Project-Based Blends

Blended learning offers a great opportunity to expand and improve the use of project-based learning (PBL).
I’m joining Mickey Revenaugh, Connections Learning, this morning at ASCD (#ASCD12) to discuss PBL blends.  We’ll discuss a variety of PBL blends.  I’ll focus on PBL as core curriculum and PBL as a supplement.
PBL as Core.  There are three well known networks that operate with a PBL core:

  • Edvisions is a network of PBL schools.  I first visited Doug and Dee Thomas in Minnesota New Country in the fall of 1999 and announced that it had to be the coolest school in America.  Envisions is a network of more than 70 schools They “utilize self-directed, project-based learning to build student autonomy through relevant learning opportunities; create student belongingness through full-time advisories; and empower teachers via teacher-led and democratically governed schools.”
  • Big Picture Learning is a network of high schools focused on internships.  They make extensive use of PBL.
  • New Tech Network, based on New Tech High in Napa, was an early leader in platform-centric network development.  Echo is a PBL LMS that helps teachers find and create rigorous integrated projects.
Edvisions and Big Picture were early innovators of what Innosight’s Rise of Blended Learning called Flex models.  They feature competency-based individual (rather than cohort) progress models.  Flex models have always been good for engaging students and meeting individual needs but many of them were inconsistent academically often leaving big gaps.  Adaptive assessment, standards-based competency tracking, and an explosion of digital learning opportunities makes it easy to backfill around a PBL core.
PBL as Supplement. Lots of schools supplement a traditional or digital core with projects.  Some of the resources they use include:
  • Edmodo is a social learning platform (and Learn Capital portfolio company) that makes it easy for teachers to create project groups and mash up content to build engaging projects.
  • Project Foundry is a great PBL tool that also helps schools (like the Edvisions network) track competencies.
  • Buck Institute has a great starter kit for PBL.
PBL is common in what Innosight calls Rotation model blends–schools that rotate students from online to onsite learning environments.  At Carpe Diem in Yuma Arizona, students spend about half of their time in personalized digital learning and half in workshops that often include PBL.
PBL is a great way to engage students and encourage deeper learning.  Blended environments makes it easier to create time for projects.  New tools make it easier to create consistently rigorous projects.  Digital learning makes it easier to build skills to successfully participate in a PBL environment.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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