Many school districts are trying to move their teachers toward Project Based Learning and the teachers are already grumbling. I can see their point. It seems like every time there’s a faculty in service they are told to do something new or different. I overheard one group of teachers at a local restaurant talking about being told to use PBL at a district training and then being told by their principal it wouldn’t help raise test scores so forget it. Wow?!
Much of the “new” about PBL is a focus on accountability and assessment which equals (in a teacher’s mind) more paperwork. Really, PBL is not anything new, it’s what good teachers have been doing forever… Facilitating students as they find their passion. Teachers who love their work and enjoy their students listen to them, converse, and learn their interests. This is the foundation of PBL.
I worked with a preschooler who loved vacuum cleaners, well really, he was obsessed with them. He took apart his mother’s and she was livid. First I talked with TJ and we set some ground rules for his exploration, such as we would not take apart things that did not belong to us and we would ask a grown-up before we did. I contacted a used appliance shop and explained my situation. The gentleman was really accommodating. He gave me several vacuums he was not going to sell, some various manuals, old and new, he did not need, and a whole lot of advice about how to approach vacuums safely. Then TJ and I researched how vacuums worked and explored the inner workings. As his interests began to evolve into other electronics and gadgetry we looked back and reflected on the projects he did by using portfolio to guide the reflection. One of the most interesting to me was an art project he did where he “designed” a futuristic vacuum from recycled materials. Well folks, this was back in 1988 and we didn’t have the Internet or digital cameras in our classroom! I can only imagine how awesome this would be today.
PBL is really just about good teaching and helping students explore their passions. If we would approach it this way with teachers I think they would be more likely to get on board.