Two years ago when my wife and I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, I was lucky enough to get a job at a new project- and environment-based charter school, Badger Rock Middle. After a tough first year of learning and experimenting (sometimes with the help of Edutopia and sometimes with the help of other teachers like Sara Krauskopf, on whose project the following lesson is based), I have become more confident in assigning projects and letting students take them as far as possible.
We have all been inspired by the San Francisco Bat Kid! To fully grasp what happened in that city in mid-November, watch these videos. It isn't every day that you see so many volunteers coming together to make a child's wish come true. In truth, creating that entire scenario for the San Francisco Bat Kid was a model PBL project.
I'm just wrapping up a 10-day stay in Mumbai, India, where I've been immersed in the energizing learning environment of American School of Bombay (ASB). Outside the walls of this state-of-the-art, pre-K-12 international school, you find contrasts at every corner: urban slums near posh shopping malls, rickshaws sharing the roads with limousines. Step inside ASB and you notice colorful student artwork, thoughtfully designed interiors, and abundant greenery. It may feel like an urban oasis, but this is really a laboratory for innovation.
The recent decision by Glendale Unified School District in Southern California to hire a private firm, Geo Listening, that will troll through the digital lives of teenagers has sparked widespread concern and reaction. Schools and parents, increasingly at a loss for how to ensure teens' online safety with the proliferation of social media and bullying, are beginning to outsource the work of monitoring.
Melissa Alvarez, 15, spent her summer imagining how to transform an eyesore of a vacant lot in her hometown of Philadelphia. Thanks to her vision -- plus some useful advice from architects and a graphic designer -- the gritty urban space is about to be turned into an outdoor canvas where everyone from muralists to taggers will be welcome to express themselves through art.
During more than 20 years as a school administrator, I received numerous reports of bullying incidents from children, parents and teachers. Now that I'm the director of Not In Our School and bullying has become a topic of national discussion, I still regularly get calls from students and parents who share stories of tragic and worrisome incidents.
Authenticity -- we know it works! There is research to support the value of authentic reading and writing. When students are engaged in real-world problems, scenarios and challenges, they find relevance in the work and become engaged in learning important skills and content. In addition, while students may or may not do stuff for Mr. Miller, they are more likely to engage when there is a real-world audience looking at their work, giving them feedback, and helping them improve. This is just one critical part of project-based learning. However, maybe you aren't ready for fully authentic projects. Where are some good places to start taking the authenticity up a notch in your classroom?
Providing your students with a public audience is not only a critical part of the project-based learning process, but it's also a great strategy for building authenticity into assignments to create work that matters. We often leverage our students' parents and guardians in this process because 1) they are easily accessible, and 2) they are our partners in their children's learning plans. Why not then continue and build this partnership in PBL? John Larmer wrote a great blog about how to build parent support for PBL, and one of the best ways he mentions is to keep them involved in the PBL project you launch in your classroom. Here are some strategies to consider as you leverage parents for your next PBL project.
The Maker movement continues to gain momentum. At this year's White House Science Fair, President Obama invited Super-Awesome Sylvia from Auburn, California to exhibit her water color robot as a representative of the Maker community. At the same event, the Corporation for National Service announced its commitment to place Americorps VISTAs in Maker movement organizations across the country. Maker Ed is placing those Maker VISTAs in makerspaces to help build their capacity for engaging low-income students as makers. In this spirit, we are starting to see more and more makerspaces springing up in schools across the country. If you are a teacher experimenting with making projects in your classroom, here are some successful fundraising strategies we've seen educators use to fund a makerspace for their school community.
It's an exciting, creative time in our country. Running in lockstep with the technology boom is the maker movement, a whole legion of people interested in making and designing things themselves. There are builders, designers, tinkerers and do-it-yourselfers sharing their inventions, crafts and designs with a wider audience than ever before. Their work is accessible via websites, online magazines, hacker workspaces and maker fairs. This movement seems to be tapping into an unmet need that the technology world cannot satisfy on its own.