet some people still hold fast to the Carnegie unit and time as the quality indicator for learning. Yes, adequate time must be given to student learning, but why is time the main factor and not the learning? (See iNACOL‘s briefing on competency-based pathways, which highlights many of these challenges.)

How does this affect the role of teacher? As an online educator, I use my time differently. I meet students where they are. I communicate through a variety of online tools. Some responses are instant; some occur over time. Students learn content synchronously and asynchronously, and our online meetings reflect that. Due dates, although indicated, are flexible to student needs. Submitted work is given immediate, meaningful feedback within 24 hours of submission.

Overall, when time is not the driving force, learning can be more individualized to the student. Time spent learning should be just as diverse as the students I serve.

 

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