It wasn’t until Tuesday this week that I realised how trendy PBL is. Someone I follow retweeted a tweet that went something like this ‘when are people going to realise flipping and PBL are not going to revolutionise education’. The tweet freaked me out. I was like, ‘What? The flipped classroom is soo trendy and totes hype, but PBL too? How can this be?’ My surprise stems from my own experience as a classroom teacher in a public school. I hear talk of PBL in my staffroom because almost two years ago Dean Groom came and presented PBL to our faculty. I picked it up straight away and started playing, dipping my toes in, trying my hand at it and all that. Late last year my HT decided he wanted to give it a go too and this year a couple of other teachers are experimenting with PBL as well. But we are not a representative sample. No, not at all. Yes, people have tweeted occasionally about trying PBL and I know that Parramatta Marist has been doing some form of PBL for quite a few years now. But it’s still one tiny, tiny handful of Australian teachers giving it a go.
Or so I thought.
It seems that there has been a tidal wave of PBL enthusiasm (aka ‘hype’) that I have failed to see as a unified ‘movement’. When I was researching for my draft research proposal into PBL and the English classroom last year, I found there weren’t really that many published studies into Project-Based Learning. It seemed like a young field of inquiry. I know PBL is big in some parts of the US and a form of PBL (more problem-based than project-based) is very successful in Singapore. I also know PBL isn’t anything fancy or particularly new. What I didn’t notice was the sharp increase in interest in this approach to education … I certainly wouldn’t have equated it with the ‘flipped classroom’ in terms of its centrality in the eyes of edugeeks.
This afternoon I read a post by Dean Groom about the difficulty of ‘making a PBL teacher‘. It’s a great post, worthy of a read. But you need to know the context of Dean’s post, lest you get put off from trying PBL as a solo teacher. I am a solo PBL teacher with no whole-school support for this style of teaching. That’s not to say they don’t support me, I just mean to say that I’m not teaching at a ‘PBL School’. It is entirely possible to reshape your pedagogy as an individual and be very successful; I feel that I am. What does become problematic is that PBL inspires you to see education in an entirely new light. Once you go PBL, you never go back. You can’t. That can be scary because you start looking at your school and your colleagues in a new way. Not in a judging way, but in a ‘look at all this untapped potential’ kinda way. PBL can make you a frustrated teacher because you begin to see the possibility of what education could look like if all young people were engaged in authentic, meaningful, challenging, inquiry-based, passion-driven learning. The truth is, the world would be a better place. Young people would be much happier.
As part of the twitter conversation about Dean’s post, I realised how many people have been following my PBL journey/adventure/experiments. (Pssst – thanks!) And even more surprising was the number of teachers who had decided to give PBL a go. And a silly tweet about the difficulty of PBL for the solo-teacher (by me) may have set off a change of thoughts, concerns, anxieties, apprehensions in these teachers who trust me. If you trust me, trust me now when I say this: Project-Based Learning is trending because it is powerful and it is important.
Here’s a few examples of this trendy powerful pedagogy making waves on the web:
#PBLchat is a weekly twitter chat started by the New Tech Network
New Tech Network is a collection of public high schools that use PBL and technology to make learning great. One day I’m going to start a public high school like the New Tech High schools. Just saying.
Buck Institute for Education (BIE) – an oldie, but a goodie. The original PBL gurus – still celebrating authentic, project learning.
This year BIE are holding their first ever PBL conference called PBL World. I hope to attend one or two of the days in Napa, CA in July. The interest in this conference has been huge.
BIE also has a PBL edmodo community that has over 3000 members – does that indicate a ‘trend’? I think so.
So it looks like PBL probably is starting to ‘trend’ a bit more than usual. How cool is that? I guess there are some things teachers keen to give PBL a go do need to keep in mind:
- your first project will be so painful to plan that you may want to ditch it before even beginning
- writing a Driving Question is like pulling teeth
- your students will think you have gone made and the ‘bright’ kids will resent it
- you will need to maintain a pretty strict routine of goal-setting and learning reflections for your students
- you will need to smile and laugh and help and shrug your shoulders and ask questions and not give answers
- your second project will be a little bit better
- creating product/presentation rubrics is worse than writing a driving question but equally as important
- don’t give grades; better to give ‘points’ and ‘badges’ or ‘level-ups’ for mastery of content, skills and habits of mind
- your third project will see you giving your students a choice of products, audience and teams
If you wanna see how some Aussie punks are doing PBL, you might wanna sign-up to the PBL course being run by me and mad-man Dean Groom towards the end of April. Add a comment below to register your interest. No time wasters, just people keen to ‘do’ and mess with education as you know it.
trendy, trendy, trendy
I’ve never been trendy: think I’m gonna have to get me a bowl-cut, some horn-rimmed glasses and a Fleet Foxes album. Woot.