Project-Based Learning (PBL) will be emphasized in the coming years at Washington Court House City Schools. At Monday’s regularly-scheduled school board meeting, district employees Megan Anderson and Wanda Carter, who recently attended a PBL conference in California, gave a presentation about PBL and what it can bring to the district.
So, what exactly is Project-Based Learning? PBL is a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects.
Anderson said, “I was blessed as an administrator to go out from the standpoint of, I always have this mindset as a leader that I can’t ask my staff to do something that I’m not willing to learn myself. I want them to feel supported in anything that we’re doing, and I have to dig in the trenches just like they do.”
Carter then spoke to the board after handing each of them a small piece of Velcro.
“So, I want you to start thinking about your school years. What was the most challenging and exciting thing that you can remember, and how far back can you remember in your school learning years? I also want you to think for how far back you can remember, why does that learning experience stick to you while others are forgotten? Project-Based Learning is like Velcro, it sticks together. It holds on and the kids hold it in their brain, because it’s authentic and real. It’s not like a Teflon coated pan, where the information just slides off.”
Carter continued, “That’s the old school teaching, we want Velcro teaching where the kids are involved in their hands-on Project-Based Learning. If you can remember very far back meaningful experiences in your school years, that’s because a connection was made, and you had a very good teacher who made that connection.”
Carter then talked about what this deeper type of learning looks like.
“Deeper learning develops one or more of the 21st century skills. Collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, and citizenship. Lessons incorporate a variety of approaches to meet the individual needs of diverse learning. That means it’s not just for your gifted, it’s not just for your average, it’s not just for your low students, it’s for all students, no matter what race or what background they come from. It recognizes the value of students working together. They work in partnerships, they work in small groups, they work as a whole group, they do some independent work, and it acknowledges students’ gifts and talents while working through the required standards.”
Anderson spoke more about what this looks like.
“One of the things that really stuck out was they had a student panel, so they have high school students come in and talk about what Project-Based Learning looks like. One of the students said, ‘My teacher purposely put me with a group of kids that I didn’t necessarily get along with, and at first it gave me a lot of anxiety, but I had to learn how to work with them because we had a common goal and a common purpose.’ So, I think just like in the real world, we’re gonna have those tough conversations and it’s okay to agree to disagree. That’s a lot of what those students took from that Project-Based Learning.”
She continued, “It’s the main course. It’s not your dessert. I would prefer dessert first, but it’s not going to fill me up. When we look at students, if we look at dessert it’s going to pre-load the content, it’s going to give them everything they need to know. Then students are like, ‘Okay, great. I have everything I need to know, why do I need to dig in deeper to this?’ When we look at Project-Based Learning, it’s your turkey, your mashed potatoes, it’s going to be all of this as your main course. It’s learning the content throughout the project. One of the things is that when we’re learning things throughout the project, it’s going to be fulfilling.”
Carter then discussed social and emotional learning (SEL).
“Students need to know that their feelings and emotions are real about the world around them. They need to believe they can make change happen in their schools, community, and in the world. They need to know how to voice their concerns in a way that others will listen and hear and know that what they have to say is important. Their leadership matters to the greater world, our students are the future. Social emotional learning is a real integral part of Project-Based Learning. It is not just something you do at the beginning or at the end, it’s all throughout the project. Teachers are facilitating, checking in, when they see some social emotional issues, they’re checking in with those students, and they’re doing a mini lesson in there to help them persevere, to have grit to push on through.”
She finished the presentation by saying, “Our teachers have different vantage points and different views on things. They’re in different spots. That’s one thing as a leadership team that we’ve had to think about and have a discussion on with our vision and plan. Also, our students have different vantage points and different places where they’re learning. They’re not all at the same spot, but we’re all coming together with Project-Based Learning for a collective purpose for deeper learning.”
According to WCHCS Superintendent Tom Bailey, all teachers in the district will go through a three-day PBL training this November.
The Washington Court House City School District is set to hold its next school board meeting on Monday, Sept. 19.