Articles, Blog

High School Teachers Meet the Challenges of PBL Implementation

December 9, 2019

>>Suzanne Reeves: If I was to imagine
creating a school from scratch, I would look at “What am I
preparing my students for? What is this world that
they’re gonna be going into?” and “how can I make their experience in school feel more close
to that outside world? How do I sort of turn
the school inside out?”>>Adrienne Curtis Dickinson:
We are in the process of re-designing thirty courses, which
affects nearly seventy-five teachers. This is not easy, we’re engaged
in work that asks teachers to really examine classroom practices
that have been things they’ve done for a really long time,
and so helping teachers to re-define curriculum is a
really challenging mental shift.>>Suzanne Reeves: So
we’re really focused on giving students a problem-based
experience across the whole school and we’ve had to think about
“How does that really look?” and “how does it apply?” There are places where
it’s less intuitive and where it’s a little
bit more challenging. English and math are ones
where people don’t think about problem-based learning.>>Danielle Lynch: I was very unsure,
I didn’t know, “What does this look like in a math classroom?” I think overall that there’s
a little bit of apprehension, just when you’re talking about
doing something completely new. It’s really exciting to see all
students engaged in your class, and I think that the
difference of having PBL in classrooms really is helping
overall engage our students.>>Alicia Kallay: I think
there have been varying levels of acceptance of PBL. What I think has worked
for teachers to buy in to PBL is having teachers
create their own courses by giving them the voice and
also giving them this time to try to figure out what it looks like
within their own subject area.>>I think we really struggled to find
a way to inject PBL into English. We didn’t want the study
of literature to be lost. I don’t want to lose
what inspires people. For literature it is harder because the authentic
problems are these really big philosophical questions. Being able to see what
else students could do and moving beyond the
traditional essay that follows reading,
it was a challenge.>>Suzanne Reeves: One starting point
for all the courses is thinking about what professionals in this
discipline really do and then say, “How do we give students
more of that experience?”>>Alicia Kallay: Before,
it was all about the text, but I feel like now it’s about
them engaging with the text in a different way,
and it’s engaging them with a text as a writer themselves. A book that students read is Eli
Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir “Night,” as they’re reading they’re
seeing what are the consequences of remaining silent. We ask them to start to look
for groups or individuals who are silenced in some way
and, like Eli Wiesel is doing, is give voice to a
voiceless population. So what you’re actually asking
them to do is apply the themes that they’ve seen in
the text themselves.>>Emma: I think using PBL in English
classes, or in any other class, really kind of changes your
perspective on what that subject is and what that subject entails. You really see how the subjects
you’re learning at fifteen years old, how you can use them for your future
and for the rest of your life.>>Teacher: Making a tool
would be to have a–>>Danielle Lynch: Our
leadership team said, “We don’t know what this
looks like for math. You guys need to, by trial and error,
figure out what does it look like? What’s gonna work best?” I think each group of
teachers that works together to design functions a
little bit differently. We wanted to be able to not
lose any content in our course and still really enrich it
with problems or projects. We don’t have a PBL-based
unit for every concept that we teach in Algebra 2. We really just looked at
where it fits and I think that is our best approach in math.>>Suzanne Reeves: This problem-based
learning isn’t gonna look the same in every class and so if we’re just
trying to kind of shoehorn the way that we teach into this kind
of mold that we think is trendy or that we think we’re supposed to do
because the administration told us, then, yeah, it won’t work.>>Danielle Lynch: Well, I think that
the idea of problem-based learning is to engage those students who normally in a traditional math
classroom wouldn’t be engaged. So one example is in our probability
unit: We have students create games. For students who may not be pro-math, math may not be their favorite
subject, I think when they think about “Okay, I have free rein to
create a game,” that’s something that can kind of hook
them into the unit. Then you can connect
that saying, “Okay, how can we find the
probability of what you created?”>>Angelo: The project helps
me, like, to be focused more. Making the game project
it’s fun and then there’s, like, a connection to it. It makes me more engaged
through math.>>Teacher: Do your best
to work around that.>>Adrienne Curtis Dickinson:
I am so excited about the progress at Sammamish. We have really seen some enormous
outcomes for our students already.>>All of that is coming through the
hard work our teachers are doing.>>Suzanne Reeves: It’s exciting
professionally to be pushed, to have the opportunity
to collaborate with colleagues in a new way.>>Danielle Lynch: It’s like anything. You have days where you
can get a lot accomplished. There’re days where you feel
stuck, but we’re working together, we’re a team we’re all working
towards the same goal of learning.


  • Reply Noelwiz March 8, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    So what do you mean by problem based learning exactly?

  • Reply Kellie Determan April 8, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    I'm interested in knowing if the teachers at Sammamish H.S. are working cross-curricular in the implementation of PBL? I can envision the art department collaborating with business and incorporating language arts. Does the science, engineering and mathematics work together? What is truly more authentic that a 
    'big problem' that can't be solved or have a proposed solution by students just using one subject? The world outside of high school is a collaborative, cross-curricular environment and schools looking to embrace that will be headed the right direction. As a FIRST Robotics mentor and art teacher, I can see how an elegantly crafted problem can be handled in multiple ways and encompass curriculum while engaging students.

  • Reply David Balmer July 31, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Thank you for the honesty in this video. It's refreshing to see others who have and are struggling with things like this, now over coming and being a great example. 

  • Reply Betsy Collins January 25, 2017 at 8:12 am

    Am I the only one who finds it ironic that school districts across the nation keep pushing for "project-based learning" programs? Yet, so many of these were the very districts who pulled the plug on and denounced their age-old vocational-education programs, home-economics classes, wood shop, metal shop, and auto mechanics-THOSE WERE THE VERY DEFINITION OF PROJECT-BASED LEARNING PROGRAMS! Bring back those PBL programs that made your average high-school graduate immediately employable and self-sustaining!

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