by Lisa Goochee
4th Grade Teacher
This blog was originally posted on the Association of American Schools in South America (AASSA) website, and has been reposted with the AASSA's express written permission. Excerpts from Tim Gripka (American School of Asuncion) and Megan Hoffmann (Graded School).
Project-based learning (PBL) is an approach to learning in which students design questions and implement solutions with the teacher acting primarily as coach or facilitator. PBL has a series of distinct steps and unique best practice approaches in order to be considered a project-based learning experience.
According to Dr. John Mergendoller of the Buck Institute for Education (BIE), the chief authority on project-based learning, BIE will directly train close to 15,000 teachers this year. Many more teachers are discovering and trying PBL for themselves or are getting trained by outside consultants.
To address this rise in the practice of PBL over the past three to four years, the Buck Institute for Education has issued a new “Gold Standard” of PBL. This Gold Standard adds in a few new components to the original eight steps. The main focus in Gold Standard is a movement towards authenticity.
Authenticity, as defined by Dr. Mergendoller, involves real-world tasks, grading standards that reflect how students might be evaluated in the real world for their contributions, engagement with important issues, and engaging the public with the work. Additionally, sustained, or in-depth inquiry, has been removed as a formal step — as it is implied in the method — and “public audience” has changed to “public product.”
Project-based learning is being facilitated across our South American region. At the 2014 AASSA Educator’s Conference in Sao Paulo, Tim and Molly Gripka from the American School of Asuncion presented to a full house on Project-Based Learning with Character Education. Megan Hoffmann, another great presenter from the conference, is part of a special cohort piloting PBL in their classrooms at Graded. (Check out Innovate 2015 to see the results of these cohorts. Ms. Hoffman will be presenting on project-based learning at Innovate 2015!)
These AASSA teachers are here to share how PBL is being used in their classrooms today.
Megan Hoffmann, Graded School, Brazil.
Megan Hoffmann is currently in her 6th year at Graded in São Paulo, Brazil and teaches 4th grade. For the past couple years, she has used project-based learning to integrate science and social studies units. Now, after guidance from Suzie Boss at BIE, she is using PBL to encourage not only student engagement, but also student empowerment. You can read more about the work her students are doing in this article, “Project-Based Learning: Relying on Resources.”
Tim Gripka, American School of Asuncion, Paraguay.
Tim Gripka is currently an academic support specialist at the American School of Asuncion. He has been there for 6 years with his wife, Molly Gripka, and two children. Tim has been working with project-based learning (PBL) for 10+ years. In particular, he has found integrating character education programs into the PBL process particularly rewarding. He states, “explicitly teaching these character lessons is not nearly as effective as constructing opportunities for students to independently acquire these essential life lessons.” You can read more about the work and his students in the article, “Character Education Through PBL.”
Lisa Goochee, School of the Nations, Brazil.
Lisa Goochee is in her 3rd year at School of the Nations in Brazil, currently teaching 4th grade. Lisa is in her second year of using project-based learning integrated into her school’s character education program. Similar to Tim, she’s seen huge impacts in giving students the opportunity to build projects directly through a virtue of emphasis. You can read more about her work here, “My Experiences in Project-Based Learning and Project Based Teaching.” You may read work written, and filmed, by her students about PBL in the piece, “The Steps of Project-Based Learning.”
AASSA is currently looking for other upper elementary classrooms across the region who might like to connect students over PBL work between January and June of 2015. They are exploring how students of younger ages can begin participating in a junior level Global Issues Network Conference held digitally. If you would like to try project-based learning, or add yourself to this list, we encourage you to reach out! Please be in touch with Lgoochee (at) gmail (dot) com.