I recently finished a PBL that I had refined in a PBL 101 workshop led by National Faculty member, Dori Berg. I had done this project in 2016, but it wasn’t what the Buck Institute would define as Gold Standard. It was a good learning experience, but I felt like my students could go much deeper if I took some time to redesign the project. If you’re familiar with Gold Standard PBLs, you’ll know that they’re wrapped around eight design elements. Check out this awesome graphic to the right.
You might count and realize there are only seven elements in the circle, but that’s intentional. The element: Key Knowledge, Understanding and Success Skills is in the center because every other element of the project is wrapped around it. Did you also notice it’s a lens…focusing on the center?? It took me a year to notice that!
Within each of these design elements are levels of proficiency. For example, you can give the students an audience within the classroom, but that’s not going to affect them much; they do that all the time. To take it up a notch, you might have them present to a different grade level of students. This is better, but it’s still not the best. The most effective audiences are made of parents, experts, school administrators, or community members. The project design rubric from the Buck Institute is a fabulous tool for assessing your own project based learning units to see if they’re reaching the Gold Standard. If your PBL satisfies every description in the “At Standard” column, you’ve reached the Gold Standard.
I did some reflection on last year’s project with this year’s, and I noticed some striking differences relative to the Gold Standard design elements.
So what did it take to reach the Gold Standard?
Time: It was a lot of work to put this together. There’s no doubt that Gold Standard PBLs take a great deal of planning, but they’re worth it. For me, a well-design PBL is like the precipice of great teaching. If you can actually hit all eight design elements in a project, it’s an amazing learning experience for all parties involved. If you can’t seem to find the time to design something like this, attend a PBL 101 workshop. It’s three days of learning and planning and you walk away with full planned PBL that you can take back to your school. You not only get time to plan the PBL in a PBL 101 workshop, you receive critical feedback from a host of diverse people, including an expert National Faculty member. Something else you might try is asking an administrator if you can take a professional day to travel to a library or coffee shop and write a project. If you show your principal a plan for what you want to accomplish and tell them what you’ll be bringing back in terms of a product, they might be more willing to give you that professional day.
Courage: Second, it takes some courage to call people and ask them to be involved. I had to develop a relationship with a few people I didn’t know (one of which was somewhat of a celebrity!), but I did it because I saw the potential. Most of us want our kids to be connected with the community, but we haven’t made the call. MAKE THE CALL; it’s worth it. The first year won’t be perfect (as you can see above!), but that’s why we as teachers also practice reflection and critique and revision.
Jump Out of the Box: It felt weird taking class time to teach students how to set up a presentation for a group of senior adults. While it all aligned really well with my standards, it was the first time I drilled down hard on communication. That was weird for me. Am I a speech teacher as well as a video production teacher? In a sense, yes. After seeing the final products, it was worth every little mini-lesson and practice presentation I had to add into the project design.
Rewards and Discussion
My students perspectives about senior adults changed, they soaked up a ton of soft skills, and I hit about twice as many standards as the previous year. I was approached and emailed by at least 10 different individuals about how great it was for the students to come and share their work with them. The Gold Standard is a high one, but it’s also one that you can take a piece at a time. You might not hit every design element this year, but at least you know that it’s within your reach. If you continue to drive forward and practice reflection and critique and revision, you will get there. I'm not there on every one of my projects, but I can confidently say that I've hit the Gold Standard on this last one. Blessings on your work!
Questions for discussion:
- Where are you in your Gold Standard journey?
- Which design element have you mastered? With which do you struggle? Explain.
- Describe your most recent project and how it fulfilled some (or all) of the Gold Standard design elements. It's great to see how different teachers use different strategies for meeting the design elements.