CASE STUDIES

Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, Glen Ellyn 41, Illinois

Overview

Benjamin Franklin Elementary School exemplifies district and community commitment to preparing students for a rapidly changing world. A diverse population of 570 students attends Franklin Elementary (pre-k to 5) in Chicago’s western suburbs.

Franklin’s principal and teachers, aided by the Illinois Consortium for 21st Century Schools (Illinois21) MindQuest21 consultant team and empowered by district leaders, turned the district’s multi-year, district-wide strategic “Think Tank” planning process into reality. After introduction to the MindQuest21 framework, grade level teams started their collaborative planning, implementing, and assessing project-based-learning units.

The MindQuest21 model became a major channel for Franklin students’ development of collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills. Students are “evolving in their group work, and they’re taking control of the role they play when they work with other students,” notes teacher-leader Sarah Rodriguez. “They’re collaborating with people outside of their classrooms. And they’re reflecting on what they’re doing more often and how productive they were.”

Rodriguez saw positive results as her students take ownership for their learning. “Even though it’s hard for [teachers] to let go sometimes and let kids problem solve and let projects evolve, it’s happening and it’s leading to critical thinking and students being really collaborative.”

Fifth grader Elyssa Fischer spoke to the value of her own experience with an environmental research project on emerald ash borers, a pest that’s had a major impact on local ash trees. In addition to sharing her findings on a glog (a graphic blog), she raised funds with her peers to plant new trees. “I got to learn a lot more about technology,” said Elyssa, “and it also helped us do a little bit for our community.”

The shift to project-based learning, increasing content specialization and multiage instruction had placed new demands on Franklin’s teachers. Rodriguez and others have risen to the challenge, with the help of formal and informal structures for professional collaboration and growth through the MindQuest21 model.

While adding their own student-centered expertise to the MindQuest21PBLmodel, the teachers built a culture of collaboration to enrich student learning and their own professional development. In the following years, district leaders empowered the teams to implement their recommended structural changes in scheduling, curriculum design, and assessment so as help them sustain their problem solving-centered approach to instruction

“Our staff meet in professional learning community’s multiple times per week,” noted Principal Kirk Samples. “The composition of the PLCs is flexible, enabling different groups of teachers to work together on project- based learning and other curricular initiatives. The district also provided the leadership by giving us eight professional development days—used mostly before the start of school each year—to help.

In 2014, The Partnership for 21s Century Skills (P21) selected Benjamin Franklin as an Exemplar School of Innovation. P21’s Executive Director, Helen Soule, who chaired this school’s review team hailed it as “the best example of all school PBL implementation I have seen.”

Goals

  • Align school practice with the district vision, mission and structural change recommendations for developing 21st Century Learners.
  • Implement MindQuest21as the primary method of instruction in the school’s STEAM curriculum.
  • Enable students as 21st Century Learners through MindQuest21 model for learning
  • Build grade level teams as Professional Learning Communities who will sustain the project and scale to other district schools.
  • Dedicate time for cross-disciplinary projects through collaboration.
  • Create a STEAM Lab/Maker Space.

Specifications

  • Winter, 2012: With support from the Illinois21 and an eye towards the Partnership for 21’s Skills (P21) Framework for 21st Century Learning, the Think Tank surveyed educators, reviewed research, visited other districts and wrote the District 41 Learner Characteristics.
  • Spring 2012: Illinois21 and District 41 leaders planned a one year pilot.
  • Summer, 2012: Illinois21 introduces teachers, site and district leaders to MindQuest21 in a 4-day work-session to develop PBL unit plans.
  • Fall, 2012: Teacher teams implement 1st PBL plans and assess impact. Illinois21 consultant team starts monthly school team review sessions to assess progress and add new unit plans. Illinois21continues quarterly meetings to assess project progress with district leaders.
  • Spring, 2013: 1st grade team presents project to School Board.
  • Summer, 2013: Final report to Asst. Superintendent: Accomplishment of All Goals and recommendations for scaling PBL across district.
  • Fall, 2013: Teachers make operations recommendations to School Board regarding multi-age classrooms, schedules and other needs for sustaining PBL.
  • Summer, 2014: P21 recognizes Ben Franklin as Exemplar