Before I went to BIE’s PBL 101 Workshop, I had been experimenting with PBL for almost four years. My first few PBLs weren’t planned well, but the authenticity of our work, the joy in my students, and the connection with the community was enough to keep me going. Every year since the beginning, I’ve been getting closer and closer to what I now know as the Gold Standard. I was a little arrogant going into the workshop. A few years back, a few of our teachers attended a PBL conference but didn't really get much out of it. Conferences can be hit or miss like that sometimes. With that in the back of my mind, I wondered if this institute would be a review of everything I had been reading and watching from BIE.org or something new and groundbreaking. I was pleasantly surprised that it was the latter. The last three days deeply changed me as an educator. Let me share the specifics.
I’m not sure why I had never heard this term before, but protocols were promoted and modeled all three days. Protocols are simple organizational structures for collaborative discussions, peer critique, and reflection. I experienced the Charrette Protocol, the Tuning Protocol, and the Gallery Walk among others. Before the camp, the only form of peer feedback my students were getting was through rubrics or informal 1 on 1 conversations. Rubrics are GREAT, but the various protocols I picked up at the institute are going to make the feedback process SO much more engaging and helpful for the students. Protocols make sure that every student is heard, that every student gets adequate feedback, and that the feedback process doesn’t take eons to finish. The words I like, I wonder, I have, looks like, sounds like, feels like, I rock, and I drop are sticking in my head quite nicely.
PBL is Everywhere
I walked into this institute in Dallas, TX thinking that the participants were going to be mostly from local schools. The first day, I met a group from Utah and a teacher from Alaska. The second day I worked with teachers from Mexico and Washington. On day three, I worked with teachers from Arkansas and Wisconsin. It was a pleasantly diverse conference. I hear PBL World is even more diverse with over 30 countries attending. Another thing I should mention is that I thought I’d be working with mostly teachers, but there were a good deal of superintendents, principals, and teacher coaches as well.
The Student Learning Guide is Really Important
Confession: I never filled out the student learning guide before thinking that the assessment map would be sufficient. It really wasn’t. The assessment map is great at aligning assessments with the major final products, but it doesn’t include learning activities. Before the institute, I kind of saw my assessments as the activities. I see this now as a huge gap in instruction and planning. Another reason I didn’t fill out the student learning guide was that I didn’t always know what activities to plug in. After the institute, about fifteen different strategies were modeled that I can easily plug in whenever I need them, namely those that not only can be used to target content but also target meaningful success skills.
Actual Time Needed to Plan a Gold Standard PBL
A PBL 101 institute is 3 days X 6 hours = 18 hours (not including lunch). In that time, you’re given loads of time to learn, work, reflect, revise, and give/receive feedback from your peers. Facilitator's guide you to build a fully formed and functional project. The project I designed was huge (fifteen standards + about 10 weeks), and I didn’t finish filling out all the planning documents. I need another five hours or so to finish it all up. Planning a PBL in this time frame gave me a good sense of what other teachers might need to plan one of their own. Our 101 facilitator said that it takes her about 8-10 hours of work time to plan a PBL from the ground up.
New Goal - Become Part of BIE's National Faculty
I saw how transformative this three-day institute was for the professionals that attended. After designing the bare bones of our first project (title, description, driving question, content, individual/group products, and public audience), we wrote them on easel-size post-it notes and showcased them in the hall. Seeing all of those meaningful projects and thinking ahead to all the students who would be affected by them was awesome. As a BIE National Faculty Member, you get to do this like five times a year. Crunch the numbers: (five times thirty five, times the number of students or teachers each participant could influence = a lot of students learning deeply and positively impacting their communities). That would be fun.
If You've Never Been PBLd...
If you've never attended one of BIE's PBL 101 workshops, I highly recommend it. All PBL 101 workshops are facilitated BIE's National Faculty, who go through a rigorous selection process. My facilitator was fantastic and as you can see in this post, was a big part of changing my PBL perspectives and teaching practices. Questions/comments/personal experiences, leave below :). I'd love to discuss and also hear about how your experience with a BIE PBL 101 workshop affected you as an educator.
I've been refining project-based learning units the last couple years. If you're familiar with PBL, there's an added emphasis on teaching 21st century skills. This is an important distinction because 21st century skills are actually TAUGHT in a PBL. That means there are mini lessons, discussions, activities, and/or reflections that exist in your project for the sole purpose of teaching a 21st century skill. This is a shocker for many of us because we simply weren't taught that way. We may have gleaned some of these skills through learning experiences, interactions with friends, or from our parents, but I'd be hard pressed to think of a lesson where I was directly taught what it means to be a great teammate or to be creative.
Here are a few takeaways that I've begun to implement. I hope they give you some new insight on creativity and some tools you can use in your own classroom.
Creativity Zig Zags
Creative People WORK at it
Original ideas often come when we're filling our brains with new things. I experienced a lot of this during my masters program. If you've done any graduate work, you know what I mean! The graduate program I was in through Concordia Wisconsin allowed many of my projects to be focused on what I was doing right then in the classroom. I could finish a project and turn around and use it the next week! This brought an incredible amount of relevancy to my work, and I was constantly asking new questions that would come from the books I was reading, making new lesson plans that implemented new instructional strategies or tech tools, playing in the classroom by trying these lesson plans out, choosing which ones worked and which ones didn't, fusing new technology with traditional approaches to education, etc... All of these things required a good deal of work. I had to read the books, write the plans, play with new tech, take risk in the classroom, etc... When teaching students how to be creative, one of the most important things we can teach them is that it takes work. I think it's also important to share how much joy one can get from doing all these things. Sure it's work, but it's not flipping burgers. It's work that comes with a great payoff and solves a problem.
There are Oodles of Activities to Exercise Creativity
Remember Who's Line is it Anyway? Funny show. The actors on that show obviously exercised their creative juices all the time. They flipped ideas upside down (superheroes you wouldn't want to be rescued by) and combined things that usually aren't combined (pick up lines you would hear in a nursing home). The show is a perfect example of how improv. actors exercise their ability to make interesting connections. The more we train our brain to make connections, the better they become at doing it. Kieth Sawyer has a TON (100 to be exact) of activities for generating ideas, fusing ideas, choosing ideas, making ideas, and more. I took a bunch of them and turned them into one page activities for the classroom. Whenever I want to emphasize creativity in a project, I can pull and activity from the library. Here are a couple just to give you and idea of what's in the book. Note: these ideas are not my own. I might have changed the words slightly on some, but for the most part, I just mooched the activities right from Kieth Sawyer.
I just finished up a project with my video production students. Our creative challenge was to create MLA video tutorials that would help students format their papers. All the videos we found on YouTube beforehand were ok, but they were made by teachers and they were long. Often times, they presented all the formatting steps in one video rather than breaking it down. We brainstormed, we leaned, we played, we revised, we learned, we fused, and we made these tutorials. Creative highlights: the bumper at the beginning, highlighting common mistakes that students make, the concise nature of each video, student humor, well- placed graphics to highlight what they're talking about, and the branding at the end. Enjoy!
If you're also working on learning how to teach creativity in the classroom, I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences. It's really when we see how others are teaching creativity and also seeing the student products that come out of their hard work.