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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Greetings from India: PBL Gaining a Foothold

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate

I'm here as a guest of The Achievers Programme (TAP), an India-based organization that aspires to help students prepare for the future by becoming more critical thinkers and self-directed learners. In addition to hosting cultural exchanges and other enriching experiences for students, TAP invites about 15 international presenters a year to conduct hands-on workshops for teachers. Since 1995, more than 10,000 teachers have taken part in workshops addressing everything from multiple intelligences to bullying prevention. My workshop focus is project-based learning, with an emphasis on real-world projects supported by technology.

Here are a few highlights from the road.

Alwar Public School staff.

Credit: Suzie Boss

Learning Together

When I arrived a few days ago at Alwar Public School in the state of Rajasthan, I was greeted by a welcoming committee of students who placed a red bindi on my forehead and a garland of marigolds around my neck. The night before, over platters of delicious Indian food shared with several teachers and administrators, I had a chance to learn about this 30-year-old private school that enrolls 1,600 students. One of three schools managed by the Good Earth Foundation, it's considered the highest-achieving school in this city of about half a million.

Key to the school's success, I quickly discovered, is its collaborative faculty and progressive leadership. Anshu Beniwal, a veteran educator who is coordinator of academics, started introducing and encouraging project-based learning here about two years ago. "I planted the seed," she said, "but teachers have made it grow."

The 40-plus teachers I had the pleasure of working with demonstrated a willingness to try new strategies. They also showed plenty of creativity when it came to project ideas, especially projects that will connect students with their local community. For example, not far from Alwar is a tiger sanctuary. Soon, Alwar students are likely to be advocating for the protection of habitat for these majestic animals. Another project idea focused on rainwater harvesting and drinking water purification. This could result in students designing lifesaving solutions for villagers in the region.

When it was time to talk about project assessment, I was happy to learn that teachers here have already designed common rubrics that are used across subject areas and grade levels. They also understand the importance of having students present their project results to an authentic audience. These shared practices are helping to build a culture that supports PBL.

The students I had a chance to talk with were enthusiastic about their first project experiences -- especially the social aspect of working in teams and taking field trips for research. What they seemed most curious about, however, was how they compare to American students. "Ma'am, do we study harder?" one girl asked me. I pointed out that she and her classmates were attending school on a Saturday -- a day off for U.S. students. Their school year lasts more than 220 days, several weeks longer than in my home state of Oregon. The formality of their classroom -- where teachers are addressed as ma'am or sir and students stand when a visitor enters the room -- was another difference between East and West.

When I suggested that they might want to connect with American students -- perhaps for a collaborative project that would enable them to get acquainted virtually -- I was greeted with a flurry of head bobs.

Suzie with students at Alwar Public School.

Credit: Suzie Boss

PBL Taking Hold

Alwar Public School is just one of many I'm getting a chance to visit, but in many ways it represents the future of education in India. It's in private schools that progressive ideas like PBL are gaining a foothold. Meanwhile, tradition-bound government schools stick with covering the curriculum and preparing students for big tests.

In a recent article here in the Hindustan Times, the perils of tradition were spelled out in an op-ed piece by Abhijit Banerjee, Ford Foundation international professor of economics and director, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT. Citing a recent report on the status of Indian education, he bemoaned the fact that about half of students in government schools lag years behind grade level in reading and fare even worse in math. Results are only slightly better at private schools, where even poor families struggle to send their children to help them gain an edge.

Why? Here's Banerjee's theory: "The goal of education is to permit the most successful students to get through the difficult exams that get thrown at them and hit the jackpot of a government job or a place in an engineering school. The rest, unavoidably, will just drop out."

Shifting to PBL offers an alternative. It's not without challenges, especially when class sizes approach 40 and technology is confined to a computer lab. But so far, the teachers I've met seem to think it's worth the effort to help their students prepare for the future.

Brokering Introductions

Teachers in India seem as keen as their students to connect with American schools. If you're interested in collaborating with an Indian school or just connecting for a Skype chat, please respond in the comments. I've met some wonderful teachers who would be only too happy to expand their network.

Comments (5)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

christinpearson's picture

I am the reading integration specialist at Meadville Area Middle School in Northwest PA. I am sure I have a few teachers here at my school who would love to collaborate with students in India...we are a grade 7-8 middle school. Please contact me. christine.pearson@craw.org

Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate
Blogger

Hi Christin,
Good to know of your interest. I'm make introductions via email as soon as I'm back in the U.S.

Suzanne Newell's picture
Suzanne Newell
Language Arts Curriculum Coordinator/Carroll ISD

I'd love to connect with some educators in India. I work as the English Language Arts Curriculum Coordinator in my district near Dallas, Texas. I'm sure I could find several teachers (in any/all grade levels) that would be interested in an email or Skype conversation.
Thanks. I can be reached at suzanne.newell@southlakecarroll.edu

Lbrosious's picture
Lbrosious
Preschool teacher, Substitute teacher, and Grad student from Columbus, Ohio

I am fascinated by this article! After student teaching in Germany (nearly 15 years ago), I have had a peak interest in how schools in other countries function and build student achievement. It has been nearly eight years since I had my own classroom (currently substitute teaching, raising my own little people and working on my masters) and reading articles like this make me thirsty to be back in the classroom full time. I look forward to the impacts technology has had on collaborating with students in other countries. THANK YOU!

Brock d'Avignon's picture
Brock d'Avignon
Real Client PBL EdTech Industrial Arts Social Sciences Teacher 7-12

Meaningful and Life-saving Project Based Learning with major CEOs, nationwide and national leaders is founded on George Lucas' Edutopian idea of presenting a problem to be solved, then all technology, mentors, money, and cooperation follows. PBL is now important to opinion leaders. My students have designed:
Central Asian TRAADE routes for prosperity, peace, and freedom with pipelines carrying water, oil, gas next to road and railways going north and south where none exists now.
Red Cross Robotic Search and Rescue Ambulances (SARA) vehicles for firefighters and DARPA Grand Challenge. Research contacts given to university students winning $2M prize.
Flood ending half-buried porthole pipelines carrying water elsewhere where needed.
Asteroid Detection Deflection Development (ADDD) solar system wide with banking collateral value to pay for it all at 6% discovery rights to title, 1/10,000th of dollar severe discount equals $1.9 Trillion in assets for California schools and colleges; 145T for US & A; more for other countries with telescopes; parcelization of 5 moons to every human with individual property title; and a Space Property-title and Asteroid Resources Company (STARCO).
New Island Creation Consortium (NICCO) pizzahedron truss structures, electro-deposition of sea mineral hulls, and Freedomaxium new country projects and open deep ocean fish-farming.
Identifying Moammar Ghaddafi's deep space rocket capability with nuclear batteries for space rock renavigation as WMD plus launch disguise, satcom interference, and satellite blinding alliances.
Resetting global economy to personally held space resources instead of oil, and achieving property title for all humans on Earth using Percentage As You Earn (PAYE) finance of houses and farms ending repossession vulnerability.
Achieving free market curative and preventative care for all as an outcome of a new charging method of percentage-of-income medical finansurance. Adding Quality Immortality (QI) percentage of income PAYEments while students decide to crack the supergene that controls aging.
Historical examples of income contingent business models in immigration of redemptioners of debt replacing indentured servitude and slavery; privateers; mountain men; old country doctors reckoning of percentages of income to take care of all; rePAYEment of college tuition with the outcome of equal opportunity to attend college while achieving the Separation of Higher Education and State in 11 years. Non-property tax based revenue cycle replacement with anywhere on the globe rePAYEment from collegeM students to either taxpayers or Human Investors in a Career Futures Exchange.
Leg protection motorcycles.
Earthquake Preparedness-box Towers (EPT) on Wheels for all school homerooms including water bottles, MREs, rubble tools, warmth and personalized medical supplies; revision of disaster plans at schools to meet law, insurance, and civil defense shelter needs with Red Cross and sponsors, not taxes.
Creation of franchise images for Flying Saucer Pizza and Yellow Submarine Sandwich Galleys as examples of Communications English for local businesses.
Historical character relationships for screenplays The Star Spangled Banner and The Bear Flag Revolt.
Not bad for 7-12th graders some people think can only be janitors for some pocket change. Education should give something back to the businesses, community, and civic leaders that support it. Thank you George, would you like to help schools and students with licensing dealmakers and lawyers like universities have to reward intellectual achievement via property rights to all involved? Like to set up a CAFEX with me? Would you like to make a few movies about all the PBL and CBL teachers and students you've collected best examples of over the last few years? Ready when you are! Brock d'Avignon 831-512-6572

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