by Suzie Boss
For anyone who wonders whether teachers can make a difference in the lives of their students, Pearl Arredondo offered her own story as a compelling case study to kick off day four of PBL World. She grew up in East Los Angeles, daughter of a gang leader, and learned early about low expectations and poor educational options for “kids like me. No one would expect more of me if I became a gang member or got pregnant at 15.”
Arredondo shattered those expectations to become the first in her family to graduate college, and then launched a remarkable teaching career in the same neighborhood where she grew up. She founded a pilot middle school, San Fernando Institute for Applied Media or SFiAM, four years ago to ensure that students get the education they deserve “to become our next generation of movers and shakers.”
Arredondo singled out two adults who helped her find her way to success. Her mother, who was in the audience at PBL World, has been a steady source of encouragement and inspiration. Arredondo also mentioned her fifth-grade teacher, “Miss Hirschkoff, who saw something in me.” With her teacher’s encouragement, she entered speech contests and found her voice to advocate for herself and her peers.
Arredondo reminded teachers in the audience, “We don’t know the impact we’re having. I remember the teachers who stood up for me.”
With a team of fellow teachers, Arredondo founded “our dream school. It’s PBL, of course.” SFiAM replaced a low-performing school with “a culture where kids will try, struggle, and keep going.” The goal is to “get students high school ready.”
As part of their school design, teachers have the power to choose their school leader. “Our teacher team needs a leader who will be collaborative, not top down,” she said. The school also puts technology into students’ hands through a 1:1 iPad program. “The devices go home and become family devices,” she said, transforming communities with technology access.
The key to school transformation has been earning students’ trust. “How do teachers get kids to trust you? You have to be vulnerable. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Model how you overcome,” Arredondo said. She encourages teachers to think of themselves as “cultivators of intellectual curiosity.”
Want to learn more? Follow Arredondo on Twitter @pearlsfiam. Watch her TED talk, “My Story, from Gangland Daughter to Star Teacher.”
And watch a Google Hangout interview with her, recorded just after her keynote at PBL World.
Cindy Johanson, executive director of Edutopia, surprised the audience with the world premiere of a video that makes a compelling case for PBL. 5 Keys to Rigorous PBL was produced in response to a request from PBL World attendees two years ago, Johanson said.
The video focuses on five key elements of PBL, including real-world connection; core to learning (with academic content at the heart of projects); structured collaboration; student driven; and multifaceted assessment. The video highlights research that shows the effectiveness of PBL.
PBL World wraps up tomorrow with a new event, the PBL Tech Expo. Companies that provide content-, platform-, and technology-solutions that address the needs of PBL teachers, schools, and districts will start the day with a Lightning Round of three-minute presentations.
Stay up to date by following the hashtag #pblworld and joining the Google+ PBL World community.