Saturday, February 15, 2014

Who Owns Project Based Learning?

Someone asked me recently if [insert organization name here] owned Project Based Learning. Well, I'd like us to think about that together because I understand the root of the question. There are some organizations, sales people, companies, etc. who seem to own the idea of Project Based Learning. Do they?

In fact, the tenets of Project Based Learning are ideas good teachers have been using for many years, even if they didn't call it that. One teacher in her 60s recently told me, "Oh Amy, I know all about this! This is how we used to teach before all the testing. It was fun!" Yes, it WAS fun! My friend and mentor Jan Robin was one person who taught me about it. She used it in her elementary school classroom back in the 80s and 90s. She told me that at one time, there was even a state standardized test that attempted to have students create a floating vessel out of some popsicle sticks and foil.

My knowledge about PBL has come from many different places, but it began in my own classroom when at the end of my rope, I decided to run my classroom more like a business. You can read about that here. I didn't know it had a name, and I'd never studied Seymour Paypert and didn't really get the connection to Jean Piaget. But I don't think either of these educational gurus and philosophers would mind if I reference their work on Constructivism, do you?

When people have something to share that is truly valuable, they are not threatened by others sharing the conversation, they are enlivened and encouraged by it. 

If you want to know more about Project Based Learning, The Buck Institute for Education's free resources are a great place to start. However, the best learning you can do is to talk to peers and colleagues who are implementing Project Based Learning in their own classrooms. You do not have to attend an academy or pay a company in order to become knowledgeable about this teaching and learning methodology, you just have to give it a try.

On the other hand, attending a training (no matter how expensive it is) doesn't make you an expert at PBL and just because someone has been paid to offer it or received an endorsement doesn't make them an expert either. Think critically about what you hear. Use your own experience to inform what trainers tell you. Keep up to date with your PLN about the topic. There is no one know-it-all guru who can tell you everything you need to know about anything. When it comes to your students YOU are the expert.

However, if you don't have guru funding, you can get in contact with other districts who are implementing on their own and share the knowledge. OR read about it and just give it a try yourself. If you have a supportive school administration and you make sure to use your standards to design a project, go for it. I'd love to hear how it goes.

Think about the differences between Project Based Learning and Doing Projects.
Be introspective about your assignments. Do they really promote the benefits of student 
choice? Check out the Student Choice Continuum. Do you agree with my placements? If not, give me some feedback. Here's the latest version

Most importantly, don't neglect to share what you learn. If you work in education, that's supposed to be what it's all about.

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