Summer Reading: Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning by Larimer, Mergendoller & Boss.
I’m sure your nightstand is already piled high with the books you’ve been meaning to read but didn’t get to. Here’s another book for that pile. It’s a brand-new book that describes the instructional approach that is central to the Regional Vision for College, Career, and Citizenship Readiness. I hope you read it.
Some years ago, in our region, we started a conversation about the 21st century and how the world was changing and how our schools had to change too. We shared a general sense of restlessness about the disconnect between our traditional schools and classrooms and the changing world.
We also struggled to visualize the classroom and how it would look if it reflected the changes in the world. We searched for instructional approaches that would help our students find meaning in school and the work they were doing in school. We searched for approaches that would help our students to be ready for their future rather than our past.
Don’t let the title of the book fool you. Yes, PBL is in the title and the PBL label is used throughout the book. Yet, as you read it (and I hope you do), think about a PBL-approach rather than PBL as a panacea. It is not a magic wand. There’s no wand-waving shortcut. Rather, a PBL approach is a very deliberate and involved avenue to planning and delivering a good unit.
The preface and the first two chapters are great for you (and perhaps your leadership team) to wrestle with over the summer. These chapters will help you think about “why” we need different instructional approaches.
Chapter 1 begins to explain the rationale for a PBL approach — the “why.” The case for why our students need a PBL approach is built step-by-step by a consideration of student motivation, readiness, the modern economy, and connections to the changing world. The case is congruent with the changing state and national standards. The argument is sealed with the teacher empowerment and engagement aspects. I’m sure the part about school (and accountability) being more than test scores will resonate with you.
Chapter 2 explains the PBL approach as an evolution of practice rather than a new magic trick. The authors eventually detail the Buck Institute of Education’s model of Project-Based Learning. Locally, PBLNY is heavily based on this work, but PBLNY goes beyond this by incorporating contributions from Expeditionary Learning, New Tech, Edutopia, and Deeper Learning.
Chapter 3 details the research foundation behind the PBL approach. The PBL-approach is the amalgamation of sound practices that are supported by research and literature. The chapter is not an exhaustive discussion of the research, but it offers enough so that you know it will result in greater student learning and engagement.
Later in the book there are chapters about designing and implementing a project/unit — these chapters are well-suited for your teachers. There’s a chapter about leadership in the book, too, which describes the importance of leadership and support for any initiative.
I hope you read the book. It will likely affirm many of your beliefs as well as encourage additional thinking and planning. PBL isn’t a program like a textbook or online resource nor is it an initiative like a new writing program. It’s an approach to teaching and learning that embodies the best that we know.