Project Based Learning. This has been a buzz phrase going around my school for the past few years- and I’m glad. I blogged about it a few courses back. Everything that we do in COETAIL truly is interconnected! Moving on- the reason why I am actually okay with a buzz phrase this time around: I truly believe that our school is making a huge step forward in planning and executing transdisciplinary units for our upcoming school year partly because of the wild-fire that spread with project based learning. I think our administrators and other teachers at school also saw how engaged students were in after school clubs dealing with robotics, coding, design, etc. We had several in-house professional development sessions where colleagues shared their PBL journeys. It was great to hear about how the art and music teachers collaborated together to create units with an overarching idea to connect the two subject areas together.

I love how Suzie Boss said in her article that inquiry is at the heart of project learning. Laying a foundation that allows students to ask questions, research, solve problems, collaborate, and manage their own learning are essential for any effective unit of inquiry.

I sponsor several after school clubs throughout the year, and I have to say that one of my

favorite clubs is when we code. I’ll be honest, I am NOT a math/science kind of girl. It wasn’t until my first Hour of Code a few years back that I even became interested in learning alongside students as they solved problems with code. Initially, the students were FRUSTRATED, but in a good way! The students at my school are predominantly Korean, who attend after school academies to be one step ahead of their peers (which how is that possible if ALL of their peers are attending those same after school academies? That’s a different blog post for another time), and they just want to get the right answer to get their A. Any kind of critical thinking and/or problem solving means there’s a possibility of not getting the right answer, which would then mean they won’t get the A they wanted.

Needless to say, it’s been a slow and steady process to change the culture and mindset of learning where we are presented with a problem when the answer isn’t going to be an easy find. Several students have been on the brink of throwing in the towel when their commands don’t work, but the moment everything works makes all of the frustration worthwhile! Listening to students brainstorm possible solutions together, trying those solutions that may or may not work, and then going back to the drawing board. THIS is why we teach– not because of data collection, or intervention goals. Sure, those are pieces of the puzzle, but it’s not the whole puzzle and I’m glad project based learning reminded me of that very important fact!

Project based learning gives me, the teacher, a reason to quote the great Missy Elliot to “put [their] thing down, flip it, and reverse it.” Each and every time students come to me to ask what the problem is, or how to solve the problem I have the best answer. “I don’t know [insert student name here]. What do YOU think you could do?” Cue sighs of frustration. I’m doing this because I love you!

I was pleasantly surprised to find this video of students working on projects based on their own interests. It hits close to home because the students are at a school in the old district where I used to work before I decided to teach internationally. I sometimes, still, struggle with how project based learning, flipped classrooms, 1:1 settings, etc. would work in the “real world” classroom setting- where students don’t have support at home, or even access to basic school supplies they need on a day to day basis, let alone technology. I came from a school setting where I was at Wal-Mart every tax-free week to buy boxes and boxes of paper, pencils, scissors, and every supply an eight year old needs. I had snacks in my desk drawer, in case my precious learners didn’t have breakfast or money for lunch. Now, I’m at a school where if a student loses his iPad, he’s in class the next day with a brand new device.[youtube][/youtube]

The video of students at Newsome Park Elementary School is proving that project based learning and all of the other innovative approaches to teaching and learning are possible, regardless of my idea of what a “real world” classroom setting is. It’s possible because it’s necessary. The principal said “using the technology to represent their learning has actually increased the quality of their work.”