19 February 2018

I Went to a PBL School and Discovered How Little I Know About PBL

Altogether, I've probably attended at least 75 hours worth of professional learning and workshops on Project-Based Learning between my work with Pathways to Prosperity, various sessions at EdCampSTL, METC, and MORENet conferences, and training from THE Buck Institute for a week last summer and one day in December with my new school, the STEAM Academy. I've designed and/or implemented several projects that I thought were pretty good. I've seen the Most Likely to Succeed film 5 times. I have a great foundation on the general "how" and definite passion for the "why" of project-based learning.

I had AMAZING visions for what my students were going to accomplish this year! We started so well - I threw the curriculum pacing slightly out of order, found a project integrating Algebra, Geometry, and Architecture that I loved, had a friend come mentor the kids for a day, and took some really good pictures! I co-designed a project for our 6th graders that involved planning the purchases and recipe scaling for a Thanksgiving meal for all 80ish 6th graders in our building. My co-teacher was super into it! The kids worked together so well!

And yet, here I am in the middle of February, and I find my classroom and our school becoming test-prep central. Don't get me wrong, PBL activities are still happening in the building - our fine arts department has begun a cool Carnival themed unit called "STEAM Caliente" that I'm sure is going to be amazing for our students, but I feel entrenched in this anxiety and pressure to prepare my students to death so we can meet our goal of all students scoring "proficient" or "advanced" on our state tests in May.

If YOU were to ask ME the question, "How can I do PBL units and make sure I cover all of my standards," I would tell you to "make sure that you design your unit backward to ensure that what you want the kids to learn is at the front, and that as the kids work, the learning will work itself out." I would point out that your test-prep cramming is meaningless in the end anyway.

But here I am, feeling at a complete loss for vision for the task before me.

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Who's got a model for PBL that involves deep, interdisciplinary projects with kids who do well on their standardized tests AND also administer days worth of practice tests to generate predictive data for students' performance on state tests. Send me your links! :)

Back to that question that you would ask me - I would tell you that feeling uncomfortable is really good for you professionally, and I still believe that, but I've also found that it can be a lonely, humbling place. (But in the end, humility is great, too).

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Thanks for sharing!