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by David Ross

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Topic tags: why PBL, school reform

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August 9, 2011
Where is the heartland of PBL?

I am bi-coastal.

I was born and spent the first 10 years of my life in Boston. By the time I was 13 my family had move to Los Angeles after a brief sojourn in Arizona. I have remained within five miles of the Pacific ever since. Without trying, I developed the standard coastal prejudice toward the folks who live in the middle.

That prejudice was never challenged until I began providing professional development to schools in such places as Portsmouth, OH, and Huntington, WV, and Parsons, KS, and Rochester, IN. The educators I encountered there were more eager to implement Project Based Learning, more focused on 21st century learning, than the teachers I encountered on the coasts. But why?

This is a generalization and suffers from the shortcomings of all such statements. That said, the level of commitment among these heartland teachers was remarkable. They understood that the clearest path to equipping students with the skills and knowledge to compete in a global market was an education that used PBL as the how and rigorous content and 21st century skills as the what. These teachers would not consign the heartland to being a 2500-mile flyover zone.

 



My understanding of this movement simmered for a few years. Just recently, the Buck Institute for Education commissioned a market analysis to determine in which regions PBL is flourishing and in which regions PBL would find new, fertile soil. The analysis came back with a catchy heading, Rust and Silicon, which I have since amended to Rust, Dust and Silicon.

We and other like-minded organizations are doing this work in big coastal cities (New York and Los Angeles: Silicon), but we are also invading aging industrial hubs (Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit: Rust) as well rural communities, big and small (Sioux Falls, Talladega, Sheboygan, Macon and Klamath Falls: Dust). Economic opportunity, or the lack thereof, seems to be the common thread.

In June, John Mergendoller and I were invited to be members of the faculty at a 21st century learning summit produced by EdLeader21 and AASA. Representatives from Apple and the New Tech Network were also on the faculty. Who were the participants in this three-day event in Utah? Fifty or so superintendents, most of who came from small, rural districts.

The clarity of their shared vision is exhilarating. The commitment with which they advocate change that will benefit their students today and their communities for a lifetime is inspiring.

I still live on the coast and will do so until I die. But until I hang up my cleats, I will be spending a great deal of time in the middle of our country. It’s always nice to preach to the choir, and the choir there is singing loud and clear.


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