by Jenny Pieratt, Ph.D
Former BIE National Faculty
I am a passionate educator deeply committed to delivering deeper learning to all students. I was a teacher for nine years before leaving the classroom to support teachers implementing Project Based Learning and other deeper learning practices across the New Tech Network. After three years I returned to my roots at High Tech High before launching my own company, CraftED Curriculum. I often call PBL my 3rd baby, as I have lived it, facilitated it, studied it extensively and continue to learn from it every day of my life.
What I love most about Project Based Learning is the promise it brings for engaging students. I have seen firsthand what happens when students are given voice and choice, and provided the opportunity to lead their own learning by pursuing their passions. As an early teacher I remember being skeptical about PBL. But after embarking on my first project and watching the “AHA!” moments happen for students who I had not been able to previously reach, I knew that there was no going back for me; PBL was the ticket to engaging EVERY child in my classroom.
A Favorite Project and a Lesson Learned
One of my favorite projects was called Food Truck Frenzy. I completed this 5th grade project, along with Stephanie Roccon, my partner teacher at High Tech Elementary North County. We asked students to answer the following driving questions: What does it mean to be healthy? Why doesn’t everybody have access to healthy foods? And, How can we help create access to healthy foods in a local food desert?
Ultimately, students created a business plan for a food truck that would serve a local food desert, developed a healthy menu for their food truck (complete with all nutrition labels and information for their recipes), and designed a 3D food truck to accompany their work at a final community exhibition. This project covered math, ELA, nutrition science, and art.
When I was teaching 10th grade I designed a project that asked students to interview migrant workers. Students were extremely intimidated by this type of field work and, in looking back I realize that I didn’t do enough to prepare them for their actual interactions in the field. My big takeaway from this “project gone wrong” is to dedicate time to modeling expectations, providing support for reluctant students and when choice isn’t provided for an experience, strive to enroll students in the process.
My Work with BIE
What I love about PBL with students is the same as what I love about PBL with adults-watching those AHA! moments happen. The way BIE’s PBL 101 trainings are set up, participants are asked to experience PBL as a learner. By the second and third day it is incredibly rewarding and exciting to hear the paradigm shift happen – from teacher to facilitator of PBL.
As a PBL facilitator we never fully “arrive” so do your best to enjoy the learning process, as much for yourself as for your students.
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