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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Trying to Change a School Culture through PBL...HELP

Trying to Change a School Culture through PBL...HELP

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Hello to all! I am new to the board and new to the discussions on PBL. I have been reading a ton of articles, blogs, discussions about PBL and the enthusiasm is incredible. I am new school administrator who needs to change the culture of a middle/high school. I work at a small private school and the idea behind PBL would truly engage the students we work with on a daily basis. As a school, where do we start? I have spoken with the parents (who are on board) and the students (who are equally excited) but now that work begins. How do we begin this transition over a summer? Any help/ideas would be wonderful! Thank you in advance!

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Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate

Great to hear that you're starting down the PBL path. Based on your comments, I'm guessing that PBL will be new for your staff (as well as your students). Summer offers time for professional development and project planning so that teachers will be ready to launch projects in the fall. You'll find PBL resources here at Edutopia (check out the new Schools That Work feature: http://www.edutopia.org/stw-project-based-learning-best-practices-new-te...) as well as the Buck Institute for Education site (www.bie.org).
One idea: Engage your most-interested teachers in a short-term, low-risk project they can do as a team (such as campus beautification, service project, or planning a back-to-school event). That will give them some firsthand experience with PBL methods. Then give your early adopters opportunities to share what they're learning with colleagues.
Good luck with your journey--and let us know how it goes!

Dan Lathrop's picture
Dan Lathrop
7th Grade Teacher - Arbor Vitae, WI

It is so exciting to hear when teachers/schools begin implementing a PBL model! I am so passionate about this style of education and have learned many lessons over the last few years. I believe that there are two critical "big picture" factors to consider when getting started with PBL.

1. The "problem." The driving force behind a strong PBL study is an open-ended, challenging, ill-defined problem. I would advocate using case studies...for example, in a study of democracy, we focused on one election (2008). Studying and discussing big ideas through a narrow, focused lens is a stronger pedagogical approach than studying broad, impersonal concepts.

2. Authenticity. There should be an authentic, real-world end to every project. Students show greater care for and pride in their work when it has meaning to someone outside of themselves and their teachers. For example, in a project about cancer, each of our students was paired with a community member who had/has cancer. Every aspect of the project (type of cancer, personal/financial/social aspects, health care, etc.) was tailored to their community member. Then, we held a Faces of Cancer in the Northwoods Exhibit and Benefit where each student had a display about his/her community member. This showcase was a BIG DEAL for the students and their work reflected the importance of the event.

I would also advocate abiding by Nike's slogan. Just Do It. Implement ideas, try them, reflect, and make changes as needed. Good luck!

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