by Kelly Reseigh
I currently work as a Professional Learning Partner for Denver Public Schools. I collaborate with central office departments and senior leaders to design, implement, and evaluate high-quality professional learning. Our drive is to ensure that the learning opportunities being offered to leaders and educators are thoughtful, continuous, personalized, data driven, relevant, and impactful. I believe passionately that the learning experiences we provide for adults should mirror what we hope to see in classrooms.
I am so thankful for my former principal for bringing PBL into my life. We had just opened as an elementary school in Castle Rock, CO and were searching for our identity as a school. The majority of us had experience teaching in IB schools so we were passionate about inquiry and authentic learning. My principal shared with us that she had found what we so craved as a staff in Project Based Learning. We self-trained and took a lot of risks, especially in that first year. Eventually we were able to attend PBL World to solidify our practices.
We were thrilled to have our community rally behind our efforts. I remember a parent asking me what I was doing in my classroom because her son was researching, questioning, and making connections at home, even when there was no homework assigned. She immediately noticed the shift toward excitement around learning.
I believe PBL answers the “WHY” behind learning. It gives learners purpose and opens up multiple perspectives. I am passionate about student ownership, voice, and choice throughout the PBL process to make learning meaningful and powerful. I believe that Project Based Learning engages students' hearts and minds by allowing them to inquire and think critically about the world around them.
A Favorite Project
My favorite project as a teacher was “artsUcation.” This was a 4th grade project designed to allow students to learn about the impact of arts in education. The major focus was on the development of communication and creativity as success skills. Students worked towards answering the Driving Question, “How can we communicate the impact of the arts in education?” Our goals were centered around our students’ communication skills, inclusive of our speaking and listening standards, as well as their use of creativity. In addition, we focused on persuasive writing.
One of the pieces I loved most about this project was the opportunity for student voice and choice. Each group had the opportunity to select their mode of presentation, the best audience to share their learning with, and the content within it. Each group ended up doing very different things. For example, one group did a dramatic performance for our school board with a Q&A at the end, while another group made a stop-motion film and shared it with our school community. I was so impressed with the data my students collected to support their products to truly make them meaningful and compelling. Alongside the group product, each individual student created a persuasive essay relating the importance of arts in education to all students and their lives personally.
A Lesson Learned About Authenticity
We launched the artsUcation project with a dramatic entry event. We gathered all of the 4th grade students in the gym to hear a message from our specials (art, music, PE, and fitness) teachers. The teachers announced that the funding for specials had been cut and that they would no longer be having these classes for students. Our students reacted as we anticipated - shock, tears, anger, frustration. We pulled them back to our classrooms to discuss what they had heard. Immediately the students started to problem-solve and try to find ways to stop this from happening. We discussed their feelings, what the impact would be of not having these classes anymore, and what they wanted to do about it.
After about 30 minutes, we let them know that it was just pretend. Our goal was to build true empathy in our students so that they could experience what many around the country have had to deal with already. The reaction to the truth was extremely mixed; many were happy that it wasn’t real, but other students were upset that we lied to them. This was our biggest lesson learned. We wanted them to feel empathy, but we didn’t consider that our students would lose some trust in us during the process. While it was a powerful event, we realized authenticity was critical for our students.
Find Your Tribe
Facilitating with BIE is an incredible experience. It’s truly inspiring to work with educators who are so passionate about their students. I love that I have the opportunity to engage as a learner because of the vast amount of collective wisdom that’s shared in our workshops. What I enjoy most about this work is that we’re able to draw out passions and beliefs that lead to rich and meaningful conversations that truly shift thinking.
PBL can be challenging, but being consistently reflective and intentional can lead to great things. Be purposeful when making decisions in your design and facilitation of learning. Your students are your best feedback providers, so be transparent with them. Let them know when you have failed forward. Share with them your moments of success. Most importantly, find your tribe. Connect with educators near and far that are also embracing the journey to share ideas, questions, and new learning.
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