What Is Responsible Citizenship?

A student will know that it has been successful at providing a well balanced curriculum when, at the end of 12 years of purposeful education, a student will walk away from their institution as a globally minded, service oriented individual whose classes were rigorous and provided a real world focus. This student will feel prepared educationally and inspired personally to make a positive difference in the world in which we live. Responsible Citizenship is an umbrella that covers all of these focuses and helps to prepare the student for the world after graduation. It is a schools job, in teaching the “whole” child, to expose students to meaningful pertaining to the disciplines of global education, service learning, economic literacy, leadership practice, experiential educational experiences, and content presented in such a way that students are challenged to think and comprehend rather than memorize.

This is a huge undertaking for a school and puts a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the faculty members within the school. There has to be an obvious buy in within the Administration so that they are willing to hire a caliber of faculty that are engaged, motivated, and have an internal desire to help our students feel prepared and inspired when they are done with their education. In order to maintain a level of motivated faculty, the school will need to be focused on supporting our faculty in their needs and in their challenges. The school will also need to make it a priority to find and support applicable professional development opportunities for faculty that will support them in their curriculum development and give them an opportunity to step away from the classroom so that they too can be inspired to give their very best to our students on a daily basis.

In my opinion, the smartest student in the school will not be successful in life without this exposure to these components of Responsible Citizenship that will help to develop them into deeper thinkers and empathetic beings that will hopefully, take these experiences with them into their careers and help them to critically make essential decisions that will aid in the betterment of the community and not just the self.

Project Based Learning vs. Projects, What Is The Difference?

In order to prepare our students for their future endeavors, the curriculum being delivered needs to be one that is interesting and engaging for each student. This requires a focus on high standards and meaningful assessments for all subjects, coupled with providing teachers with the tools that enable active, engaged learning by students. In order to fully engage our students, we need to provide for them the opportunity to take the knowledge shared with them by their teachers and put it to work. Statistically, it has been proven time and time again that students learn and retain content best when they are challenged to take what they are learning and put it into action. In my opinion, Project Based Learning is a model that takes complex tasks, based on Essential Questions, which involve students in design, problem solving, decision-making or investigative activities. What better way for a student to truly comprehend the content than to fully be immersed in it through Project Based Learning? It has been shown that the learning that occurs in the context of problem solving is more likely to be retained and applied than the traditional method of teaching and learning that has dominated the American educational system prior to the 21st century. Students today are looking for the real world connection between what they are learning in the classroom and how it relates to their world outside the classroom walls. To be able to bridge that gap with the student through investigative activities will help to validate the importance of the content for them, which will then increase retention of the material.

What I have learned throughout this process of heavily implementing PBL into my classroom is that when I thought I was doing PBL, I realize now that I was doing “projects”. Here’s the difference, in one simple sentence (although the concept is far from simple)…when you introduce a PBL activity for your students, you will have NO idea what the end result will be and what kind of work they will turn in to you. There are no rubrics & no expectations of student work until they turn it in to you. With Projects, we generally give them a plan, a rubric, a written expectation of what their final product will be. What I have found is that this boxes the students in to what you deem to be good work. It doesn’t allow for them to have the creativity that they need to really excel at solving these “problems”. Trust me when I say this is an uncomfortable feeling at first, the student has all the control and all the power, but what I have found over the years is that this freedom allows them to create work that I could never have imagined them capable of. When I don’t give them the parameters of my expectations, they truly soar, it’s amazing to witness.

Have a look at my Lesson Plans and Strategies pages for tried and true PBL that you are welcome to modify and implement or just have your students give them a shot.

Project-Based Learning, What Is It?

Project-based learning (PBL) is a model that organizes learning around projects. According to the definitions found in PBL handbooks for teachers, projects are complex tasks, based on challenging questions or problems, that involve students in design, problem-solving, decision making, or investigative activities; give students the opportunity to work relatively autonomously over extended periods of time; and culminate in realistic products or presentations [1]. Accordingly, the way to insure that young children become proficient at inquiry and problem solving is to simulate the conditions under which experts master subject matter and become proficient at conducting investigations (Blumenfeld et al, 1991). This has also led to recommendations for shifting the major portion of instruction in schools from teacher-directed, teacher-assigned “schoolwork” with its emphasis on comprehension, to student-initiated, goal-driven, independent, “intentional learning” models with an emphasis on knowledge building (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1991). [2,3] According to research on “situated cognition,” learning is maximized if the context for learning resembles the real-life context in which the to-be-learned material will be used; learning is minimized if the context in which learning occurs is dissimilar to the context in which the learning will be used (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989). [4] Additionally, research on contextual factors has led to the recommendation that, to the extent that it is important for students to be able to apply what they learn to solve problems and make decisions, instruction be carried out in a problem-solving context. Learning that occurs in the context of problem solving is more likely to be retained and applied. Such learning is also seen as being more flexible than the inert knowledge that is acquired as a result of more traditional didactic teaching methods (Boaler, 1998b; Bransford, Sherwood, Hasselbring, Kinzer, & Williams, 1990). [5,6]

In my discussions of Project-Based Learning with other faculty members, the questions that always comes up are:

  1. What is Project-Based Learning?
  2. What is the difference between Projects & Project-Based Learning?
  3. I don’t have time to implement PBL (ok, this is a statement, but a very important one)

I think each one of these is important enough to warrant their own posts…stay tuned.


  1. Jones, B. F., Rasmussen, C. M., & Moffitt, M. C. (1997). Real-life problem solving.: A collaborative approach to interdisciplinary learning. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  2. Blumenfeld, P., Soloway, E., Marx, R., Krajcik, J., Guzdial, M., & Palincsar, A. (1991). Motivating project-based learning: Sustaining the doing, supporting the learning. Educational Psychologist, 26 (3&4), 369-398.
  3. Bereiter, C. & Scardamalia, M. (1987). Intentional learning as a goal of instruction. In L. Resnick (Ed.). Motivation, learning and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser (pp. 361-392). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  4. Brown, J. S. , Collins, A. & Duguid, P. (1989) Situated cognition of learning. Educational Researcher, 18, 32-42.
  5. Boaler, J. (1998b). Open and closed mathematics: Student experiences and understandings. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 29, 41-62.
  6. Bransford, J. D. Sherwood, R. S., Hasselbring, T. S., Kinzer, C. K. & Williams, S. M (1990). Anchored instruction: Why we need it and how technology can help. In D. Nix & R. Spiro (Eds.). Cognition, education, and multimedia: Exploring ideas in high technology, (pp. 115-141). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

“Feed My Starving Children”, Macromolecule PBL

This PBL activity was implemented during the Macromolecules unit. Macromolecules are tough to teach, in my opinion, because frankly they can be a bit boring to a 10th grader. I designed this activity this year to try to show my students why the understanding of Macromolecules is important in day to day life and that they do have relevance.

Macromolecule PBL: Efforts Against Child Hunger

The World Food Program is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. On average, WFP aims to bring food assistance to more than 80 million people in 75 countries. Malnutrition affects millions of people around the world. A third of all deaths in children under the age of 5 in developing countries are linked to under-nutrition. WFP’s role in fighting malnutrition is not only to treat it but also to prevent it becoming severe in the first place.

The World Food Program is employing you to design a new nutrient rich recipe that will be used to feed millions of people worldwide. The price of food and fuel has increased exponentially and the World Heath Organization has had to cut your budget by 18%, which means that you have a total of $2.25 per meal per child. Ideally, you will be able to feed each child 3 times per day. A typical serving portion is 1 cup of prepared food.

Here is what you need to focus on:

  1. The recipe must include all daily nutritional dietary needs (both macro and micro nutrients)
  2. The product needs to be as dry as possible to limit microbial growth. Workers/recipients in the field can add milk or water to make a paste.
  3. Food base should be easily grown with limited amounts of processing.
  4. This food needs to taste good, period.

You will need to make this food for the class and we will have a taste test at the end of the project. Please submit your receipts so that we know what the actual cost of your product encompasses.

End Products of this Project:

  1. The food item you prepared from your recipe
  2. Your written proposal should include: receipts, recipe, and nutritional information about your product, why your product should be selected by the WFP

If you implement this project in your class, let me know how it goes. Keep in mind food allergies and tell your kids to stay away from nuts as an ingredient.

Here are supporting documents that correspond to this PBL:

Macromolecule PBL

Feed My Starving Children Product Information

WFP Specialized Nutritious Food Sheet

News Article – Cheaper Recipe For Feeding Hungry Children

Background Nutritional Information

Rubrics: These are from BIE.ORG and can be used or modified to fit your teaching structure



Critical Thinking

Ebola PBL

This was the first PBL activity I implemented into my Honors (it would be fine for regular, that’s the beauty of PBL) 10th grade Biology class. Since it was my first “problem” for the students, I allowed them the choice of “problem” to address. For the more science minded students, the Cell-Sensor was more attractive. For the less science minded students, they felt more comfortable with the social aspect of the Ebola outbreak and the reintroduction to the community. I should add as a side note that I did spend 3 weeks on the specifics of the Ebola outbreak but I did not dive into the specifics of cells and viral components.

Cell-based Sensor for Detecting Ebola Virus

The U.S. Government has requested preliminary proposals for the design of a device that can detect the Ebola virus. The device should be designed so that it is able to respond to the presence of the Ebola virus as rapidly and with as much sensitivity as is possible and is capable of remaining functional for two weeks or more in the field. The design that best meets these criteria will be fully funded to complete the design of the device.

The large biomedical engineering company that you work for has decided to compete for funding for this project. The company’s strategy is to construct a mammalian-cell based device that is capable of detecting the Ebola virus. Your team is responsible for developing the detection assay. Other teams will be responsible for implementing this assay in the field (hint: you will have to have a basic understanding of what Ebola does to the immune system to create your assay).

Your proposal (< 2 pages, excluding figures) must include a description of the following:

(1) the cell type(s) used

(2) the enzyme(s) or proteins to be detected

(3) how the level of enzyme activity will be quantitatively measured

(4) a figure that allows one to correlate the level of enzyme activity to the concentration Ebola virus

The Social Stigma of Surviving Ebola

(background) The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has claimed more than 1000 lives so far. More than 1800 people, mostly in Guinea, are suspected of having caught the illness, which causes horrific suffering, including bursting blood vessels and bleeding from ears and other orifices. There is no vaccine, no treatment and the disease is almost always fatal. But a handful of the infected do survive. Unfortunately for the lucky few, the stink of stigma lingers long after the virus has been purged from their bodies.

“Thanks be to God, I am cured. But now I have a new disease: the stigmatization that I am a victim of,” said the Guinean doctor, who spoke to The Associated Press but refused to give his name for fear of further problems the publicity would cause him and his family. “This disease (the stigma) is worse than the fever.” Surviving Ebola is a matter of staying alive long enough to have the chance to develop enough antibodies to fight off the virus, said David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

That’s because it’s typically the symptoms of Ebola — severe fever, hemorrhaging, dehydration, respiratory problems — that kills a patient.

Even though he has been cleared of Ebola, the doctor says that people avoid him. “Now, everywhere in my neighborhood, all the looks bore into me like I’m the plague,” he said. People leave places when he shows up. No one will shake his hand or eat with him. His own brothers are accusing him of putting their family in danger.

Stigma often accompanies the spread of deadly, poorly understood diseases, said Meredith Stakem, a health and nutrition adviser for Catholic Relief Services in West Africa, noting that the terrified reaction to Ebola recalls the early days of the HIV epidemic. The families of those who die from Ebola face similar problems.

Aziz Soumah, who lives in a suburb of the Guinean capital of Conakry, said his family was forced to move after his brother died, apparently from Ebola.

“I went to pray at the mosque. As soon as I entered, all the worshippers left the mosque,” recounted Soumah, a 30-year-old engineer. “I was alone. No one around me.”

International health organizations are doing extensive community outreach to explain how the disease is transmitted — only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of symptomatic people — and to explain that those cured are no longer contagious.

Your proposal must include a description of the following:

  1. Strategy for reintroduction of the patient to their community – what strategies will you use to return the discharged patient to his community safely and at the same time letting the community know that you believe the patient to be “cured” and safe for reintroduction.
  2. Education and awareness for members of the community about the disease and how it’s spread – what strategy will you use to address the misconceptions of the community with regards to Ebola and how it’s spread.