In a nutshell, Project Based Learning replicates how we learn as people: some event acts as a spark plug, causing us to ask a question, which sets us on a path to learn. Along the way we share our learning with our peers, and as we dialogue, read, watch videos, or study artifacts, our learning deepens. In professional settings, our learning culminates in a product we create, whether it be a presentation, a model, or a report. Usually, we can't do this without partners. After all, humans are social beings - and we do better when we share.
Here's a concrete example: in the moments following an important societal event - whether it be the newest episode of your favorite show, or a crazy political incident, what is the first you do? You turn to talk to someone about it. You process it. You share your view and hear the view of another person. You go to learn more, you think, and the cycle repeats. That's learning in a nutshell; so it's perfect that teachers -our learning professionals- are doing the same.
We're finding out that learning reflection; talking about what we’ve learned lets us continue processing, while the opportunity to have questions asked, and to hear other people talking about our own ideas allows us to continue processing it once again. It's like panning for gold: moving the collection of ideas through a sieve leaves only the good stuff that you want. When students come home from school and parents sift through their stories with questions and prompts like “tell me more about,” the golden nuggets of the day become visible. Here's one of our teachers, Steve Craig of Washington Elementary, talking about the power of the protocol in developing his idea for a project:
What stands out about his experience is how he was able to make sense out of his ideas just by sharing and listening. He was no longer alone in this work, and the protocol he was referring to took only 15 minutes. In that time he was able to move through multiple phases of learning to make sense of his project idea. No instructor stood in front of him telling him how to fix his project. No one gave him a formula he needed to follow. Yet he learned deeply, from and with his peers, in a way that's very normal for us to learn - through conversation. It was only through telling his story in this way that he was able to see what was missing.
So what does this mean for our teachers and our students as a whole? It means there's huge opportunity for students to learn like this as well: to be engaged in conversation with peers, to learn in phases, to develop and refine their ideas over time. Protocols, while not a silver bullet, help us identify pieces that might be currently missing from the story of our teaching practice. As a component of high quality projects, protocols allow for summary, reflection, synthesis of information, and application - all higher order thinking skills beneficial for retention and deeper learning.
This is exactly the type of deep learning we want in San Leandro Unified. Steve, along with 400 of his colleagues, are all engaged in this work. It's only a matter of time until our students come home with their own protocol stories. And when they do, you'll know what's not missing in San Leandro anymore.