This Edutopia article by Grace Rubinstein gives you tips and strategies how to do project-based learning from a rural school district in Georgia that transformed the way its students learn using the inspiration and mentorship provided by San Diego’s High Tech High. Check out the tips and examples from Whitfield Career Academy, in Dalton, Georgia, where they are in their second year of shifting to High Tech High-style project-based learning.
Teachers going through this transformation don’t expect their schools to emerge from it looking exactly like High Tech High. Each school has its own unique teachers, students, culture, history, and setting, and its path to change must uniquely match those. Yet the core design principles — personalization, adult-world connections, a common intellectual mission, and teachers as designers — apply anywhere, and these are what guide the schools’ replication efforts.
I adapted the Ten tips they use will help any school moving to PBL.
- Build trust among colleagues. Collaborative projects requires teamwork and constructive criticism where teachers are “hard on content and soft on people.”
- Allow the freedom to fail. The administration needs to support teachers who take risks and experiment to try new lessons and ideas and be okay if they don’t work.
- Encourage flexible scheduling. Rethink scheduling so students can continue working together without being restricted by 50 minute time periods.
- Create time and spaces to plan and collaborate. PBL encourages teachers from multiple disciplines to work together. Teachers need common planning time and shared work spaces.
- Design rigorous and meaningful projects. Review the standards met by the project with the students so they understand that the project starts with the standards and the end in mind.
- Some lessons are not projects. It is okay to look at what is an appropriate project and what is a traditional lesson. Some projects start out as direct instruction. Just remember that engaging work is always appropriate.
- Find your evangelists. Some teachers are going to take to PBL right away. Promote them and have them encourage their colleagues to join in.
- Start with a small group. Don’t try to convert the whole school. Start with a pilot group who are enthusiastic about the process and excited about sharing.
- Use and share your resources. There are free resources and projects about PBL. Join in and share your projects. The Projects page details projects created by High Tech High teachers, with timelines, assignment descriptions, and examples of student work. The Videos page contains dozens of videos on teaching and learning at the school, some produced by students. More resources and videos on project-based learning are available from the Buck Institute for Education and Edutopia’s own PBL page.
- Involve your parents and the school community. Showcase your projects and try to involve your community right from the beginning. When you start PBL, students spend more time at home working on their part of the team work. Send home information about PBL so parents are aware of the types of projects students will be experiencing.
Transforming your school to a PBL model takes work but is well worth it. The enthusiasm and excitement that incurs makes learning engaging and changes teaching where teachers are more of a co-learner in the process. PBL prepares students for their future by experiencing and trying to solve real-world problems.