What To Expect From A ThoughtStretchers PBL Workshop
by Drew Perkins, Director of ThoughtStretchers Education
Inquiry is one of my passions. In fact, I view it as a sort of superpower that enables us to navigate the kinds of diverse sets of scenarios and problems that our modern world continually throws our way. That’s why all of our work with schools and teachers is through the lens of inquiry. To take it a step further, that’s why the ThoughtStretchers project based learning model starts with and emphasizes what we call, ‘Rich Inquiry‘ as a lever to unlock deeper learning and critical thinking.
Because inquiry is such an important feature in our project based learning workshops and support, participating teachers engage in multiple inquiry exercises and activities that we believe are impactful tools both in and outside of PBL. We want to model best practices so we invite workshop participants to enter into the learning process at the ‘create’ stage of Bloom’s Taxonomy as we ask them the Driving Question, “How can we create projects that will better prepare students for the modern world?”
We call this ‘pull teaching’ as we strive to flip Bloom’s for deeper learning and using the Question Formulation Technique, we solicit the important ‘Need to Know’ questions from workshop participants that guide our learning and a better understanding of how to design and implement robust PBL.
Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning
While some continue to ask, “PBL or direct/explicit Instruction, what works?“, we see that as a false dichotomy and advocate for finding the sweet spot that includes both. That means that teachers will use the project planning documents on our PBL Workshop Tools and Resources page to plan out effective scaffolding and assessment to help ensure student success.
Using the right tool for specific purposes means that teachers should not dismiss direct instruction when appropriate. Instead, we help them balance those more traditional teaching practices that are effective with rich inquiry strategies that allow students to make meaning and better understand the kinds of abstract concepts and big questions that lead to deeper learning. Our facilitators model this practice as they engage teachers in a mix of explicit instruction, more constructivist exercises, and inquiry-centered coaching as teacher projects develop over the workshop.
Our Foundations of PBL workshop typically spans three consecutive days although we’ve done many personalized facilitations, both on-site and online and a hybrid of both. Those variations include 2 and 2.5-day versions as well as workshops that were not held on consecutive days. Regardless, our goal in our workshops is to help teachers create a project for implementation with their students.
Day one typically involves diving into design and planning as we unpack what is and what is not project based learning, the inquiry practice of ‘pull teaching’, and how to design and use a powerful Driving Question. Teachers engage in the Making Meaning Routine, a great tool in and outside of PBL, to better understand the ‘levers’ of our PBL model. As teachers ideate on project ideas they’re primed for the design process to come.
Day two includes significant teacher work time on project design, with facilitator coaching, along with instruction on scaffolding and assessment practices. As projects develop using our planning documents and resources, we’re helping teachers involve authentic audience (not just public products) and meaningful assessment in service of craftsmanlike products from students. Teachers also participate in a peer feedback activity to deepen their learning, improve their projects, and learn how to do similar work with their students.
Day three provides additional work and coaching time as projects continue to develop to be ready for implementation. Teachers also learn about important tools and strategies for managing and implementing their projects and to help students develop autonomy and balance individual and group accountability. We value teacher expertise and experience and believe protocols are great tools within PBL so we ask participants to provide each other feedback using a tuning protocol developed by one of our partners, the National School Reform Faculty.
As I mentioned, we often personalize our PBL (and other) workshops to meet the needs of our schools. That can, and often does, look like a change in the logistics, but can also include modifying the workshop content based on the needs of the teachers. Regardless, our Foundations of PBL workshops are wonderful experiences to launch teachers toward successfully implementing quality project based learning with their students.