A Platform to Support Competency-Based PBL

It’s easy to do project-based learning–it’s just hard to do it well.

It’s also particularly difficult to do project-based learning in a competency-based environment. It can be challenging to design a project packed with rich learning outcomes, to track and support student progress toward these outcomes, and then consistently assess them across different students and classrooms. These challenges are often exacerbated by the fact that most Learning Management Systems (LMSs) are fundamentally bound to time-based structures such as courses, quarters, and semesters, which makes it challenging or impossible to use them to fully support competency attainment over the course of a student’s entire high school journey–one of the key systemic requirements for successful Competency-Based Education (CBE).

That’s where Headrush, a new learning platform designed to support Project- and Competency-Based Learning by alleviating these challenges, comes in.

“The big picture is esoteric–most people don’t understand the reality of accounting and structures that individual schools have to contend with if they want to do competencies right,” said Headrush Co-Founder Shane Krukowski, who has founded a number of tools designed to support such efforts.

These new structures and forms of accounting are numerous, and often time-consuming. Headrush has developed a number of interesting features to facilitate navigating them.

For example, an educator looking to get a quick glance at which students may still need to demonstrate proficiency in a given competency during a lesson has the ability to view one student’s attainment of a certain set of competencies, then switch directly to another student while staying focused on that competency. Teachers can easily curate which competencies show up in seminars, tasks, and projects, while students can curate their own journey by searching for projects that provide opportunities to develop specific new competencies. A well-organized taskboard helps students and teachers track next steps. Students have a page for each project where they can add numerous pieces of evidence and have their teacher review and tag competencies met and provide feedback.

These capabilities help schools like Latitude High School place competencies at the foundation of their model, ensuring that they are deeply embedded in both the practices and mindsets of staff and students. We recently spoke with Lillian Hsu and John Bosselman of Latitude, who have adopted Headrush. They shared that as they continue to build a shared understanding of their competencies with their staff and students (they are in their third year as a school), Headrush has helped them provide students with relevant and impactful projects while keeping the focus on desired outcomes. One recent example was seen in student’s virtual presentations of learning. “I really felt like our competencies were beautifully embedded in them,” said Hsu.

The team at Headrush continue to work on developing solutions for commonly-encountered competency challenges, including developing strategies to work with various state requirements for letter/GPA-based grading that don’t diminish the authenticity of schools’ competencies (the conversion process can, over time, lead to competencies becoming low-effort checkboxes on the way to a letter grade). One unique strategy they have developed is a transcript creation & curation tool to support schools and students in highlighting the competencies they have obtained

There is still no one “do it all” competency tool. Latitude, for example, still has to manually move student information from Headrush to their district’s SIS. But Headrush is taking a big step in the right direction.

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Erik Day

Erik manages projects for Getting Smart’s strategic advisory partnerships. With a system-oriented outlook and a background in marketing and communication, he oversees the details that ensure our partners’ initiatives are powerful and effective.

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