by Stephen Ritz
Green Bronx Machine Founder & TEDx Speaker
Beyond “Si se Puede,” my three favorite words in public education are: Project Based Learning! As educators, we are constantly driving our students to new and improved levels of experience, experimentation and expectation. Project Based Learning is the critical catalyst for all – WOW, does it deliver! When students take ownership of their learning, when they work to cooperate and collaborate, amazing and innovative things happen. Project Based Learning puts students at the epicenters of design and outcome, creating new generations of visionaries and “solutionaries.” Just as Nike revolutionized the industry with three simple words – Just Do It – a simple call to action; Project Based Learning is the anthem for engagement, ownership and opportunity in 21st Century Classrooms. When students are empowered via PBL to change their participation and destiny right where they live and learn, we all move forward and innovation and progress abounds.
Across America, marginalized and high need communities are phenomenal incubators for progressive change. Students, residents and teachers know all too well the challenges facing them and their communities. In my neighborhood, students do not need an advanced degree in Sociology to figure out which kids exit the train at private and premiere schools and which kids remain on, attending school “elsewhere.” Project Based Learning helps flip the script for students of all abilities and backgrounds, moving them from consumers to producers – teaching them stewardship and ownership of their learning and their lives aligned to entrepreneurial attitudes and self-determination!
PBL takes students who are “apart from” and makes them “a part of” in ways that benefit all! Most importantly, PBL allows students to experience impacts and outcomes that shape their lives, attitudes and self-esteem – a true triple bottom line from which we all prosper! Project Based Learning creates and facilitates local stakeholders; PBL represents boundless possibilities, powerful projects and gives motivation to help children change their own lives and destinies right where they live and learn. Via ownership, PBL transforms learning and outcomes; when kids own it, they “just do it” and become active participants. The results are amazing and exponential in impact. Teaching children to count is essential but teaching them what counts is far more relevant and critical; the power of PBL is spectacular!
No child sets out on a deliberate and purposeful path of failure. As educators, we have a responsibility and an obligation to insure and ensure that they all succeed. Project Based Learning is the perfect tool for all; by design it is inclusive and differentiated with a niche and role for all learners, from the marginalized to the Mayor’s son, from the under-engaged to the hyper-stimulated – there is always something to do and a critical role to play. PBL offers something for everyone!
I have witnessed the transformation of schools and community in the South Bronx via PBL through our own Green Bronx Machine. In the most unlikely of places, we have transformed mindsets and landscapes to become national leaders in urban design and urban agriculture; moving children who were once canaries in the coal mines to visionaries, role-models and true 21st Century “solutionaries” and members of inclusive and democratic practices. Thirty thousand pounds of vegetables grown in the South Bronx, my favorite crop is organically grown citizens, graduates, voters, employees, students who are going to college and aspiring to things and places they never imagined before while eating and feeding others healthy nutritious food that we never even had access to! Via PBL, our classrooms and schools have become centers of success and activity with concentric circles of impact and results resonating into homes and communities locally and afar – this is the promise of public education! I’m proud that my students are growing a whole new model and a new economy!
For this teacher, it is all about participatory democracy and PBL is voter registration day! The time has come for us to look at how we collaborate, cooperate and congratulate. Together, we can grow something greater! As educators and as a nation, this is our moment. I can think of no greater challenge with no greater reward. Project Based Learning is the conduit for progressive change; I can’t imagine a more rewarding, enjoyable and inclusive process – JUST DO IT! Si se Puede!
Stephen Ritz is a South Bronx educator / administrator. He is also Founder of Green Bronx Machine. To learn more visit Green Bronx Machine or see his TED Talk. To learn more about his students, like them on Facebook or follow Stephen on Twitter. Reach out to Stephen directly at [email protected].