A PBL Pathway to 21st Century Deeper Learning Schools

PBL and Technology for Deeper Learning in the 21st Century School

What is Project-Based Learning in 21st Century Schools?

In the 21st Century school, Project-Based Learning is an instructional model that replaces traditional approaches to teaching and learning such as direct instruction. both method and content are changed. Project-Based Learning is the pre-eminent power tool for engaging  all students to achieve deeper learning of  rigorous Common Core State Standards-aligned content.  By adding easy to adapt  technology tools, teachers can more naturally differentiate instruction and integrate students’s development of digital competencies into their learning  skill repertoires.

What is unique about Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century?

Unlike traditional classroom projects, 21st Century Project-Based Learning units enable students to learn from doing the content of the standard curriculum. Traditional projects allowed  students to  do fun, hands-on projects such as copy a diorama, perform a skit or make a poster at the end of a traditional lesson or for an out-of-class science fair.  In contrast to these add-on projects,  21st Century Project-Based Learning is a full technology integrated learning unit that motivates students to learn standards-based content in new ways. This  model of 21st Century Project-Based Learning with Technology (PBL-T) always incorporates seven elements which  may not have been included in traditional projects:

  1. Explicit instruction in critical and/or creating thinking strategies with gradual release of responsibility for transfer withing the PBL  unit and across future units
  2. An essential question that is open, standards-aligned and authentic.
  3. Explicit instruction in communication and collaboration for near transfer during the unit.
  4. Tasks that require loosely-structured problem solving.
  5. Integration of technology tools so that students

       (a) gather data (research)
       (b) organize their data-based answers to the essential question,
       (c) communicate their novel responses to an audience.
  6. Structured student self and peer formative assessments of content, products and process aimed for deeper learning outcomes.
  7. A focus on the deeper learning of single or cross discipline Common Core Standards-aligned content.

How does Project-Based Learning with Technology fit in the 21st Century School?

When PBL-T is the dominant model of instruction, it separates the 21st Century school from those schools that make only minor or limited modifications to the 20th Century’s assembly line instruction which depended on superficial or surface information accumulation.   In the 21st Century School, PBL-T is the core model of instruction aimed at deeper learning for knowledge transfer that highlights the transfer of  knowledge into practice.  At least once a year in every classroom, MindQuest21 readied teachers replace traditional instruction with PBL-T. In those schools that are most successful in moving all students to deeper learning, PBL-T units  in one of its three intense variations—inquiry, problem or invented product—enriched by technology, molded by data and strengthened by high-yield instructional strategies–will dominate as the primary means of teaching and learning  in all classrooms and subjects.

What changes are visible in the PBL-centered 21st Century School?

First, students are seen working solo, in small groups, or in large groups. They are mind-engaged: researching, solving problems, discussing, disagreeing, listening to peers and teachers, collaborating, presenting and performing with purpose.  Teachers interact with students without needing to rely on engagement “tricks” or discipline. Why?  The  student work is authentic.

Second, teachers are almost invisible. They guide on the side as they tutor, mentor, mediate, explain, listen, observe, critique,clarify, probe,  assess and provide information to  one, two, five or 30 students at different times during a 90-120 minute project period.

Third, skill mini-labs for reading, mathematics and the 21st Century Skills help students refine skills and review concepts for deeper learning.

Fourth, the  physical plant is adapted to foster high amounts of student engagement and interaction. Work tables replace desk rows; display and presentation areas are sport examples of student work; students have ready access to open Internet with strong bandwidth, varied computer models from media-ready notebooks to high end media work stations accompanied with a variety of technology tools replace printed text books.

Fifth, curriculum is expanded with virtual learning opportunities and apprenticeships out-side school walls.

How well does a dedicated PBL-T school work?

  The key to dramatic increases in student achievement and lowering of the achievement gap in a PBL-T school  is rigorous standards-based curriculum learned via 100% project-based earning infused with technology.

Any  district that wants to make these increases plus similar percentage gains in college acceptances from first generation applicants, reduced drop out and absentee rates or closed achievement gaps has the best chance with enriched and less expensive 21st Century Schools built around PBL-T.  Go to the free downloads on this site to review this evidence or read the National Academy’s report on deeper learning.

How does a district or school start a 21st Century School?

Contact us. The most effective start-ups begin with one or more teams completing a MindQuest21 program. Simultaneously, district or school leaders will initiate a year long PLC study that readies the school community for strategic planning.

E-mail: info@ilc21.org
Phone: 847-835-2149
Fax: 848-835-4209
310 Keystone Court, Glencoe, Illinois, 60022 USA.

  •   21st Century Elementary School
      21st Century Middle School
      21st Century Secondary School

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