In Pursuit of Inquiry

Innovation Tech ProjectsStudents at Innovation Tech are in the midst of a project where they are identifying the geographical and geological factors that influence the evolution of various species. The kids are answering this challenge with a research-based script and models of an evolved species that they will then film for a scientific documentary intended to inform the public about the possible effects of climate change. Continue reading

Scaffolding for Teachers: Becoming a Facilitator in PBL

person climbing stairs to their goalPerhaps one of the most challenging things for me to overcome while implementing Project Based Learning (PBL) was becoming the facilitator or “guide-on-the-side.”   I had developed a very traditional style of teaching with a touch of student collaborative group work. My 4th graders and I experienced PBL for the first time together. It was a new way of learning and a new way of teaching. It was my second year teaching 4th grade and I was looking for a meaningful way to tackle the New York State English Language Arts Modules while integrating Science and Social Studies. I jumped in with the support of my colleagues and hit the ground running, perhaps just a little too fast! Continue reading

Rigor and Relevance in PBL – How do we get there?


© OCM BOCES Instuctional Support

I was in a coaching session with a team of middle school teachers that had been trained in the Buck Institute for Education’s (BIE) model of Project Based Leaning (PBL) and we were reviewing their PBL plan when a teacher asked, “How do we know if the products we are thinking of would be the best choices for this project?” As a visual learner, I quickly thought of an easy way to show the importance of the alignment between the standards, the driving question (DQ) and the public products in PBL. To get to a Gold Standard level of PBL, we know that this is an important aspect of creating an engaging project that is rigorous and relevant for students. Continue reading

Design…Check: Now We Need Some Habitude!

As I embark on another year of coaching teachers around Project Based Learning, I realize that understanding the “what and why” of PBL is only half the battle; It is time now to focus on the “how”. How do we move beyond surface-level implementation of projects toward deeply embedded inquiry-based practice? Teaching this way is not a way of “doing”, rather it is a way of “being”. To help frame my thinking, I revisited a blog post by John Larmer and John Mergendoller where they highlight PBL teaching practices. In it, they outline 7 practices necessary when moving from design to implementation.

This led me to ask the following when coaching teachers to shift from planning to practice:

  • Is the work of the project aligned to the standards?
  • Are students self-directed risk-takers motivated to guide their own learning?
  • Is work time balanced and productive?
  • Is inquiry scaffolded to meet the needs of all learners?
  • Does the learning environment embrace and act on a balanced assessment system?
  • Are students and teachers engaged in a partnership around shared goals?

Continue reading

Wish Our College and Career Kids Were More Ready!

A recent walk and conversation with my son is the inspiration for this most recent OCM-PBL blog. My son recently graduated from college and is now working at a local market-research company here in Syracuse. During our walk he spoke about his day and how he was led into a room with over 40 nurses and needed to do an unexpected presentation to this audience. He said he was able to pull off the impromptu presentation to this audience of medical people, but what he said next really validated the work we are doing in PBL. He said that his only wish he had after the experience Continue reading

CTE PBL Makeover Challenge

When working with Career & Technical Education (CTE) instructors in PBL I often hear the comment, “We already do projects.” This comment is true in that CTE instructors engage their students in authentic projects with students using tools and processes of the trade to produce a product. Students also apply the knowledge and skills they learn through hands-on learning experiences. Yet, these types of learning experiences are not quite PBL experiences because some key elements are absent: challenging problem or question, sustained inquiry, student voice & choice, and public product. So, I challenged CTE instructors to do what they already do but elevate their projects to include Buck Institute for Education’s (BIE) Gold Standard PBL essential project design elements. By doing so, they were able to design an authentic learning experience for their students as they prepare for their chosen career.

Let’s look at how two CTE instructors transformed projects into PBL experiences. Continue reading

All Kids Can Do PBL

Authenticity: The Power of the Community Connection

We talk often about what Project Based Learning does for instruction, but what about its effect in and around the community? Recently, a group of students in the OCM BOCES 12:1:1 STAR classroom (Skills Toward Adult Responsibility), led by an exceptional teacher and teaching assistants, completed a project to master literacy standards, namely writing and speaking, while also learning about Civic Participation, as part of the social studies curriculum.

The project focused on empathy, particularly empathy for the elderly individuals who reside in a facility near the school. Inspired by a visit and powered by the question Continue reading