George Lucas Educational Foundation

Helping Parents Understand PBL

Helping Parents Understand PBL

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For an upcoming Edutopia guide for parents, we're looking for suggestions about how to help parents understand the value of PBL. I'm eager to hear from teachers who have strategies to share. Do you use tools like Edmodo to provide a parent window into projects? Do you invite parents to volunteer as content experts or reviewers? What puzzles parents about PBL? (Anyone get parent pushback about teams?) How do you get parents on board with this rewarding but challenging approach to learning? Thanks for your ideas.

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Craig Howat's picture
Craig Howat
Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration Facilitator

We preach from day one during parent orientation and open house that we are training their kids for their future careers. We often get early concerns from parents about peer assessments and grade confusion. This is answered by having the team members explain to their parents why they received the grade they received. This is real world accountability! We also maintain a parent email database and invite parents to project launches, field experiences, final products and assessments. As tweeted during last weeks #PBLchat, I love to hear the parents say "I wish school was like this when I was a kid!" The true value of PBL should be "modeled" to parents by students and teachers through effectively using oral and written communication and collaboration. The parents will become disciples when they see the growth and passion for learning in their children!

laurenbie's picture
Professional Services Coordinator at the Buck Institute for Education

The school needs to be proactive when creating a climate for PBL. Information can be sent home via email and placed on the school/district website. BIE has a great Common Craft Video for the outsider looking in available in several languages

The teacher can involve the parents as experts. Often, teachers distribute interest surveys in the beginning of the year to get to know students and their learning styles. Why not send home a similar survey to parents? Based upon their jobs and hobbies, you may end up with a handful or more of some resident experts as well as some project ideas!

When speaking to parents it helps for teachers to be transparent about what they do. Allow parents to view project work via Edmodo or class blogs. Explain what and why you are doing and parents will appreciate it. They often disagree when they don't understand the WHYs of what we do. Let's explain it to them early and often!

John Bennett's picture
John Bennett
Emeritus Faculty in the School of Engineering / University of Connecticut

First and foremost, it's important to accept the fact that not all parents will engage. Some will for sure but some will be supportive but unable to do so because of schedules, some will see it as "not their responsibility" and not engage, some will feel unqualified to engage, and - unfortunately - some will feel strongly that they need to seek to disrupt such efforts.

So I would facilitate the organization of what I call a LOCAL Education Community of interested teachers, administrators, students, PARENTS / family members, and citizens to identify and understand local issues and to brainstorm, plan, implement, assess, and refine efforts to deal with the issues.

One issue would be curriculum - PBL in this case; another issue is the parents who won't engage or maybe even try to disrupt such efforts. Students with no parental engagement MUST be helped in other ways for PBL or any other pedagogy to be successful!

I am confident that some reluctant parents will engage as they understand the effort better through student feedback and their observations. So participation will grow; but it cannot and will not be expected or even be gained from all parents - through ANY effort - right from the start!

Chris Fancher's picture
Chris Fancher
Design and PBL facilitator.

The first parents that we usually hear from are the parents of our best students. They don't understand how their son or daughter has gotten such a low grade - "My son has never gotten a grade below a 90!" And we have to have the talk that at our school the students need each other to be successful. And, before long that A-student is back to having good grades and he has learned to help his group be successful.
This happens each year even though we hold information sessions for the students and the parents during the summer prior to the start of school. And so it is incredibly important that we keep a dialogue with our parents throughout the school year.
This happens through the obvious means - the Parent Involvement Committee (PIC) our version of the PTA and other less conventional means like asking them to be on panels for our presentations. Many of the parents want to sit on presentations but are concerned that they are not knowledgeable about the topic, such as an Algebra or Physics. But when we tell them that they can sit on a panel and grade the oral presentation skills then they are thrilled.
The important thing here is that the parents must feel that they are an integral part of the process.

Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate

Thanks, everyone, for sharing these suggestions. Many good ideas here for engaging with parents as allies to support students' PBL success.

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