PBL: Let’s Build Something Together

As I write this, it’s early Sunday morning. Tomorrow, on Monday, June 13, Jill Gough and I will begin Day 1 of co-facilitating “PBL: Let’s Build Something Together.” This course is a two-day (10 hour, 1PLU) summer institute through the Center for Teaching at the Westminster Schools. We have about 15 educators coming from 4-5 different Atlanta area schools. Primarily, our essential learnings – our fundamental desired outcomes – number “just” two objectives:

  1. I can brainstorm various possibilities for PBL (project-based learning).
  2. I can create framework plans for various PBL.
Here’s our Curio7 mindmap of how we are structuring the ten hours:
Whereas some people attend conferences, institutes, and workshops expecting a considerable amount of “sit-n-get” knowledge transfer, our participants will be sorely disappointed if they are wanting that typical educational conference experience. Jill and I know we will not “finish” what we are setting out to do. Monday and Tuesday will be mere beginnings.
You see…we really want to build something together. If we actually accomplish our essential learnings, these 15 Atlanta educators will leave committed to enacting and implementing a PBL-project in the first semester of 2011-12. We are going to learn PBL by doing PBL. Our project: build a multi-school PBL to try in the fall. So, potentially, we could have 4-5 schools putting a PBL idea into practice with students.
Imagine the possibilities there! We could continue to develop the project as a virtual lesson study. We could engage in instructional rounds and visit each other’s schools to observe how the project is implemented at each place.
Last week, at a learning opportunity at Trinity School, @gcouros challenged us all to think of ourselves as school people and lead learners. He asked us to think bigger than just our own individual classrooms. Shouldn’t we do the same for school vs schools?! Imagine what we can learn together.
I love being excited about something which is about to begin!


“Anyway,” said Old Wrinkly, “it might be just what this Tribe needs, a change in leadership style. Because the thing is, times are changing. We can’t get away with being bigger and more violent than everybody else any more. IMAGINATION. That’s what they need and what you’ve got. A Hero of the Future is going to have to be clever and cunning, not just a big lump with overdeveloped muscles. He’s going to have to stop everyone quarreling among themselves and get them to face the enemy together.”

As a minister-friend of mine is fond of saying, “That’ll preach.” The paragraph above comes from Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon. My family fell in love with the movie this year, and my six-year old son is now reading the books. He reads to himself mostly, but he asks me to read a few pages each night. That paragraph on pages 63 and 64 really hit me. When I read it, I stopped for too long, and PJ had to spur me out of thinking to keep reading aloud. The movie and the children’s literature possess that amazing, rare quality of transcending the age of the viewers and readers – if you are paying attention, there is something profound for you…no matter what your age.

What a metaphor system exists in the story…in just that short paragraph about a Viking grandfather giving his grandson some advice about his different approach to an issue. For me, I am in the mindset to think of the dragon as school or education. We teachers and school leaders need to examine the 150 year old paradigm of school and re-think if the Prussian military model – the “overdeveloped muscles” – is the correct method for guiding the formalized learning of this iGeneration. Perhaps we need more IMAGINATION.

I certainly mean to point no fingers at anyone. When I point a finger, three point back at me. Maybe we could quit all the quarreling among ourselves and face the enemy together.

Last night, I attended the CFT Talks. The Center for Teaching hosted its Learning and the Brain Cohort for a TED-talk-style evening so that this team of teachers from Westminster and Drew Charter could share their action research projects. The event was superb and inspirational. On Twitter, you can trace the stream with the hashtag #CFTtalks. I learned so much from these “pracademics” who were meshing research and practice in their own learning-lab classrooms. At one point, two of the speakers shared two quotes:

“If students don’t learn the way we teach, why don’t we teach the way they learn?”

“If your job is to develop the mind, shouldn’t you know how the brain works?”

They spoke of “green light” and “red light” teachers. I hope you can see the summary of these terms by clicking on the image below (captured at event). In my mind, I saw the red light teachers as big, muscle bound Vikings who were trying to strong arm learning through something akin to force. I saw the green light teachers as Hiccup, the protagonist of How to Train Your Dragon – full of imagination and willingness to meet the learning dragon as a learner himself…mutually growing as a team that could synergistically thrive together. Maybe we all need a “hiccup” to cause us to draw up an unexpected breath and free the thing that defines us most as children…as the original-learner prototype – IMAGINATION. May we use it to address these changing times. May we inspire it and motivate it in our colleagues and students. May we learn together, as Old Wrinkly say, “the HARD WAY!” Together we can do this. Together we should do this. It’s about our children’s present and future. It’s about learning!