Sunday, March 25, 2012

Making a PBL Cake.

This post is part of a series where I look at the "recipe" of PBL (problem based learning) and give an overview of each step and then explain how I have adapted it to the "flavor" of my teaching philosophy and style. I also use SBG (standards based grading) for my assessment method and that influences some of my methods. My hope is that it will be both a good introduction to someone new to PBL and a source of ideas for those who are already teaching with PBL.

photo by bunchofpants
I loved to eat, but I do not really enjoy cooking. Once in a while I will make something that requires actual prep work, but usually anything I make is pretty basic and I am not confident enough to stray from the directions on a recipe. I can cook. I am confident I can make a cake from a recipe (I can't actually remember ever actually making a cake in my life).

I am not a chef. A chef creates food based on knowledge of how ingredients and different cooking techniques work. A chef makes their own custom cake from scratch because she understands how the proportions work, what kinds of things can be substituted, and how to experiment to bring out new flavors. Any cook can follow a recipe, but a chef can create master pieces from her own expertise.

Project Based Learning (PBL) has a recipe that any teacher can follow. My favorite description of it comes from Buck Institute:

I was taught to cook to this method and I think it produces a very tasty cake. It is a tasty white cake that is delicious, but would never make it on Cake Boss. But when it comes to teaching I am a bit of a chef. I understand the overriding philosophy of the process and ingredients of PBL and I have enough experience in the classroom to take this process and give it my own flavor.

So in my classroom we do not "follow the recipe." We definitely are a student-centered, PBL class but I have adapted the process to fit my teaching style and my students. This is also not a completed process but something I continue to adjust with every project.

I would like to start a series of blog posts explaining the philosophy of PBL and its components according to the recipe and also my adaptations to it. Hopefully it will serve both as an overview to a teacher who is new to PBL and as some suggestions to teachers already using PBL on modifications they might choose to make. As always please chime in on the comments with your questions or share your recipes for how you make PBL unique for your classroom.

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