We hosted our first Project Based Learning Showcase this past week. Last summer when our PBL cohort of 15 teachers was meeting with Marnie Masuda-Cleveland to learn more about place-based project based learning, we agreed to hold a Showcase on Thursday, April 19, 2018. It seemed like a good date - far enough into the year to ensure that students in those classrooms had the experiences and would be ready to share their learnings with the school community. All teachers knew their grade level standards and decided what their PBL might include and creating a driving question, all the while knowing that things could change depending on their students and their questions.
Our PBL Leadership Team provided training for all staff throughout the school year, and the cohort met as a Professional Learning Community to share their successes as well as their challenges and to get feedback from their peers, all in preparation for that April 19 Showcase.
I'll be honest. We didn't really know what to expect or what a Showcase was "supposed" to look like, but as the year went on, it was evident that students in our cohort classrooms were empowered in their learning, and we had other teachers jump on-board the PBL train. As a principal, I was delighted! We want all of our classrooms to use PBL processes, but we know that initially, we needed a strong team to get on-board and give it a go.
Fast forward to April 19. We had notified our school community about the PBL Showcase, but we didn't really know how many students and families to expect. We were prepared (we have a great PBL Leadership Team who took care of the details including this outstanding handout), and the event exceeded our expectations. As the students were at their stations getting ready to share their learnings, the families filled the cafeteria and learned more about project based learning and why it is important. (Link to slideshow) Because 98% of our students are military-impacted and transition through different schools throughout their lives, we believe they need skills that are transportable. PBL is perfect for our students.
To say that our students, families, and teachers were proud is an understatement. The students were articulate and communicated with confidence about what they had explored, discovered, and created. PBL emphasizes collaborative learning, thinking critically, and communicating, and all were on display at our Showcase. One of our parents shared that her child, a rather shy first grader, was nervous initially, but by the end of the evening, after talking with so many parents and answering questions, her confidence was evident. "She couldn't stop talking about the Showcase," her mother marveled. Other parents shared that they had never heard about PBL until that evening; they were impressed and wanted to know why all students weren't given that opportunity. (Video link of Snapshots)
Our plan is to expand project based learning next year and to encourage every teacher to empower their students through PBL. Project based learning is an integral component of our school's design, and we will be determining a local measure that will be part of our school's Strive HI data. Our cohort will support our other teachers as they begin to implement PBL processes with their students. We may decide on a school-wide driving question such as "How can we make a difference?" which could apply to all of the projects that were shared at this year's Showcase.
Walking into a PBL classroom and observing students so excited about their learning is what we want for all students. As Alvin Lin (@teampueo) shared with our complex principals, "When kids leave our classroom doors, do they see their world as a playground for ideas and learning, that there are problems to be solved, discoveries to be made, and people to be impacted?" I believe that project based learning can have that impact on our students. We cannot only focus on test scores and memorization. We need to focus on deeper learning that sticks, learning that helps students to care about others, to care about their community, and to care about their world.