"School is boring." There is no place for that statement when teachers are creative, engaging and promote genuine learning. But how do teachers make their classes the opposite of boring?
When I began teaching high school business courses four years ago, I was just 23 years old. Because I had recently lived through traditional high school and college instruction, I knew there had to be a different way -- a better way.
Inspiration struck one night, months into my first year of teaching, while watching what was then a new TV show called Shark Tank. Here, entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to millionaire and billionaire investors in the hope of securing funding to start, grow or save their business. When I showed my business students one episode, they begged to watch more. At that point, I knew I had something. So, to capitalize on my students' enthusiasm, I created a project out of it.
At the end of a project-based learning (PBL) experience, students typically share what they have learned or discovered with an audience. Depending on the project, students might publish their work online, make presentations at a public event, or pitch their ideas to a panel of judges.
There are many, many, many things that are more exciting to a teenager than history class. That's why I wanted to create a lesson plan that would generate interest -- and therefore encourage engagement -- in history among my high school sophomores.
When I begin to plan out a project-based learning opportunity for my students, I usually follow the same brainstorm path. Of course, this path could be followed by your students as well, in order to give them voice and choice in their curriculum.
When teachers ask how to get started with project-based learning, I acknowledge the "front-loading" that's part of project planning. Before students enter the picture, teachers need to consider the learning goals of a project, develop an assessment plan, and map out at least a rough calendar of the learning activities that will support the inquiry process. Those details may change once students dig in, but having a plan provides a roadmap for the student-directed learning ahead.
As we near the one-year anniversary of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, my first thoughts are of that awful day -- how I felt sick to my stomach learning about the tragedy and, as a teacher, how I worried. These could be my students; this could be me. What would I have done? What would I have told my students to do? Would they have been prepared? My second thoughts are of today -- what have we done to make schools safer? What I have I done as a teacher to make my school and my students safer?
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.