by Suzie Boss
PBL World guest keynoter Al Solis (@alfredsolis), an engineer turned educator, shared practical strategies to improve project-based learning experiences to kick off day 3 of the conference. When he was a science teacher at High Tech High in San Diego, Calif., he focused on “REnovation rather than innovation.” Later this summer, Solis will return to the Buck Institute of Education as director of special projects.
With plentiful examples, Solis shared the stories behind some memorable projects. In one project from his own classroom, students made kinetic art models and shared their work with city officials. Another took off in a big way when Solis shared his science project idea with teachers from across the region. For the final exhibition, more than 50,000 people showed up to hear students describe their deep learning experiences. And then there was the day when Bill and Melinda Gates--and Oprah Winfrey--made a surprise visit to watch his PBL students in action, working on a project about the design of pool tables. (Oprah’s response: “Pool? Cool!”)
What should teachers think about when they renovate existing project plans? One suggestion from Solis: Consider how you are leveraging the assets students bring into the classroom. “Students come to the table with something,” he said.
Another tip: Consider how you can renovate with technology. “Technology should satisfy a need,” Solis said, and not add unnecessary complications. He mentioned Newsela as an example of a tech tool that enables students to engage with content by adjusting reading levels. That sets the stage for more critical thinking and deeper discussions.
Assessment is another potential focus for renovation, Solis said. With the right design, a public exhibition of student work becomes a performance assessment.
Finally, Solis suggested that teachers consider how they are curating students’ work, as well as their own work as project designers. Creating a curated collection of projects offers an opportunity to reflect and improve project design. Although Solis has been out of the classroom for several years, he maintains a website of his own project examples. When teachers ask if they can borrow one for their own students, he says, “Sure, as long as you make it better.” PBLU is another curated collection of project plans that teachers can download, adapt, and remix.
PBL World attracts a global audience. Among this year’s attendees is Australian Cameron Paterson (@cpaterso). At Shore School in Sydney, he serves as mentor of learning and teaching. He also teaches history and has led a number of projects that connect students with peers in other countries, developing their global perspective.
Paterson was one of the top-50 finalists for the 2015 Global Teacher Prize. The prize isn’t so much about ranking or rating teachers, Paterson pointed out, but rather intended to elevate the stature of the teaching profession. “I like the hashtag: #TeachersMatter.”
Paterson has been attending the coaching academy at PBL World. Listen to his reflections about that experience and more in this Google Hangout.
David Ross (@davidbie), senior director of BIE and the driving force behind PBL World, was recognized this morning with the first-ever PBL Champion award. BIE Executive Director John Mergendoller credited Ross with helping to expand the scale of PBL globally. Accepting the award, Ross noted that PBL World, now in its fourth (“senior”) year, has grown up “and is ready for grad school.”
PBL World continues through Friday on the campus of Napa New Tech High School. Follow the conversations with the Twitter hashtag #pblworld. Watch for daily blog posts for keynote highlights and interviews, and catch more highlights in the PBL World Google+ community.