by Andrew Miller
I’m currently an instructional coach at the Shanghai American School in China. I not only support teachers in designing great PBL projects, but also coach them on effective assessment practices. I have a passion for assessment of student learning and how it can help differentiate for all students. I value assessment more than just “of learning,” but also “for learning” and “as learning” purposes.
I started my PBL journey through trying it out individually at a comprehensive high school. Although I experienced some limited success, I longed for a school that truly matched my passion for Project Based Learning and student-centered pedagogy. Luckily, I moved to a 6th-12th grade STEM PBL school with an emphasis on equity. I implemented projects in the Humanities as well and integrated projects that assessed content and skills in a variety of subjects. During that time, I was asked to join the National Faculty of BIE (Ed. Note: Andrew was in the first cohort of BIE NF members) and have remained an advocate of PBL for all students regardless of zip code and background.
Some Favorite Projects
One of my favorite projects was in 9th and 10th grade Humanities. Students created podcasts and opinion editorials to address the driving question: “How do we get rid of myths and stereotypes of World Religions?” Students chose the religion to focus on and learned important socials studies content on different world religions as well as informational writing and reading standards and speaking and listening standards. They presented their work digitally to experts outside of the classroom as well as parents and community members. After the project, we held a Socratic seminar to reflect on the overall scope of the project.
In 8th grade journalism, students also investigated content on Bill of Rights. They investigated how the Bill of Rights impacted their rights at school including dress code, freedom of speech and social media, and other topics that they felt passionate about. They worked in teams to create a tool to teach others at the school in order to ensure students were aware of their rights on and off campus. In fact, the driving question was, “Do I really have rights as a student?” Along the way they used a variety of prompts including “I Used to Think…Now I Think” to reflect on what they have learned and how it has changed their views. Students not only chose the products to share, but the specific rights they wanted to explore in depth.
My passion for assessment came from my mistakes and errors in assessment in my first projects. I didn’t assess enough and did not use it to inform instruction. Consequently, the initial projects went much longer that expected, as I didn’t use the time efficiently. In addition, I knew I needed to align project products to show the deeper learning that the standards demanded.
Inspiration, Collaboration & Freedom to Fail
I have had the privilege of facilitating countless workshops for BIE including Sustained Support Visits and PBL 101s. I am always excited by the PBL World conference, where educators gather together to learn from each other, but also collaborate with like-minded individuals. I continually find inspiration in the National Faculty and staff at BIE and value them as a source for continued collaboration and problem solving to support teachers in implementing Gold Standard Project Based Learning.
I firmly believe in the “freedom to fail.” We all make mistakes and can learn from them. The same is true of Project Based Learning. We implement projects that go extremely well, and some that “flop.” We can use all these moments to learn and “fail forward” to implement even better PBL experiences for our students.
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