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Becky's Corner: Project-based Learning In Action (sponsored by Project Foundry)
Where is PBL on the Equalizer Board?
Guest post by Mike Muir,
Multiple Pathways Leader - Auburn School Department, Director - Projects4ME

A few years ago, I was working with a school that was working toward being a magnet school focused on project-based learning. The school and staff were already innovative in many ways, but PBL was pretty new to them. At the initial summer training, I was prepared to show them examples, give them a design framework, and work with them to start designing PBL-based units.

But then one of the teachers seemed to get really uncomfortable and agitated and asked, "Well, which PBL model will we be using? Which one is best?"

I was taken off guard. I hadn't expected the question. I think the best response I managed to muster at the time was a Tarzan-like "PBL good!" (I hope I didnt' beat my chest after saying it!)

But I thought a lot about her question (and her intensity of asking). If I didn't have a good answer to which version of PBL was best, would she not engage? And frankly, I'd never thought about "versions" or "models" of PBL, just that the approach was a great way to succeed with reluctant learners and to make learning more meaningful for students.

And that's when I realized that I didn't care which model/version of PBL was best. What I cared about were those critical components that made up good learning when teachers did what they called PBL:
  • Learning by Doing
  • Creating Products/Solving Problems
  • Topics of Social & Personal Significance
  • Student Voice & Choice
  • Higher Order Thinking (Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, Create)
  • Thematic/Interdisciplinary
  • Attention to Learning Styles
  • Modern Learning Tools (technology, etc.)
  • Real World Connections
  • Reflection & Processing
The idea of "versions" of PBL and thinking about these 10 components made me realize that there were a collection of pedagogies that shared these components: Project-Based Learning, Problem-Based Learning, Service Learning, Constructivism, Challenge Learning, Community Connections, Active Learning, Curriculum Integration, the Foxfire Approach, etc. These approaches all contextualize high-value, standards-based content within the real world and the students' lives. We started calling them collectively "real world learning" (intentionally writing it in all lower case) as a way to recognize that all these approaches have certain components in common in different combinations, rather than to debate the differences (or advantages) of each.

So I've come to think of these 10 components as the important thing. If they were on an equalizer board, and you set each one to a particular set of levels, that combo would be project-based learning; and if you change them to another set of levels, you would have service learning; and when you change the levels again, it would be integrative curriculum, etc.

And it is now less important for me to defend any particular pedagogical approach (or name of an approach), than it is to defend the implementation of these 10 components.

It's Your Turn:
How do you implement these 10 components?

NEW Advisor Home Page...
At the end of January, we will be releasing a NEW Advisor Home page to Project Foundry. Schools will have the option of turning this on for all advisors once launched.  We will be emailing more details on the exact timing and instructions on how to enable this feature closer to the end of January. However, we wanted to provide a sense of what was coming and a preview of what this will look like. Our objectives in renovating the Advisor Home page were:
  • Make things easier to find per student.
  • Keep Advisors in the same place more often.
  • Add most requested home page functionality.
New Project Foundry Advisor Home Page

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