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Help Designing a PBL School/Classroom

Scott Cusack Kindergarten teacher from Santa Clarita, California

Our school is slated to be completely rebuilt and is currently in the design stages. When we reopen, we are considering having a Project Based Learning focus. To those of you who have taught PBL, do you have any suggestions for what needs to be included in the design of the campus and classrooms?

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Educational Consultant-former teacher in high school

Some thoughts that might be helpful too!

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Read the article below....She hit on exactly the problem that people face when doing an inquiry project. When the students begin their work it is the teachers job to make sure that during the research phase the resources are there thatstudents' need for background information. This adds the content depth to the project and will help make it academically successful. I call this phase 2 (research) and it is where the teacher fits in and does "old fashioned" teaching or using traditional/non traditional resources to fill in the gaps in student learning.
Confessions of an Inquiry Teacher
http://shelleywright.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/confessions-of-an-inquiry-...

Montessori 4-6th grade teacher

Confessions of an Inquiry Teacher

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What a wonderful blog! Thank you, Thomas, for linking it to this forum. I love the way she describes using trial and error to find a way to make PBL work for her new situation. What better way to show our students how to learn new ways of operating?

I also give information in what Thomas calles "phase 2," but I avoid lecturing at all costs! Instead I always try to work with students to explore the answers they want me to deliver to them. In the process I have to continually gauge how much "research" the student can tolerate. Sometimes I still end up filling in an answer that a student couldn't track down independently. Of course by that time, they are so starved to get the info that they never forget what the answer was!

We haven't started our first project for the year yet. We are currently still in the community building phase. But reading this blog sure made me anxious to get underway.

Mary Kate

Educational Consultant-former teacher in high school

Every lesson is a form of trial and error

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Montessori is an ideal place to do inquiry learning. What I think would be very interesting to do is base their community activity on something that revolves around science. I worked this summer on a Stem project for K-5 and found that it was amazing to see how the students got involved in the projects. You can include opportunities for research, hands-on activities, literacy, social studies and math in these projects. Think of all the community resources you have---not just local but state, national and international. A simple project like water or activities that include engineering projects with these community groups is exciting for the students to tackle. I think the coolest thing I saw was when students who normally were not good readers do electric schematics and made things work. By using blended learning and including business/educators/college students or even connecting to international groups of students to collaborate on these projects lends itself to an amazing experience

Exec. Dir., Illinois 21 ( Illinois Consortium for 21st Century Schools

PBL is not an end in itself.

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PBL is not an end in itself. The end is what kids will get to know and do better as a result of what you enable them to do. The same goes with technology. Tech gives tools for developing ideas and schools. You need to know what skills and understandings you want your students to develop. More memory? More facts? Procedures? In this day and age, I hope not. Most schools we know were built to have kids memorize facts, repeat procedures and fill in the blanks. Follow Bob Pearlman's advice when it comes to the physical structures. His website and his article in 21st Century Skills (Solution Tree) give the best insights I know on making form follow function as they have done in High Tech and all of the other schools mentioned in the first column. Money isn't the issue of facny architects. Take a look at Manor New Tech (Tx). Its a redone middle school. Outside it looks like anyother school. Inside the staff tore out walls and redesigned their spaces to fit the learning and the skill development they believed in. Projects are the heart of how they teach. But tutorials, one on one work, small groups and the like all needed their places and they built those places inside the building. Whether kindergartners or high schoolers are the students isnt't the deciding factor. Manor and other project schools have the form of the building follow the functions that will take place. If you figure out the functions that fit what you value for the kids, what they and the faculty need to teach the 21st Century way then the building will provide the variety of spaces you never find in the all things alike factory.
That said, all of the above ideas are crucial to ensure that kids in your school where the project is the key model of instruction enriched by technology tools, supported by small group explicit skill instruction, tutorials and lots of chances to explore what is important to them and you can't go wrong. Make a list of the ideas from this forum, add the ideas to the 21st Century knowledge and skills kids will need for their future world (as best you can predict), and you help but give vastly improved learning opportunities to those kids.

Montessori 4-6th grade teacher

The importance of physical space

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I don't think this issue can be emphasized enough. The current trend toward loading up classrooms with as many students as possible precludes the creation of spaces which facilitate differing approaches. It's easy for us to be using all the different work areas in our room for many different purposes all at the same time. I currently have around 50% of the usual student load for schools in my area.

I realize that solutions such as increassed space and better student/teacher ratios are difficult to achieve, but we're not going to create a maximal learning environment if we do not address these specific issues. They are key.

Thomas, funny you should mention it, our first project is science based! We're exploring the story of Earth's formation this year, beginning with the Big Bang. Our planning groups meet next week.

MK

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