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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How can in-school curriculum administrators successfully support and coach Project Learning?

How can in-school curriculum administrators successfully support and coach Project Learning?

Related Tags: Project-Based Learning
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3 Replies 1315 Views
I have had the good fortune of working with in-school curriculum administrators that have been tasked with supporting and coaching good Project Learning in their schools. I would like to introduce them to each other and I hope that they will be able to post their questions and ideas in this section of the group. I will be emailing them in the next few days, hoping to start a rich discussion for the benefit of future members.

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Twila Busby's picture
Twila Busby
Middle School, Tucson, AZ

I would appreciate any insights into coaching teachers who have one foot in PBL and the other in more traditional instructional methods. The see the benefits of PBL but don't trust that students will learn and retain their learning. So what happens is that even though they have a pretty good project design, before you know it they are lecturing, caught up in following the textbook, handing out worksheets and the project and process are no longer the main event.

Tristan de Frondeville's picture
Tristan de Frondeville
Project Learning Consultant for PBL Associates
Facilitator

Twila,

This is an excellent question to start us off, and I think there are two aspects to this question. The first is to determine the goal of school, education, and teaching. Interestingly, whenever we do an exercise to have teachers brainstorm on these goals, they always come up with the classics, like "lifelong learner", self-disciplined, and other adjectives describing the character or 'being' of their students. Yet, here they are re-creating teacher directed lessons that emphasize 'knowing', and give very little autonomy and training for the students on how to be self-disciplined, life long learners. After all, how can you be self-disciplined unless you are given the opportunity to manage your own time? I hope we don't think that self-disciplined is just about the ability to 'follow instructions'.

I know for my own classes, I begain to have a much more powerful impact on my students when I began to focus on how I could help them become the best 25 year old adult that they could be, rather than just the best mathematician that they could be. I kept the smaller target (mathematician), but expanded to include much more in the bigger target (great 25 year old) by including training on collaboration, time management, public performance skills, autonomy, self-discipline, and written communication.

The second aspect to this question is that maybe most teachers would like to head in this direction, but they feel pressured by the idea that they are measured by their student's performance on standardized tests. If this is the case, then one has to find teachers who have 'great results' on standardized tests AND who also teach with PBL and to this greater target (a student as a 25 year old). This is the best way to show that both can be done. I remember that I felt much better about my days when I felt I was contributing to the life of my students as future 25 year olds, then to just the narrower target of their life as mathematicians. Interestingly enough, I think many more of my students became much better mathematicians as a result of my showing that I cared about a bigger picture of themselves, and the results were born out in their test scores.

Once I cared about their future being, and their ability to apply knowledge, then PBL became the best moments in my classroom, and I tried to implement more and more projects.

Thomas Stanley's picture
Thomas Stanley
Educational Consultant-former teacher in high school

Tristan is right you have to have a buy in by the administration, staff, community, parents, and students. When creating your PBL look make sure that all the major players (including naysayers) are a part of the decision making process. What should be seen in the classroom when an administrator walks in to evaluate the teacher? How will student evaluations be handled? What real world projects do you want the community involved in with your students? What role do you want the parents to play? What kind of support are the teachers going to get in the form of time, standards, and professional development? How can the school make sure it allows cross-curricular planning and execution of the projects? If students and teachers are in a traditional setting they will teach traditionally. These are just a few of the things that you need to consider. It takes 3-5 years to really get this up and running--remember you are dealing with people who have to feel secure in what they are doing--that takes time.

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