Tag Archives: pbl

The Marriage of SEL and PBL

Social Emotional Learning and Project Based Learning are two of the hottest trends in education right now. Their popularity is due to the pendulum swinging back from the previous obsession with standardization and assessment dictated by NCLB and RTTT to more holistic education. Yet neither SEL nor PBL should be seen as fads, but as necessary and permanent shifts in pedagogy.

SEL is constantly happening in every classroom but is often part of the hidden curriculum. Teachers need to make SEL visible and intentional. Many schools are implementing specific plans for SEL as a stand alone curriculum. But as Frey, Fisher, and Smith advocate in All learning is Social and Emotional,

“What’s needed, and what’s far less common, is for schools to amplify the principles SEL programs introduce to make them the fabric of the school itself. In order for SEL to have a lasting and sustained effect, it needs to be integrated into the academic mainstream rather than remain on the periphery.”

SEL should not be another thing added onto teachers’ plates, but rather is most effective when integrated into classroom culture and routines.

PBL experts have long advocated that students should be learning skills in the classroom simultaneously with content knowledge. There are many labels for these skills:

SEL is the best terminology and framework for the set of skills that PBL experts agree should be integrated into projects. The following table shows how CASEL’s SEL Competencies can be naturally embedded into High Quality PBL.

Self-Awareness

Self-Awareness is accurately perceiving who you are as a person and developing confidence based on your individual strengths. Many students lack a belief in their abilities or have skills that are not emphasized in traditional classrooms. Project Based Learning gives all students the opportunity to gain confidence by creating meaningful work.

PBL honors each student’s unique characteristics. Through voice and choice, students recognize and use their strengths in what products they create and how they demonstrate their learning. Students build confidence by choosing group roles based on their strengths. PBL is built upon a growth mindset. Students use design thinking protocols to plan solutions, creating a culture of failing forward through iterative stages. They learn that mistakes are not permanent, but part of the routines of working toward success.

Reflection throughout the project process helps students see their progress and personal growth. Public presentation of their work encourages students and creates a positive self-perception. Students learn to advocate for themselves in PBL by requesting workshops from the teacher when needed. Most importantly the PBL framework teaches students how to learn, so they develop the skills to pursue any topic that they are passionate about on their own.

Social Awareness

Social Awareness is considering others’ perspectives and having empathy for people from diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. Today’s world has become polarized with people talking over each other, rather than listening and working towards compromise. High quality PBL forces students to consider multiple perspectives before working toward solutions.

Every teacher begins the year by establishing classroom norms. In PBL these norms are focused on respecting each other, even when we disagree and on how to function well in a group. Since students spend a majority of their day working together, they will consistently have different opinions. These are opportunities for them to learn how to navigate conflict peacefully. Each student’s voice should be heard and respected throughout the project.

Projects start with a Driving Question (DQ) to engage students and frame the anticipated learning. Students should be investigating multiple viewpoints before coming to any conclusions. Community members from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences should be embedded into the process. Students should see that complex problems in society do not have simplistic, one-sided answers.

A project on stewardship of the environment, for example, would consider not only the negative effects of industrial pollution and land development, but the positive effects of jobs and economic benefits created by businesses. Students would be challenged to hear all sides and balance the needs of everyone in their final solutions.

Responsible Decision Making

Responsible Decision Making is making positive choices based on ethics, safety, and norms. The SEL framework emphasizes student behavior in the classroom, whereas PBL applies it more globally to issues outside of themselves. But the skills are the same in each case, with PBL using Social Awareness to drive this decision making.

The Driving Question launches a project with a focus on an authentic problem. Students then generate a list of “Need to Know’s” (N2K’s) of information and skills necessary to generate a solution. From the N2K’s, students with the guidance of the teacher plan “Next Steps” of how they will conduct research into the problem. This whole process requires identifying and analyzing problems at a deep level.

Since PBL is student-driven, continuous inquiry is embedded as students evaluate both resources and the Driving Question at every stage. Students engage in feedback and revision protocols such as gallery walks and the tuning protocol as they evaluate each other’s work. This peer feedback leads to exemplary products in their final solutions to the Driving Question.

In PBL, students reflect on both the skills that they are learning and their behaviors in their groups. There are “teachable moments” to talk about ethical responsibility on a daily basis. Taking ethics to the next level, service projects give students the chance to make a positive impact in the community. PBL creates a strong connection for students between personal and civic responsibility in their neighborhoods and beyond.

Self Management

Self Management is regulating oneself to manage and achieve goals. Project management is a key skillset in PBL within which self management is practiced and attained. The teacher creates a climate for students to manage themselves with the norms and routines mentioned under Social Awareness. Students become self-motivated when they exercise their voice to direct their learning as they explore their passions in the N2K’s and Next Steps protocols.

The classroom should be a safe space for students to develop project management skills. In PBL, students organize their groups through contracts that define appropriate behavior and define work roles. They can use tools such as scrum boards and team calendars. Students should set goals as a team and learn to hold each other accountable for completion. Older students can use online tools such as Trello to organize and younger students can use posters or bulletin boards for the same purpose.

Students also learn self-management by choosing the appropriate scaffolding and tools that they need to complete their work. Teachers can give menus of options and students can choose what works for them. Finally, a key element of PBL is self assessment through reflection. Students can compare their work to rubric descriptions and exemplars. They should be reflecting on their content learning and the SEL skills that they are developing throughout the PBL process.

Relationship Skills

Relationship Skills are the ability to maintain healthy relationships with diverse people through communication and cooperation. Since PBL involves significant time spent working in groups, it is the perfect structure to develop Relationship Skills

Communication is one of the most fundamental skills developed in PBL. In traditional classrooms, students often sit passively listening most of the time. In PBL, not only are students constantly communicating in their groups, but they give professional presentations to their class and the community. Community experts are brought in and students collaborate with them to develop solutions to the DQ.

As mentioned previously, group contracts and student roles help students learn how to interact with each other in productive ways and invoke teamwork for successful completion of their goals. Feedback and revision protocols teach students to both give and accept peer feedback on their products. Reflection throughout the project on their group dynamics gives students opportunities to identify and solve relationship challenges.

Conclusion

SEL should not be another add-on program in schools. PBL is the perfect framework to teach SEL competencies seamlessly. This student-centered approach allows students to develop their skills in a safe environment under the reflective guidance of their teacher. SEL and PBL -the perfect marriage ’til death do they part.

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL Consulting?  Connect with me at michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele onTwitter.

7 Methods to Make PBL Contagious

One of my favorite parts of leading Project Based Learning workshops is watching teachers transform from an attitude of fear or doubt about PBL, to confidence and excitement. Many administrators task their teachers to lead professional development about PBL when they return. Since the teachers are novices on the topic this request can feel frightening or overwhelming.

Other teachers attend PBL workshops with a only a few colleagues or by themselves. They are excited to share their learning with teachers and administration back at their school. Both groups frequently ask, “How can we effectively bring PBL back to the rest of our staff and/or administration at our school.”

The situations vary. The principal or teachers at their school may or may not be interested in PBL. Here are some suggestions to spread the PBL love to your colleagues and your administration, no matter what their current commitment to it is.

Protocols

Instead of giving a slide presentation summarizing what PBL is, run a protocol at a staff meeting or other PD. The best way for adults to learn is through experience, so try a Jigsaw of a PBL article or watch a project video followed by a Harkness Protocol. After experiencing the protocol, teachers can collaboratively plan out how to implement it in their classrooms. This will not only introduce teachers to aspects of PBL, but will build a school wide culture as different teachers are using the same protocols in their varied classrooms.

One middle school that I worked with, uses their late start days as an opportunity for student groups to come in early and run the Tuning Protocol. Students get helpful feedback on their projects. The school invites teachers and administrators from other schools in their district to visit and see what PBL looks like. They are spreading the PBL love throughout their school system.

Classroom Observations

Invite colleagues into your classroom to observe PBL “in the wild.” Seeing is believing! The best way to get others excited about PBL and to help them understand the shifts that it entails is for them to see it in action. Teachers could be part of an authentic audience for practice presentations, or they could be experts helping students in the middle of a project.

Don’t just invite teachers for the final presentation day. Schedule them to visit on a normal workday too. Observations are most effective when teachers have a list of specific things to look for. Hand them this rubric to record observations to discuss later in a PLC. Encourage teachers to ask students what they are doing and why. One effective way to organize classroom observations is to have your principal get a rotating sub for the day so different teachers can observe for an hour each.

Student Panel

At your next staff meeting organize a student panel to tell about their PBL experiences. Kids can describe their favorite projects, challenges, areas of growth, and how the PBL framework motivates them to do their best work. Practice with your students ahead of time, so they know what kind of questions they will be asked. Encourage your kids to be themselves and share honest stories about their PBL experiences.

Don’t just pick high achieving students either, but be sure to include a mixture of kids from various backgrounds. Students who have struggled in school academically or behaviorally in the past but are excited about PBL can provide strong evidence for other teachers to give it a try. In my experience, nothing “sells” PBL better than students sharing!

Stories

The most powerful way to spread PBL at your school is through stories. Stories are what make classroom observations and student panels so powerful. Experts tell us that logic and rational reasoning alone will not lead to change. People must feel an emotional need to make a change, and stories accomplish this!

Stories can come from your classroom or you can show examples of PBL from other schools. Another way to collect stories is to have your students record reflections during the project. Provide them with prompts about their content learning, engagement, and how their groups are functioning. These stories will not only document their personal successes, but are feedback for you to improve future projects.

The most powerful stories are ones that show growth in students, especially in areas of motivation. Many teachers have misconceptions about what PBL is, and stories help them see clearly how they could adopt it. The truth is, when most teachers learn how PBL actually works, they are affirmed by the aspects that they are already doing.

Advertise

Don’t just keep all of those stories in house. When students complete high quality work that is relevant to the school and the community, it’s time to brag. Call up your local journalists and TV stations and let them know about what your kids are accomplishing. Publish your project in the school or district newsletter. Public education gets enough negative publicity. It’s time for teachers to share amazing stories of the meaningful work that students are doing.

The other way to share is on social media. This can create strong connections with parents and the community. If you need to convince your administrator about PBL, advertising is effective too. When she sees positive press or gets excited calls from parents about your students’ projects, your principal will see the value of the PBL framework.

Pilot

This technique is specifically for teachers who don’t have administrative support to try PBL. Your principal may not be “against” PBL. But you may have common assessments that are not congruent with your project idea or you may have a reading or math block with scripted curriculum that must be followed lockstep. The magic word to navigate these kinds of obstacles is pilot. Tell your principal:

“I just attended an incredible workshop on Project Based Learning and I think that it is exactly the personalized approach that our students need. With your permission, I would like to pilot a project in class and see how students respond.”

The beauty of the word pilot is, it not only grants permission, but it assumes there will be some bumps along the road as you experiment with something new. If necessary, show administration research or better yet share success stories of PBL in other settings similar to your school. Chances are your principal supports the tenets of PBL already, but may not know how to get permission from her superior. “Pilot” creates the perfect scenario.

Workshops

Of course, once teachers and administration are getting excited about PBL and ready to dive in, there is no substitute for high quality professional development. Making the shift to student-centered PBL can be a frightening transition, especially for traditional teachers. A multiple day, PBL workshop lead by an experienced practitioner will give teachers both the skills and the confidence to launch a project in their classroom.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and your school won’t make a dramatic transition to PBL overnight. Take small steps and don’t forget to continue the conversations about your victories and struggles in PLC’s. Seek out continued professional development throughout the journey. Remember it’s not about the product, but the process!

Questions? Interested in a PBL workshop or consulting?  Connect with me at michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele onTwitter.

When Students Don’t Work

Going to school isn’t a job. Students don’t get paid. And yes, they are forced to be there. Therefore I am always hesitant to apply business advice to schools. But more and more I am seeing that project management strategies often do apply to student groups in PBL.

In 4 Reasons Good Employees Lose their Motivation on the Harvard Business Review, they identify the following causes of a lack of motivation:

  • Values mismatch
  • Lack of self efficacy
  • Disruptive emotions
  • Attribution errors

In order to help an employee find motivation, the the proper “trap” should be identified leading to applying the appropriate solution. I believe this can be adapted to leading a class of collaborative groups using PBL.

Values Mismatch

This trap can be summarized as “I don’t care enough to do this.” I would argue that this is the most prevalent motivational problem that we have in school because of our one size fits all, mandated curriculum. PBL is a great approach because it gives the teacher freedom to customize their class to their students’ interests and abilities.

The first step in fixing a values mismatch is to know your students. Build relationships with your kids and discover their passions. Then PBL projects can be designed to connect with them. I have even designed an entire class project with only one student in mind, that is struggling to engage in my class. Students will find more value in a class where they have a positive relationship with the teacher and they feel like the content addresses issues that matter to them.

Lack of Self Efficacy

In this trap students are saying “I don’t think that I am able to do this.” Except students rarely say this out loud. Instead they avoid the task with disruptive behavior or shut down by sleeping or daydreaming. Oftentimes this student tries to hide the embarrassment of lack of ability or belief in themselves from both the teacher and other students. It is crucial that teachers see through these smokescreens and identify the real cause of student actions.

Again the first step is knowing your students and then applying the appropriate scaffolds to help them succeed. Have you identified your students who are EL or special ed? What about the students who don’t have an official “label” but need support? Show students quality examples and give them outlines and other scaffolds to get started. Acknowledge when they are successful to help them build confidence. Most importantly remove scaffolds when students don’t need them anymore and point out the growth to students.

“Remember at the beginning of the year, you needed my help to multiply fractions. Now you can do it all by yourself!”

Disruptive Emotions

Sometimes students are feeling that “I am too upset to do this.” One of the reasons that I like to start class by meeting kids at the door is to check on their emotional state when they get there. This goes back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If students are angry or depressed, then they will not be able to focus on school.

Be a caring listener. Have a private conversation with the student and hear out what is bothering them. I often ask students if they would like to talk to a counselor or another trusted adult if I can’t give them the time that they need during class. We rarely can fix whatever is bothering them in the middle of a busy class but students must know that we care about their well being more than the content that we teach. Ask students if they think that can do the tasks of the class that day. Once they have been truly heard, most students can focus on what they need to.

Attribution Errors

This trap is when students say, “I don’t know what went wrong with this.” I think in schools this is usually an avoidance ploy of the above, Lack of Self Efficacy variety. Students (and adults too) don’t want to admit failures or weaknesses so they shift to excuses of “I was too busy” or blaming group members for not completing tasks.

One solution that can help student groups is teaching them to hold each other accountable. I like to use a Student Scrum Board or Trello for groups to regulate themselves. With a clear plan for project management, then students can focus on the actual problem of lack of skills or perhaps a values mismatch as being the real reason that work is not being completed.

None of these are magic, but it is always important to know our students and to properly assess why they may not be successful on a given day. I also think that it is critical to their growth to acknowledge what has been holding them back and how they have overcome it. Then the next time that they are feeling unmotivated they can learn to self analyze the cause and self correct.

PBL isn’t Chaos

Illustrated by James Fester

Control Continuum

Who controls most classrooms? Whose voice dominates? Who decides what is learned, how it is learned, and with whom? Who determines the assessments and what they look like?

When first learning about Project Based Learning, many teachers skeptically ask me “How do I keep kids on task?” or “How do I ensure that students learn all of my content standards?” Often what they are actually questioning is “Does PBL lead to classroom chaos?”

Anarchy

Behind these questions is a fear of losing control. Educators worry that if they allow student voice and choice, their well managed class will turn into a free for all. They don’t say it out loud, but these teachers fear Anarchy as seen on the left hand extreme of the Control Continuum with students having one hundred percent control and the teacher exerting none.

They imagine students doing whatever they feel like with the teacher asserting zero input. When educators think about inquiry based or student driven work, they wonder, “What is the teacher is doing? Just sitting back reading a book or playing a game on their phone?” They picture the teacher as a clueless babysitter ignoring a mob of spoiled rotten children. They imagine poor substitute teachers that they have observed and think “No way!”

But this is a straw man argument and one of the biggest myths about PBL. No one is advocating for Anarchy in the classroom!

Tyranny

To demonstrate how ridiculous this fear is, I want to consider the opposite extreme: Tyranny. On the right side of the Control Continuum, the teacher has one hundred percent control and the students have zero.

At this logical extreme, the teacher commands every student action. The teacher is a military dictator controlling every thought through power and fear. Students are marionettes, powerless to think or react without permission. Relationships, feelings, and emotions are irrelevant as the supreme leader dictates content into the brains of his subjects. They will obey, and they will learn at his command.

Absurdity

Just as the metaphor of teacher as all powerful dictator is absurd, so is the teacher as powerless babysitter. Student centered inquiry is NOT a free for all. It is NOT students doing whatever they feel like, whenever they feel like doing it. These analogies are a thought exercise to show that both extremes of the Control Continuum are equally absurd. No one is advocating for the style of teaching at either end. Both are straw man arguments that if they did exist somewhere would warrant firing the teacher.

But educators rarely question the right side of the continuum. What if the teacher has too much control? Does the climate of many classrooms stifle creativity and actual learning? There is not the same fear associated with the right end of the Control Continuum as with the left. A strong classroom leader (but not to the dictator extreme) was the model that many teachers experienced when they were in school and is their comfort zone.

Implicit Bias

A further danger of the fear of student voice and choice is that some teachers don’t believe that “their students” can handle self directed learning. Sometimes this is because of the age of the children or maybe their socio-economic background. This is dangerous thinking. We know that students will rise to meet expectations and vise versa (The Power of Expectations). We also know that implicit bias can prevent our students of color from being pushed as much as they should be. ALL STUDENTS can self direct their learning with proper scaffolding and support. Never sell your students short of what they can become or do!

PBL as Framework

PBL is actually the opposite of Anarchy. It is a framework, a structure, a design process for student centered learning for both the teacher and the kids. PBL has protocols to guide students through content standards while giving them voice in what and how they learn.

We will explore the what the middle of the Control Continuum looks like in a future post and reflect on where the ideal spot is for both teachers and students. But for now, can we all agree that the fear of PBL leading to chaos is a misguided myth? Don’t go to the straw man extreme of Anarchy as an excuse not to try PBL. Give it a shot and you will learn to love the process and students will excel beyond your wildest imagination!


Fake It ‘Til You Make It

I will never forget the advice that Eric gave me early in my teaching career.

After my first year teaching social studies at an alternative high school, I was laid off due to being the lowest seniority. My principal told me not to worry, that it was just a formality and that I would be brought back in the fall. So I didn’t sweat it or look for another job. At the beginning of August she called and told me the bad news. Unfortunately I would not be brought back due to financial reasons. My wife was 8 and ½ months pregnant with our second child and we would have no health insurance. I was a bit freaked out, not having a job with the start of school fast approaching.

Days before school started I applied and was hired as a technology teacher at the middle school where I student taught. Eric, the previous technology teacher, showed me how the class was designed for students to rotate weekly to different technology and engineering stations (it was STEM before someone invented the term. Does that make me a hipster?).

I was excited, but stressed by my limited time to prepare for this new class and knowing that I would soon be on paternity leave. Eric told me not to worry about knowing how to do all the stations myself. “Just let the kids figure it out on their own,” he told me. “If they get stuck, have them problem solve. Check back in with them later and have them teach you how they did it.” He told me to learn who the students were in the class who became experts at certain stations and refer the other students to them when they had questions.

It was definitely a “fake it ’til you make it” strategy. And I have never stopped using it, because it EMPOWERS students.

Even when I know how to do something I have my students figure it out on their own or talk to other students. I may point them in a general direction or help them figure out the best search term, but I avoid giving direct answers. It all goes back to “whoever is doing is learning” and I don’t want to steal the chance from students to figure something out by themselves.

This strategy is also freeing because I don’t have to be the expert of everything. I can say, “I don’t know. Let’s figure it out.”

Instead of answering questions, I teach students search strategies to find the answers themselves. In my personal life, I use YouTube all of the time to figure out things that I don’t know, from how to prune my grapes to fixing something on my car. If our students are truly going to become “lifelong learners” than they have to figure out how to ask and answer their own questions.

One thing I will say to students when they ask me a history question that I don’t know the answer to is, “I don’t know. Why don’t you research that and come back and tell me what you find out?” Students are motivated to find things that they can teach me!

A specific example of fake it ‘til you make it, is that I like to use many online tools with students. Instead of using whole class, direct instruction to teach lessons on how to use an online tool, I tell students to figure it out for themselves. I quickly learn which students excel and direct other students to our class expert. I will have these expert students lead a workshop on the online tool for those who may need some help.

This strategy creates a collaborative culture with students depending on each other for help and success. They learn that the teacher doesn’t know everything and is learning too. It also grows confidence in the student experts as they lead workshops for their classmates.