We are halfway through the 2018-2019 school year! The holiday season is full of celebration and reflection, both as we take stock of the work we’ve accomplished and set resolutions for the new semester of school that will begin in January.
Less is More! Hooray!
Projects are a lot of work. There, we said it. There’s no denying it! Whether we are looking to build a garden, host a holiday celebration, or start a new workout regimen, projects require advanced planning, more effort and energy than our daily routine, and acquisition of knowledge, skills and supplies.
As an organization, we’ve learned that because PBL projects require a lot of work, we need to look at them a little differently than we have in the past. Instead of choosing standards that are less central to a discipline, focusing a project on social emotional outcomes above academic outcomes, or choosing too many standards, we are learning that it’s best to focus on 1-2 very high leverage standards for which we can provide the students lots of time and opportunity to understand and practice from multiple angles, at multiple depths, and in real-world settings where they have to apply their knowledge. We know these opportunities to practice in real-world scenarios and with public audiences will help students develop those social & emotional skills, and we can even design for that. But if we are going to break our routine and tackle a project, then we really want to make sure that the academic focus of the project is worthwhile.
Putting Our Stamp on the Work
Our partnership with the Buck Institute of Education (BIE) has provided us with the knowledge, skills and resources to start this work on Project Based Learning. In the spirit of growth, we’ve reached a point where we can begin to modify planning documents to incorporate SLUSD initiatives and resources to make them more effective for our teachers. To that effect, we’ve modified BIE’s Project Design Overview to include our SLUSD Graduate Profile and to streamline some of the planning process. Take a look at our current guide:
Principals at Work!
Just as we trained teachers, we also know that building the capacity of administrators to support Project Based Learning work is essential. At the end of last year, we asked how we could make our learning visible, from students to teachers to administrators. Our principals are thinking about this through their 2018-2019 PBL Leadership Series, involving teachers and community in their thinking and developing action plans for their sites.
At Bancroft Middle School, Principal Valentin Del Rio engaged his staff in work to have one anchor project at each grade level that multiple departments will support and that all students will experience. His theory is that cross-departmental discussion about focus standards and skills will enable all teachers to support projects in each of their classes. In order to meet the district’s strategic goal of having each student experience two projects per year, Bancroft teachers are deciding on those projects, and identifying ways that each can teach specific skills.
Principal Jeannette McNeil and the teachers of Monroe Elementary will be hosting a PBL Expo on January 16th from 8:15-9:15am so that families and the greater community can tour the school and provide feedback to students about their projects. Principal McNeil’s theory of action is that sharing our practice, engaging teachers and students as learners, and bringing the community’s participation into the process will enhance the students’ learning.
PBL Redesign Bootcamp
At the end of this past school year, teachers shared that a bank of high quality projects would go a long way to helping them understand PBL methodology. As a result, we are hosting a PBL Redesign Bootcamp in the late Winter / early Spring! Teachers and Principals will team up to take a project a teacher’s designed and re-design it with a lens for English Learners. San Leandro Unified advocates for the success of our multilingual learners, and knows that a focus on language development benefits everyone. Our redesign partnerships will have the additional focus on high leverage academic standards, inclusion of student artifacts, and alignment of projects with SLUSD literacy programs and resources. Not only will we develop a bank of high quality projects for teachers across the district, we will also build capacity across our organization in supporting language learners.
The Great Balancing Act
One of our continuing goals, as always, is to help our teachers in SLUSD align PBL with high stakes assessments, to support student social and emotional development, and to provide intervention and enrichment to a diverse group of learners. Creating coherence for students and teachers, to see how all of the pieces fit together, is high on our list of priorities to find answers to, and know that we will require the brains of all of our stakeholders to figure this out.