Can you remember the last time you had a real “ah-ha!” moment? I had one of those moments a little over a month ago. I was at a training session for coaches and administrators where we were discussing strategies for how to best coach teachers, specifically Math instructors, in project-based learning. As we moved through each day of the training the attendees became increasingly aware of their own comfort and discomfort levels with PBL.
Change process and leading successful implementation of Project-Based Learning requires staff buy-in, leadership support, and a shift in structures and process. Before I jump into those concepts in more depth, I want to share my story and the reason Project-Based Learning has been my guiding light as an educator.
We’ve all been there, right? We are facilitating this classroom full of teams with different ideas on what makes the best final product. How do your groups decide whose idea is the best? Is it the person who talks the loudest? Or the one who talks the most? Is it the person’s idea who everyone knows will do the majority of the work in the project anyway? Or how do you keep a group from choosing a solution before exploring several options?
The root of project-based learning is the authenticity of the content. This is true in any subject area and in any classroom. When a teacher finds a way to show the students that what they are learning directly ties to something in “real life” the students are that much more engaged and purposeful in their learning. When our classroom launches our garden and feast project, students know exactly why we are learning the content and how they may use it in the future. When it comes to an English classroom, authenticity and PBL fit naturally.
“Hey there, my name is Josh. Nice to meet you” . “Oh, hi. I’m Ellen. What do you do for a living Josh?” “I’m a math teacher.” “Wow. I could never do that, I am not a math person at all.” If you are a math teacher or even know one closely, chances are you’ve been a witness to this conversation on multiple occasions. Early in my career, I found a way to just awkwardly shrug it off and laugh a little and move the conversation on. Now I find myself digging deeper, much to the pain of my conversational counterpart.