Blogger and Instructional Technology Integrator, Mike Arsenault, says it best when it comes to connecting up with your community to make a Project-Based Learning (PBL) experience authentic for your students: “My advice to teachers looking to add external partnerships within their schools is simple…ask for help.”
This is also what our PBL Team heard over and over again from businesses, higher education representatives, and government officials in October when we brought together over 100 educators and over 40 businesses to talk about PBL. At our Making Connections Event, educators and community partners broke out into small groups to talk about how they could help each other change education for our students in Central NY. Our community partners were excited to share what they do and what they look for in a candidate for hire. Teachers pitched project ideas, getting input and advice from community partners. Many connections were made as business cards, phone numbers and handshakes were exchanged. To see a list of community partners and their contact information, and, a list of teachers and their project ideas, click on this link, Making Connections: Connecting Educators & Businesses for Authentic Project-Based Learning.
Nancye Blair, in her blog about connecting with Authentic Audiences, makes the connection to authentic assessment of a project. She says, “Powerful interactions with real audiences allow students to receive honest feedback about their work and provide educators with an opportunity for authentic assessment.” In our PBL 101 Training, we ask teachers what they Need to Know about PBL to create their first rigorous and authentic, Common Core focused project. They always ask how they can get ALL students to produce high quality projects. Over the 4 days of training, we continuously express our belief that providing authentic audiences for student presentations ups the ante for the majority of students. When students know that someone besides their teacher will be the ultimate evaluator, their willingness to accept growth-producing feedback and revise their project increases. We like to tell teachers that authentic audiences can be anyone outside the four walls of their classroom: experts in the field, a panel of other educators and administrators, community partners, another class in their school, parents and public at an exhibition night, or even posting it on their webpage or YouTube. Just find someone who can connect with your project and ask for help!
Some advice for teachers from PBL experienced educators:
- Be clear on what you want from your community partner – let them know your expectations.
- Meet your community partner at a place where they are comfortable and be willing to use technology to connect (Skype, Google+ Hangouts, phone calls) at a level they are comfortable with using.
- Call, email, network as much as you can because bringing in an outside expert creates a powerful and meaningful learning experience for your students.
- Follow-up with a thank you note written by your students.
- Post projects on your school’s website or your teacher webpage or YouTube to open up the audience to a global community.
So, take the time to make connections, get out in the community and ask for help! Even better, teach your students a life skill and have them make the connections for themselves!