Monday, 23 June 2014

#6 PBL World Day 1: Inpsirational speech from Steven Ritz and key learning points from PBL101

As the sole representative (as far as I could tell!) of the United Kingdom at PBL world 2014, I thought it vital to communicate some of the key learning from day 1 to all the practitioners out there currently in the process of planning projects for 2014-15 or looking to experiment with PBL in their own classrooms.  
Day 1

Today kicked off with a hilarious little skit from the students of Katherine Smith Elementary School who outlined (with real comedic genius) some of the major advantages of Project Based Learning. The confidence and clarity of communication these students showed really confirmed why I had signed up to this conference. However, I was about to be further inspired.

“PBL is not just for the wealthy”

Nothing can prepare anyone for Steven Ritz live. Like most PBL advocates worldwide I had watched the TED talk and been blown away, live however Ritz’s enthusiasm is infectious. He really is ‘the oldest sixth grader you will meet’. 

The impact Ritz has had on his students through community oriented PBL in the South Bronx is really jaw dropping. A project that began with the planting of a single seed has turned into a social enterprise that has transformed the physical appearance of the South Bronx, reduced the dropout rate in his class to 0%, increased the graduation rate from 30 to 100%, ensured that 100% of his kids have progressed onto college courses and fed his school (and community) with healthy home-grown food. Many are also earning a living wage managing the projects started in his classroom. Now that ladies and gentlemen, is an authentic project. 

Ritzs' passionate belief that students “... should not have to leave the community they live in to live, learn and earn in a ‘better’ one” will strike a chord with all educators who work in challenging circumstances. However, it is his incredibly positive ‘glass 100% full’ attitude that has been instrumental in achieving what he has in a community that many have written off. Most people filed out to workshops a) smiling b) muttering one of his many catchphrases: YES WE CAN!

I would encourage everyone, PBL advocate or not to check out his remarkable achievements by going watching this clip & taking a look at Green Bronx Machine

Workshop time: PBL 101 Key Learning from Day 1

As you can see from the picture below, we started with plenty of questions ("need to knows"), but here are 3 things I took away from day 1 of PBL 101. 


1.    PBL must be the ‘main course and not the dessert’

This will be a familiar phrase to anyone who has been to a PBL Professional Development session but still an incredibly important one. A PBL project is not a board game at the end of a unit on the digestive system, a poster at the end of a scheme of traditional lessons on algebra or a model of a Catholic mission after a social studies unit on the history of California. Sure, these are “projects” but they are not PBL projects. 

A PBL project is the main course. That is, the learning takes place through the completion of the project. It is engaging, but also rigorous as the curriculum content and 21st Century competencies are learned through the completion of the project. 
2.    Effective projects have 8 essential elements 

1.     Public Audience
2.     In-Depth Inquiry
3.     Driving Question
4.     Significant Content
5.     21st Century Competencies
6.     Critique & Revision
7.     Voice & Choice
8.     Need to know

Used by many schools across the states, these 8 elements will be present in every effective PBL project to some degree.

One vital component of this checklist is the explicit teaching and assessment of 21st Century skills. If we are to expect our students to develop the competencies needed for success in the wider world, we need to teach them and check that they are making progress. This is often done by building in opportunities for students to pause and reflect on their learning (not just their academic progress). 

I had a fascinating discussion with two teachers, reaching the conclusion that building in time to teach and assess these competencies had a number of benefits:

a) Preparation for life beyond the classroom - i.e. Students will be better prepared for university and employment if these skills are taught and assessed. 

b) "Positive spillover" - students take the competencies learned and developed through the project and apply these in other subject areas and in more 'traditional' learning scenarios in the future. 

c) "Metacognitive awareness" - through the focus on process and not just outcome, we can develop students who are aware of how they learn and therefore become more effective learners.

 3.    Designing an effective Driving Question

The Driving Question (or "DQ") is a vital part of the planning process that can be the difference between a rigorous and engaging project and one that falls flat. An effective DQ will: 

a) Capture the projects main focus  
b) Be open ended to allow students to develop more than one (often complex) answer
c) Be inspiring, understood and often remembered by students
d) Ensure that through answering the DQ students will have to acquire the knowledge, skills and understanding that will be learned through the project. 

For more tips on effective DQ's check out these resources: 

So there you go! A full and inspirational day 1 at #PBLworld. 

More news tomorrow! 

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