MS Faculty and Staff Participate in Project-Based Learning Workshop
Marquis Austin

On Thursday, September 3, Middle School STEAM coordinator Jon Olivera and music teacher Ardith Collins led their colleagues in an engaging and informative professional development workshop on coordinating and implementing interdisciplinary project-based learning units. With a popular example being the annual boat project, which tasks seventh-graders with employing engineering and design principles to construct boats that faculty can row across the Grammar School pool, PBL encourages students to use critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills to tackle real-world problems. "Student voice is at the center of PBL," explained Ms. Collins. "They're researching, they're driving the content and they're taking ownership. That's what our students need as life skills."

While PBL culminates in building a tangible product addressing the central challenge, this dynamic approach to learning focuses on the process rather than the end result. "PBL is very oriented around the process of making the product," said Mr. Olivera. "It's been shown that students who go through PBL have positive attitudes toward learning itself, team collaboration and collaborative behavior." 

PBL presents each teacher with a unique opportunity to take an area of their curriculum that does not strike an enthusiastic chord with students and teach the subject matter in a more meaningful and stimulating manner. As Mr. Olivera explained during his presentation, the key to planning a PBL unit is working backward. He advised teachers to first decide on the final product they want students to create and what real-world skills they wish for them to hone. They can then focus on what resources are available and how to utilize them best to make the project a reality. 

The workshop also stressed the importance of incorporating other subject areas, as many real-world projects touch on skills across multiple disciplines. "If I'm teaching a PBL unit within science and I'm not incorporating math, art, history, English and whatever else could get involved, I'm doing the kids an injustice," commented Mr. Olivera. He is currently working with the English department to develop a science project inspired by the hit television series Mythbusters. Requiring students to produce episodes in which they either debunk or prove a scientific myth, the project will not only rely on their science skills but also their writing abilities as they draft scripts detailing their discoveries.  

Toward the end of the workshop, faculty met in breakout rooms to discuss their past experiences with PBL, workshop ideas for potential future projects and draw meaningful connections between their different disciplines. "There are ways we can make connections across all subjects," observed PE teacher Katelyn Savage. 

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