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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Summer Planning for Successful PBL

Bob Lenz

Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

It is often said that leading and teaching in project-based learning schools are like building an airplane while flying it. During the summer, we land the plane and we have a chance to just build. In the spirit of summer, this post is brief and concrete so we have more time for the beach and planning! Here are three ways you can plan for student success this summer:

1. Plan Projects for the Entire Year

This is the perfect time to design or review the design of the projects you and/or your team will facilitate this year. Create the documents you will provide for students through out the project. This is the perfect time for you to research the topic(s) yourself, make community connections and get excited about facilitating student learning through the project. The more you get done in the summer, the more time you have for assessing student work during the project instead of planning learning activities for the project as you do the project.

2. Do the Project Yourself

Watch this short video by Jeff Robin from High Tech High in San Diego. Jeff makes his point very clear at the end.

3. Leaders: Plan Your PD for the Entire School Year

Set your goals. Make your learning targets, assessments and learning modules and set the dates for the adults too! Just like the teachers, school leaders should do as much concrete, upfront planning as possible. Once the school year starts the plane is back in the air and the urgent can often trump the important. Use the summer to tackle the important planning.

As I write this, we are officially halfway through summer vacation -- maybe more than half for many schools; it is not too late to plan! While it is counter intuitive, the more you work during the summer the more relaxed you will be during the school year so plan those projects in detail now, do the project yourself, first and plan professionals development for the entire year not just the first few days.

Bob Lenz

Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA
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Margaret's picture

So Bob, I receive a ten month salary. Who is going to value my time and pay me to continue working out of my contractual time? I work almost 24/7 during those ten months. My summer time to myself is payback time. Even then I am often thinking about the big picture of what learning I want for my students and reading for my courses. So I take issue with your cheery photo and message that summer is the perfect time to plan assessments.

Bob Lenz's picture
Bob Lenz
Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA
Blogger 2014

Margaret, I think you bring up a couple great points. Teachers NEED to be paid for summer planning. Envision Schools builds this into the teacher contract. Een if you don't get paid, I have always found that the time I use in the summer planning projects, assessments and/or professional development has paid huge dividends of less stress in the school year. I know it seems counter intuitive to work more in the summer to work less durin the school but my experience has always proven this true. Enjoy your time off - that is critical too!

Lisa Chesser's picture
Lisa Chesser
Educator/Writer

I disagree with Margaret. I did use the whole month of June to "detox" because I had no energy left, but now I'm inching toward planning for the school year. I get paid the 12 month plan, but my overall salary would be the same on the 10 month plan. I'm actually working on some projects for this coming school year. I'm also working on creating a printed magazine (all for free) with my students. When I go back to school there will be so many meetings and problems that suck my energy. I need summer for creativity. This post confirms how I feel.

DearTeacher's picture
DearTeacher
6th Grade Science Teacher from SC and a teacher encourager online.

This summer I have planned more than I have planned in all prior summers put together. Why? Because I got paid to? NO! I did get paid for 12 hours of planning, but that is only a fraction of the time that I have planned (and will continue to plan until it is time to start the new year). I did not plan for money. I planned like this because in know that something has to change. Test scores are not improving for my students. The status quo is no longer an option.

I have/had two choices. I could point fingers and show where things are out of my hands and how everyone and everything needs to change for my students to have more success. OR I can wrap these fingers around a mirror and take a look at myself and see what I need to change. I can can start the change I want to see in my students in myself. Sure, it means a bit of sacrifice of time and energy now (to my wife's chagrin), but in the long run it will be worth it, especially to my students.

I have studied PBLs this summer, I have talked with people about them, and I have planned, at least at the skeletal level, my units for the year. Am I done yet? No. But I have a direction to move out in. And I am excited. I am more excited than I have ever been about a new school year. I know that my students will far out-achieve any other group of students I have taught in the past. They will be bought-in and eager to learn. My class will be exciting and relevant to them. All because I took the time and was not worried about what I am getting out of it. It isn't for me. It is for my students!

A happy side-effect of this planning is that I am more at ease about the starting of a new year. I have done the heavy lifting. I can focus on the small stuff now. I can focus on relationships with the students when they get to my classroom.

This is going to be a great year, and planning hard this summer will be made worth the effort!

Bob Lenz's picture
Bob Lenz
Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA
Blogger 2014

Thanks for sharing! Yes, getting paid is great but the real payoff is in student learning. You are probably on this already but if not my advice would be to take the first project and build it out completely. You will be amazed at how great it feels to have weeks of lessons and materials ready to go. This is a great time to find partnerships now that you know what projects you will guide. Finally, remember that the students will take your planning in directions you did not plan on so be ready to adjust.

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