Though a few years old, this Edutopia video captures one of the most important ingredients for teaching a Project Based Learning class. I have been teaching with a PBL class for the last five years, and I think the biggest adjustment is the notion of dropping the mindset most teachers have about curriculum and syllabus. PBL teaching requires teachers to assess constantly and chart new tasks that will also develop or enhance skills to help them succeed with mastering their final project. Much of the literature about teaching PBL explains this dynamic, yet I think it is worth noting how it may be the most challenging ingredient to transform as a traditional classroom teacher. In other words, you have to give up the idea of curriculum where by you learn Chapter 9 by January 31st. Instead, in a Project Based Learning environment, students learn content when they need it in the arch of mastering their authentic project. The final exam in the PBL class, the moment where students present what they learn and show how they did it, truly becomes the ultimate assessment. I am five weeks into my current Project Based Learning class (winter and spring trimester senior elective), and I still feel the tension with this traditional teacher voice inside me that conflicts with the weekly need to change up the syllabus. Nevertheless, I think one of the fun things about teaching with a PBL lens is that you are forced to fly by the seat of your pants. Though a cliché now, this phrase captures best how aware and resourceful and a PBL teacher needs to be every day and every week. Just as those early pilots who flew without navigational instruments and radar, PBL teachers have to feel your way through the course every day and reassess the next steps. You have to adjust to the peaks and pitfalls of productivity. And allowing pitfalls and failure is an essential part of the PBL experience. You must know your students well in order to create different scaffolds that both support and challenge them along their way to mastering materials for their final presentation. Consequently, you tap into all every aspect of your subject and constantly keep a sharp eye out for current expertise in your subject field. What better way to soar as an Independent School teacher.
NB: Ken Robinson’s recent TED Talk on Alternative Education captures this idea of tailoring curriculum to student needs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnvkitAFwlM