Parents and Students - What is PBL?

  • Why do we need Project Based Learning? 
     
    There are two major trends in the world that pose a fundamental challenge, yet also provide opportunities, to our educational system. One is the world is shifting from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy. The other is that today's students--the "net" generation--are very differently motivated to learn.  
     
    In the 21st century, mastery of the basic skills, such as reading, writing, and math is critical, but not enough. We face a tremendous increase of readily available information with new technologies that are constantly changing. To be competitive in the workplace our students will need these must-have skills:
    • Critical thinking and problem-solving
    • Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
    • Agility and adaptability
    • Initiative and entrepreneurialism
    • Effective oral and written communication
    • Accessing and analyzing information
    • Curiosity and imagination
    One employer survey, conducted by staffing company Adecco in July of 2014, indicated that 44% of responding companies cited “soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration” as the area with “the biggest gap.” These companies went on to say that they urgently continue to look for employees that are open to the ideas of others, that listen with the intent to learn, and that embrace workplace diversity.
     
    Knowing this, we must develop new ways to motivate and teach this generation. Schools must be reinvented to be accountable for what matters most. Our students need rich educational opportunities that will equip them to be life-long learners, productive workers, and active citizens. No matter the grade level or subject area, real-world relevance in learning is critical. The experience of thousands of teachers across the world, backed by research, confirms that Project Based Learning (PBL) helps students learn!  The content is rigorous, and the nature of the projects help students develop those skills that they will need to be prepared for the world beyond high school.
     
    What exactly is PBL? 
     
    In PBL, students are active; a project, based on our academic content, engages their mind and at the same time helps them to develop critical 21st century skills. Students learn how to take responsibility and build confidence, solve problems, work collaboratively, communicate ideas, and be creative innovators.  By making learning relevant to them in this way, students see a purpose for mastering state-required skills and content concepts. 

    Modern technology – which students use so much in their lives – is a perfect fit with PBL. With technology, teachers and students can connect with experts, partners, and audiences around the world, and use tech tools to find resources and information, create products, and collaborate more effectively.
     
    The videos under "Quick Links" will provide detailed explanations of all of the components of PBL.
     
    Will my child be doing PBL?
     
    Seven teachers at the middle school level will be using the PBL model all day in their classrooms this year.  Twenty additional teachers from grades 4 - 12 will be using the PBL model in at least one class or subject matter. These PBL classrooms are equipped with various types of relevant technology.  This means that over 50% of students at the middle school level will be involved in this program everyday in one of their core academic classes and over 350 students at the elementary and high school level will experience PBL.  You will receive information through a syllabus or class newsletter if your child will be using PBL in class.
     
    I did projects when I was in school?  Isn't this the same thing?
    Projects that have been completed in traditional classrooms usually followed a unit of study and most of the time were completed independently. PBL projects are the "main course" of a unit, not the "dessert."  In other words, it is the project that drives instruction daily.  In addition, students work collaboratively on various components of the project.  Students will still be held accountable for their portions of the projects. Teachers still will use workshops to teach content and students will still have individual assessments as well.  However, the projects provide a more meaningful and connected way of learning.
     
    How can I support my child when it comes to homework? 
    Students will still be given homework that will help them complete the projects effectively.  Sometimes this will look like traditional homework and sometimes this will be parts of a project.  In addition, all PBL classrooms will be integrating many forms of technology.  As a parent, you can ask questions about the projects and look for correspondence (newsletters, student work contracts) from teachers regarding where students are in their projects.  Since this is a new program for 20 of our teachers and their students, our teachers are being encouraged to "grow" the integration of PBL components throughout their first year using PBL.  Our year two teachers will be implementing projects on a regular basis in all of their classes.
     
    How will my child earn grades or points? 
    Every teacher will have their own particular way of grading, which will be outlined in the class syllabus.  However, there will be some common consistencies in the PBL classrooms.  Teachers will use rubrics that will be shared with students, prior to working on a major project. Instead of giving only one overall grade or score for each project, teachers will assign a grade or score to many of the various components leading up to the final product or performance.  A student will earn grades for the part they played in the completion of a project.  Because of the nature of the class this may include group-earned grades, however, more weight will be given to individual contributions. In addition, separate grades or scores will be given for demonstrating 21st century skills throughout the project process--these skills will be assessed using rubrics as well. Grades based on the mastery of subject-matter content will account for the larger portion of their final grade.  Parents are encouraged to use this website, the class website, and their Canvas account to review the scoring guides that will be used during various projects.  As always, parents are welcome to ask for clarification of an grade earned in class.  
     
    How can I help? 
    Critical components of PBL ask for community members and parents to serve as mentors and experts for our students and their projects. In addition, as students present their projects we will call on audience members.  Please communicate with your child's teacher if you are willing to help in aspects of the PBL classroom. 
     
    I still have questions.  Who can I talk to about PBL? 
    Your child's teacher will be able to answer many of the questions you might have about PBL.  In addition, you can contact the principal of your school for more details.  Our educational technology specialists can also assist you in many of the questions you might have.  If you have questions about the PBL Labs at the middle school or high school, you can contact Stephanie Long, the Educational Technology Specialist(ETS) at the middle school, or Thomas Maerke, the high school ETS.  Doug Greek, the elementary ETS is assisting teachers in grades 4 and 5.