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It’s time to widen the scope of what project-based learning (PBL) can really do. We’ve used PBL to engage our students. We’ve used PBL to help students learn important content and address learning standards. We’ve used PBL to address 21st-century skills such as collaboration, critical thinking and communication. We’ve even used PBL to focus on professional practice and reflection.
These are all important goals and foci, but we need to continue to think and reflect on the power of PBL and how it can do even more for our students and for ourselves. The publication “Preparing Students for a Project-Based World” emphasizes that PBL is preparation for the world beyond the classroom, including issues of equity and the global economy.
What sticks out to me is one important word: world. If it’s a Project-Based World, shouldn’t we use PBL to continue to engage with the world beyond the boundaries of countries and cultures?
I think we need to take the attitude and mindset expressed by Sébastien Turbot who ran projects at the Paris School of International Affairs.
What is Global Readiness?
When students are global ready, they are able to meet specific competencies that allow them to be successful in the world around them. However, global readiness is more than simply being able to collaborate or communicate.
Instead, these skills are connected to important nuances of cultures, perspectives and equity. It isn’t just that students can collaborate with another person, but that they can partner and work within a global community and take action.
Students develop empathy and global sensibilities, as well as connect with people of different cultures and communities across our world. Global readiness really facilitates a complex mindshift from “me” to “us.”
Asia Society has Global Competency Outcomes and Rubrics to support teachers in creating and/or selecting goals to have students work on. These might include students “listening to and communicating effectively with diverse people,” “explaining the impact of cultural interactions” or “identifying and creating opportunities for personal and collaborative action to improve conditions.”
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills also has K-12 Indicators for Global Readiness that focus on the themes of Understanding, Investigating, Connecting and Integrating. Educators and schools should consider how to embed these indicators into the curriculum as students learn content.
It’s not about working on all the skills, it’s about the intentionality of what skills, when to address them and how to foster and assess them. All students of all grade levels can and should work toward global readiness.
PBL Can Change the World
Consider this project in process from math teacher Ginger Habel at the Shanghai American School. Students were challenged to design a playground for an actual school in Nairobi, Kenya.
Students had to learn scale, measurement and other various math skills to effectively complete the task. They also had to work around challenges that the school faced including flooding and that part of the school is also located on a hill.
Students selected supplies that were easily available for students to purchase there, and made sure the design was solid and had a feasible budget. Students shared their design with their classes and with the school in Nairobi as well.
Some students also created an Exploratory (a student-run learning time) to help raise money needed for the project. Not only were students impacting other students and communities, but they were examining various perspectives and cultures, as well as collaborating and communicating effectively to address an authentic task. Although the first iteration of this project occurred last year, Ginger hopes to continue to work on this project with her students this year as well.
PBL is the “how” for addressing global readiness. Global readiness calls for students to partner across the globe to solve problems in authentic ways. PBL requires authenticity, whether that’s investigating authentic problems, using authentic tools or meeting an authentic need.
PBL also facilitates technology integration, and global readiness calls for students to use technology to learn different perspectives and select media to communicate with diverse audiences. Students must learn content to address global competencies just as PBL projects are clearly aligned to content standards and outcomes.
As you begin to unpack the various global readiness indicators, you see a clear tie to the essential elements of PBL. Not only is there clear alignment, but by focusing global readiness on the “what” and the “how” of PBL, we can bring the world into the classroom and bring students out to the world.
In addition to using PBL for student engagement, we can create projects that are not only meaningful to students but have the potential to change the world.
This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >
Professional development. The phrase has a lot of connotations: Some may think of a trainer talking at them for a full day while others remember a fantastic and practical workshop or a meaningful conversation with a student or colleague. I see a clear parallel to the term project. Say “project” to someone, and they might recall a truly valuable experience or perhaps a complete waste of time. However, we know that when we adopt the mindset and essentials of project-based learning with students, we can improve upon existing projects or create new and better ones. Can we use PBL to improve professional development?
Our Project at Puxi Middle School in Shanghai
Our school has a real dilemma: As an international school, we have a lot of turnover among our teachers, and as a result we haven’t had a shared understanding of what our curriculum really is. New teachers come into our school and may not have access to a clear curriculum. That being said, we know that our teachers are doing amazing things with students. From full PBL projects to performance tasks, kids are engaging in a variety of valuable learning experiences. So we came up with this driving question for our PD: “What is the story of learning at Puxi Middle School?” My coaching team recently launched our project with this video:
The goal of our PD project is developing a shared curriculum. We’re working with teachers to better align content with standards, and we’ve created structures for teachers to share their work and participate in protocols to improve units, projects, and performance tasks in their classrooms. Teachers share their work through discovery cards that include descriptions, photos, and reflections from teachers and students. And we’re curating the work in an anthology and will finish it with a celebration.
Keep the essential elements of PBL in mind to ensure that your project-based PD includes all it needs to create engagement:
- Ensure that the project is focused on authentic work and problems.
- Develop processes for critique and reflection, like looking at student work and tuning protocols.
- Build in time for intentional reflection through discussion and journaling.
- Design an overarching driving question for the PD to drive the learning.
A common mistake is to make project-based PD just another thing that teachers have to do. PBL needs to be how the PD is delivered, not an addition to it. It should include a mix of small-group instruction, collaboration, workshops, and more to ensure that teachers are supported and given the formal instruction they might need. We can use professional learning community (PLC) meetings, Edcamps, planning times, mini lessons, workshops, and more to scaffold the learning for professional development.
School and Individual Goals
Your PD project should align to the specific goals of your school—for example, literacy or curriculum alignment. The goals for our project were developing a “guaranteed and viable curriculum” and curating and celebrating the work that teachers are doing with students.
Teacher goals should also be embedded in the project: Teachers should set their own learning targets within the context of the larger district and school goals to ensure alignment and differentiation for each teacher. This allows for meaningful learning within a larger context, and also allows for personalized coaching.
Some of our teachers are focusing on unit planning or assessment, others on understanding their standards more deeply. The goals all align under the umbrella of the school-wide focus on curricular alignment.
Personalized PD goals are one way to provide voice and choice in project-based PD, but there are many others. Perhaps teachers can pick the team they work with, or choose the times when they meet as a team rather than having that mandated. Teachers can also choose the type of products they create to show their learning. In addition, teachers can choose how they want to learn—some enjoy and learn best through reading and book study, while a workshop might better serve others.
Our teachers have a common planning time every day and choose how to spend it to work toward curriculum alignment. We ask which projects, tasks, or units they want to curate and improve. And we provide workshops on topics they suggest—ranging from performance tasks to technology integration—on our official professional development days. These all support our larger goals, but more importantly meet teachers where they are.
Public Milestones and Assessments
Imagine a culminating event for project-based PD where all teachers get together and show presentations, curriculum samples, videos, reflections, websites, and more. We’re working toward that in our project, envisioning a gallery walk of the curriculum through posters, cards, and videos.
But before that, we have milestones and assessments along the way. The assessments are formative and are used in an evaluative way. They are assessments of and as learning. We’re using the discovery cards mentioned above for formative assessment, and basing coaching conversations on discovery cards chosen by the teachers.
When you design project-based PD, you should be sure to begin with the end as well as timely milestones and benchmarks in mind. Leverage self, peer, and team assessments to make the project more meaningful. These assessments are great opportunities to give and receive feedback and build a culture of collaboration.
We have an opportunity to reinvent PD using the PBL method to create not only engagement but also deeper professional learning.