#PBL example, courtesy of “Kid Politics” on This American Life

Today on This American Life, NPR is rebroadcasting an episode entitled “Kid Politics.” During my walks with my dog Lucy, I have listened to “Kid Politics” twice so that I could contemplate and think about the act-one story detailing the Reagan Library fieldtrip that at least some would see/hear as a “capital P” project-based learning example. While the story is fascinating and thought provoking, I believe that the trip to the Reagan Library is a simulation resting close to the “lowercase p pbl” end of the spectrum (see “Contemplating pbl vs. PBL” blog post that explains this categorization method for curriculum/instruction innovation).

I am hoping that some of you will listen to the NPR episode and let me know what you think about the Reagan Library simulation as a pbl vs. PBL. (I am really curious what @jonathanemartin would say…seems a great continuation of our BIE Common Craft video dialogue.) In the podcast story, what gets to me is the game-show sound effects of a “right-answer bell” and a “wrong-answer buzz.” When students in the simulation here these Pavlovian noises, I wonder what gets imprinted about having thoughts of their own.

Now, is this simulation a potentially powerful way for students to study the Grenada-invasion history? Yes. Is this simulation probably more fun and exciting to the students than merely reading about the event in a textbook? Yes. But the simulation does not cross the threshold of pbl vs. PBL, in my opinion. And it’s mostly because of that darn bell-buzz sound effect – the facilitators clearly are gearing for right and wrong answers. Are they teaching history or creating opportunity for critical thinking and original ideas? If they are trying to do both, I wonder if they are measuring their success at each objective.

Capital P PBL involves students in relevant, real-problem, community projects that don’t possess preconceived solutions. Capital P PBL does not merely place students in simulations so that they can re-enact what adults have already done. Again, I am not saying that I think the Reagan Library experience is worthless. In fact, I would love to participate in the simulation that is described in the “Kid Politics” episode of This American Life. I think the simulation is a powerful way for students to study the history and bring it to life with real drama, real emotion, and real reaction. But I hope that these students and their teacher used such a simulation as a jumping off point for a debrief that seemed a must after those reporters and Presidential staffers mingled in the same room. I hope that this jumping off point provided a springboard for students to engage in their own critical decision making…about a current issue…amongst an authentic audience.

What do you think?

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