by Nick Weiss
Teacher and Director of Innovative Teaching and Learning, Prince of Peace Christian School (Carrollton, TX)
This post originally appeared on Nick’s blog.
Before I went to BIE’s PBL 101 Workshop, I had been experimenting with PBL for almost four years. My first few PBL projects weren’t planned well, but the authenticity of our work, the joy in my students, and the connection with the community was enough to keep me going. Every year since the beginning, I’ve been getting closer and closer to what I now know as the Gold Standard. I was a little arrogant going into the workshop. A few years back, a few of our teachers attended a PBL conference but didn't really get much out of it. Conferences can be hit or miss like that sometimes.
With that in the back of my mind, I wondered if this institute would be a review of everything I had been reading (BIE’s books are fantastic) and watching from BIE.org or something new and groundbreaking. I was pleasantly surprised that it was the latter. The last three days deeply changed me as an educator. Let me share the specifics.
I’m not sure why I had never heard this term before, but protocols were promoted and modeled all three days. Protocols are simple organizational structures for collaborative discussions, peer critique, and reflection. I experienced the Charrette Protocol, the Tuning Protocol, and the Gallery Walk among others. Before this, the only form of peer feedback my students were getting was through rubrics or informal 1 on 1 conversations. Rubrics are GREAT, but the various protocols I picked up at the institute are going to make the feedback process SO much more engaging and helpful for the students. Protocols make sure that every student is heard, that every student gets adequate feedback, and that the feedback process doesn’t take eons to finish. The words “I like, I wonder, I have, looks like, sounds like, feels like, I rock, I drop” are sticking in my head quite nicely.
PBL is Everywhere
I walked into this institute in Dallas, TX thinking that the participants were going to be mostly from local schools. The first day, I met a group from Utah and a teacher from Alaska. The second day I worked with teachers from Mexico and Washington. On day three, I worked with teachers from Arkansas and Wisconsin. It was a pleasantly diverse conference. I hear BIE’s PBL World is even more diverse, with over 30 countries attending. Another thing I should mention is that I thought I’d be working with mostly teachers, but there were a good deal of superintendents, principals, and teacher coaches as well.
The Student Learning Guide is Really Important
Confession: I had never filled out the Project Design: Student Learning Guide, one of BIE’s project planning forms, thinking that the Project Assessment Map would be sufficient. It really wasn’t. The Assessment Map is great at aligning assessments with the major final products, but it doesn’t include learning activities. Before the institute, I kind of saw my assessments as the activities. I see this now as a huge gap in instruction and planning. Another reason I didn’t fill out the Student Learning Guide was that I didn’t always know what activities to plug in. After the institute, about fifteen different strategies were modeled that I can easily plug in whenever I need them, namely those that not only can be used to target content but also target meaningful success skills.
Actual Time Needed to Plan a Gold Standard Project
A PBL 101 workshop is 3 days X 6 hours = 18 hours (not including lunch). In that time, you’re given loads of time to learn, work, reflect, revise, and give/receive feedback from your peers. Facilitators guide you to build a fully formed and functional project. The project I designed was huge (fifteen standards + about 10 weeks), and I didn’t finish filling out all the planning documents. I need another five hours or so to finish it all up. Planning a PBL project in this time frame gave me a good sense of what other teachers might need to plan one of their own. Our 101 facilitator said it takes her about 8-10 hours of work time to plan a project from the ground up.
New Goal - Become Part of BIE's National Faculty
I saw how transformative this three-day institute was for the professionals who attended. After designing the bare bones of our first project (title, description, driving question, content, individual/group products, and public audience), we wrote them on easel-size post-it notes and showcased them in the hall. Seeing all of those meaningful projects and thinking ahead to all the students who would be affected by them was awesome. As a BIE National Faculty member, you get to do this like five times a year. Crunch the numbers: (five times thirty five, times the number of students or teachers each participant could influence = a lot of students learning deeply and positively impacting their communities). That would be fun.
If You've Never Been PBL’d...
If you've never attended one of BIE's PBL 101 workshops, I highly recommend it. All PBL 101 workshops are facilitated BIE's National Faculty, who go through a rigorous selection process. My facilitator, Dori Berg, was fantastic and as you can see in this post, was a big part of changing my PBL perspectives and teaching practices.
Please leave your questions/comments/personal experiences below or on my blog. I'd love to discuss and also hear about how your experience with a BIE PBL 101 workshop affected you as an educator.
Follow Nick Weiss on Twitter @teacherweiss.
For information about upcoming PBL Institutes like the one Nick attended, click here.
For more information about BIE’s professional development services, click here.