The Power of PBL
Our main instructional model in NewTech@Mann is PBL, which is also known as project-based learning. You may be asking,
"What is so special about PBL?"
Simply put, traditional education focuses primarily on content for the sake of content. The purpose for learning the content boils down to a need to satisfy knowledge of state-determined standards with standardized tests being the main vehicle for doing so. Students learn content only for what seems to be a purpose of passing the course or achieving a certain score on an assortment of tests. The trouble here is that little retention occurs once they earn their score, and very little emphasis is placed on the learning process itself.
The PBL model revolutionizes learning by turning traditional academic content into engaging learning experiences that presents the content to students in ways they would encounter it in the "real world". Rather than the students being handed all the instruction and then being presented with a problem immediately afterward, we front-load the work with the problem. Students in NewTech@Mann are first presented with a real-world problem that they can only solve by growing their skill set or learning new information to better solve that problem. We skillfully present them with problems that will create a demand for our content, which still supports those same state standards. Our teachers, who take on the role of facilitators, then work to fill that demand through activities and opportunities for exploration of the content. This makes the students more invested in their own learning and propels them through the process of critical thinking. To increase student engagement for each problem, we try to make the work as relevant as possible by incorporating the community, either locally or globally, in some way. We strive to present problems framed around the issues of real individuals in the school, neighboring communities, or the global community.
The final product of each project serves as a venue for students to not only demonstrate that they know the content, but also how to apply it, as evidenced in their solution to the problem posed to them. For example, most projects end in a presentation, but not your standard awkward, student-read PowerPoint; our students present to a panel of invested members who have some stake in the solution. The panel typically includes the content-area teacher, but may also include local experts on the subject matter, as well as whomever the solution may benefit. Typically, following their presentations, students respond to the panel. This adds an entirely new level of relevance and accountability to learning.
Refugee Support – students in our world history/world lit combination class were charged with coming up with ways to promote and support organizations that help refugees in various areas of the world. After researching the refugee situation in their designated areas and contacting their organization, the students created promotional materials for these organizations, which they showcased and discussed with visitors during a gallery walk in the media center. They also participated in a coat drive where all donations went to their organizations.
Set Design – students in our geometry/engineering combined class were asked by the school’s drama teacher to create a set for her upcoming production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” In order to do this, students had to learn new content and skills related to geometry and AutoDesk software. The students were eager to present their plans and have their work be a part of the school production.
Patriot Memorial Learning Garden – students were tasked with coming up with a way to beautify and alter a memorial learning garden on campus that had seen better days. The students researched and selected plants indigenous to the area and, to promote biodiversity, determined the best placement and pairings for them in the garden. Plans for the garden were presented to school administration and a local botanist.