A Project-Based Learning Approach to PD

By: David Ross, Chief Executive Officer, Partnership for 21st Century Learning

When you spend 10 years teaching middle and high school you learn that relevance is an essential feature of effective instruction. Teenagers are quick to ask, “What’s in it for me?” which is immediately followed by the corollary, “When am I ever going to use this?”

Infusing relevance in curriculum became easier when I adopted Project-Based Learning as my dominant teaching style.

That insight guided the work I’ve done with adult learners for the last 10 years, first as Senior Director for the Buck Institute for Education and now as Chief Executive Officer of the Partnership for 21st Century Learning.

I’ve provided professional development to more than 10,000 teachers in those 10 years, facilitating workshops across the globe, presenting at countless conferences, delivering webinars into the wee hours, and most recently as a curriculum writer in online learning spaces. The lessons learned in a sixth-grade classroom in Los Angeles informed the design and delivery of instruction for educators.

P21 has chosen to partner with Participate and create four engaging professional development courses on its platform because we don’t want the teachers who select our courses to ask the classic teenage question, “What’s in it for me?”

The answer to that question is self-evident in the learning experience our courses provide and the platform delivers. The principles of high-quality PBL illuminate the structure of the courses, which focus on developing an educator’s ability to teach and assess the 4 Cs: Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, and Critical Thinking. Each course begins with a Driving Question and launches with an Entry Event. The outcomes for each course are stated in clear language, modeling the PBL design principle of beginning with the end in mind.

Learner voice and choice is a key feature of high-quality PBL. Accordingly, our courses allow the learner to choose his or her adventure. By that we mean the learner provides self-selected evidence of mastery. We had a simple rule in mind: These courses and the badges they generate will only be valuable if the teachers who complete them are using new skills and knowledge to solve instructional problems in their own classrooms.

The courses model additional PBL best practices: self-reflection and self-assessment. Each of the 10 tasks requires the learner to reflect upon their experiences and place them in the context of what is relevant to their work. The learning experience concludes with a self-assessment using a course-specific rubric.

For nearly 15 years P21 has been widely recognized for its Framework for 21st Century Learning. The 4Cs are at the core of that framework, and that’s why we created these courses. But a careful reader will note that the Framework is founded on 21st Century Support Systems. The professional learning experiences in our courses are anchored in that work. And that’s why no one will be asking “What’s in it for me?” when they complete this world-class professional development.

But we do want learners to provide detailed feedback. In true PBL style, we plan to iterate and improve the courses. We need your help to do that.

To give us feedback and check out the new courses, click here!

You can follow David on Twitter at @davidPBLross.