by Kiffany Lychock
My current role is director of educational innovation for the Boulder Valley School District that serves areas in and surrounding Boulder, Colorado. Our Strategic Plan and Innovation in BVSD focus on the implementation of innovative teaching and learning practices and designing and constructing innovative learning environments. Our work aspires to create challenging, meaningful and engaging learning opportunities in ways that engage students’ curiosity, foster risk-taking and provide them with challenges that impact their local, national and/or global community. My past experiences include roles in professional development, educational technology, instructional coaching, and secondary (high school) Spanish instruction.
My initial work in PBL started in my classroom when I was teaching Spanish to high school students. Now that I have grown in my knowledge and understanding of what true Project Based Learning is and is not, I also know that much of my early ventures into PBL were more “dessert”-like in nature. As I began to work more deeply with Ed Tech, the possibilities and abilities to connect and communicate on a global scale with ease was what really pushed my thinking into how to authentically engage students in using their language skills. I also had an opportunity to support our high school as a member of the core team of teachers that worked to bring the International Baccalaureate program to our school, which furthered my passion and drive to provide students with learning experiences that were founded in inquiry and geared towards challenging, rigorous learning.
In my experience in various professional learning roles, I am passionate about the work of BIE because it provides teachers and leaders with professional learning that allows the adult learners to experience the kind of learning that we hope to provide to students. If our bigger goals and visions are to provide learning experiences that masterfully integrate the Gold Standard PBL Essential Project Design Elements, PBL is the “how” to do that work. The supports and structures provided by BIE in partnership with incredibly high quality professional learning, give the necessary and concrete resources and experiences to implement PBL in both small and large scales. As a classroom teacher, I remember hearing a lot about the newest educational philosophy and theory often times without any concrete ways in which to make those big ideas a reality. Finding PBL gave me those concrete tools, examples, and connections to other passionate educators to really shift my instruction (both with students and with adult learners).
A Favorite Project
My favorite project to date is a one that I completed in my previous district called the “Global Learners & Leaders Programme.” The idea for this project started when I was working as a professional development coordinator and was introduced to the Global Student Leaders Summit as run by EF Tours. This Summit combines a robust leadership conference complete with an immersive tour (either before or after the Summit). During the Summit, students work in collaborative groups to prototype a solution to an authentic problem aligned to the global theme of each conference. In addition, they have the opportunity to learn from internationally recognized keynote speakers and workshop facilitators.
As excited as we were about this leadership opportunity and Summit, we really wanted to provide our students with both a pre- and post-conference learning opportunity to more deeply immerse them in the global theme and the problems that it addressed. The first year, when we opened the pilot group to our 9th-11th grade students, the theme of the EF Global Student Leaders Summit was “Innovation and the Future of Education.” We set out to design a pre-conference project that asked our students to answer the driving question, “What knowledge and skills do students need to be successful in the 21st Century?” Our students then used the design thinking process to create a system that would communicate their findings/answers to the DQ to their stakeholders.
They expanded on their learning during the Summit in the summer and then were to return in the fall to work on the implementation of a solution to a problem they were exposed to at the global conference on either a local, national or global scale. This was an amazing, comprehensive and rigorous experience for both our students and staff that were involved in the program and is without a doubt, the project that I feel demonstrated Gold Standard PBL at a deep level.
Lesson Learned About Using Rubrics
In the Global Learners & Leaders Programme, we expected our students to answer the driving question in a way that best supported the needs of their targeted stakeholders. This meant that they had a very open-ended task with many different answers. We were really surprised at how much our students initially struggled with this. They seemed to genuinely not understand what it was that they were supposed to DO. This was quite perplexing to my colleague and I as we thought our outcomes for the project were very clear and we had created a rubric to help guide the work. We realized that our mistake at the beginning of the project was not using the rubric in a meaningful way, and not including enough checkpoints on major project requirements. In a nutshell, we needed more (and more rigorous!) formative assessments. My biggest take away from this experience was considering how to use the rubric for a project throughout the learning in both formative and interim ways. This adjustment to scaffolding the learning within assessment practices really changed the way I planned projects.
My Work with BIE
I have really loved my experiences as a National Faculty member for BIE. I am inspired by the enthusiasm of vast majority of participants who are excited to jump into PBL. I love hearing the thoughts of our teachers who so deeply desire to make learning exciting and meaningful for their students. It’s very rewarding to think about how deeply the work of BIE is impacting thousands of students every year.
It’s so important to find ways to connect to others in order to learn from their stories. It’s vital to find and form communities of support. PBL is a huge, global movement—there are so many ways to engage in learning with others! If you’re a passionate PBLer in a school/district that isn’t quite as gung-ho as you are, find your home in an online PLN. Get on Twitter (follow the hashtags #PBL, #PBLchat, follow @BIEPBL and any of the National Faculty—I’m @klychock and would love to connect!), Facebook and LinkedIn can all serve as your virtual professional learning community.
What motivates me most about PBL is that there is ALWAYS a next step to take and new things to learn. PBL done well is a true teaching and learning cycle of planning, facilitating, reflecting and growing. I love that I will never be “done” with PBL. It is not a destination, but a journey. Embrace the high points and the lows (there will be plenty of both!) knowing that students (and you!) will learn just as much, if not more, from the process of PBL as they will from their finished products. The skills they gain along the way, particularly in collaboration and creativity, risk-taking and curiosity, will be as valuable to them perhaps more so than the content knowledge they will master during your projects. PBL truly combines both the science of teaching and the art of incredibly masterful learning experiences.
For information about BIE’s professional development services, click here.
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