It was my first big assignment. I was still a wet behind the ears tech integrationist, fresh out of the classroom and I would be heading off to Armstrong, Iowa to help teachers prepare for their first-ever January Term (J-term). Ten days and fifty hours of PBL needed planning. Fortunately, Scott McLeod was along for the ride.
Friday night, January 17th, I had the pleasure of visiting North Union’s presentation night for their J-term PBL projects. This was more then a courtesy visit. Since August I have been working with the staff to develop their understanding of project based learning and what that would look like, not only in their classroom, but especially during their two week J-term. Each day they would have two two and a half hour blocks for PBL time and this was new to them.
Fortunately, Scott and I worked on the planning and co-delivered the initial professional learning. Whew! I learned much about delivering quality professional learning. It has to focus on relationships. Being able to collaborate and build trust while you do so is paramount to the success of any professional learning. We’re all thinkers. Nobody wants someone to talk down to them from on high. Let’s hash it out together. Everyone has something to offer to the conversation, facilitators need to create the environment for everyone to feel safe, so they can share their genius. Many opportunities were given during our work with North Union for collaboration and peer review. We asked them to be critical friends, not just cheerleaders. “Make it better,” was our motto.
Back to presentation night. As I walked around the building to the different classroom presentations I noticed energy, the energy of transformation. Students were talking in a way that indicated ownership. This was their work, their choice. Not just the obedient direction following we expect from students, regardless of the assignment quality and their interest. Many of the teachers had that look. The one where you’ve worked really hard at something that you weren’t sure if it was going to work, maybe because it’s new or could be it’s just another in a long line of acronyms you feel like someone was trying to sell you, but you weren’t buying. Then it turns out to work, and not just work, but transform (there’s that word again) what you thought your classroom could be. Yeah, that’s the look the teachers had that night and it was energizing.
Here are some of the things I heard. I was told there were only two office referrals during J-term. Much lower then the number during traditional instruction. One teacher told me he had been on the fence about PBL, which I knew, but now he was all aboard. Every student mentioned liking the hands-on learning, and all but one would choose PBL over ‘traditional school.’ Several of the teachers illustrated examples of engaged students, some of whom had been difficult to draw in until J-term and PBL.
Was it perfect? No, but it’s organic, it will continue to evolve.
I’m looking forward to robust conversations about what went well and what adjustments could be made, but for now, I’m inspired.