by Mike Kaechele
Every now and then we post profiles of the people who conduct our PBL workshops and coach PBL teachers and leaders.
I currently teach social studies and math at Kent Innovation High, a Project Based Learning lab school in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I have taught Advanced Functions, Personal Finance and American Studies and Global Studies, team-taught classes that are integrated with ELA. I am committed to student-centered learning by giving kids authentic opportunities to do real work with local community partners. My passion is helping others create PBL curriculum centered on local issues.
Previously I was “doing projects” in my STEM based technology class and connecting to other educators through social media. I then had the opportunity to help start a new, PBL school in my area and learned how to do Gold Standard PBL. I was hooked immediately by the student-centered process and the focus on authenticity. I enjoy watching students become passionate about issues and make a difference in the world today, not someday.
Some of My Favorite Projects
The #MyParty16 Election Project is for middle and high school social studies or ELA classes. Asking “Who’s your Party?” it has students create their own political parties with party name, logo, platform, and thirty second commercial. Schools hold their own “primaries” with stump speeches in front of local politicians. Each school winner competes in a national election with schools around the country. Students moved from apathy to excitement about politics and issues.
Grand Rapids Civil Rights Podcasts is a high school project in American Studies, an integrated history and ELA class. While answering, “Why did Grand Rapids need the Civil Rights Movement?” students researched local civil rights history at the public library archives and compared them to the national Civil Rights Movement. Students wrote and recorded podcasts that were placed on a Google Map that is located on ExperienceGR, our city’s major promotions organization. Students were surprised to learn that the struggles for civil rights happened in their own town, not just in the South.
The Monument Project is a high school project in American History and ELA. Students researched “Why do terrorists hate us?” while reading Ender’s Game and looking at U.S. foreign policy of the past century. They created scale models of monuments depicting U.S. foreign policy from multiple perspectives that were judged by a group of engineers, architects, and designers. Students were challenged to look at their country from a global perspective and critique the intentions of our actions.
A “Fail Forward” Moment
We did a project on the Spanish American War where we made Common Craft style videos, but had no real audience for them. Students were frustrated because the project felt too much like traditional school with no real purpose. After listening to their feedback, I had students design the next project themselves, including choosing the final products and purpose. That created great student buy-in, and also helped them learn about how challenging it is to design projects.
My Work with BIE
My favorite part of PBL 101 workshops is watching the shift in teacher thinking from apprehension, often based on misconceptions of what PBL is, to confidence in both the PBL process and in their ability to successfully implement it. I enjoy coaching teachers to help them find their own solutions for a great PBL project.
PBL is a shift from teacher centered to student centered learning. Giving students voice and choice can be scary at first, but students will amaze you as they explore real problems to present to authentic audiences. Once you try PBL, you and your students will never want to go back to traditional teaching!
For more information about BIE’s services, click here.
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