PBL Academy 101

I had the most inspiring 2 day conference in Atlanta this week. I attended PBL 101 with the Buck Institute and can honestly say that I am inspired. We had 2 amazing Keynote Speakers, one each morning, to start the day. Yesterday morning, we were introduced to Stephen Ritz and his organization, Green Bronx Machine. To say that this man and his mission are awe-inspiring is an understatement. I don’t think I have ever come across a more influential educator in all my life. Steve lives in South Bronx, which is arguably one of the poorest areas in our country. According to Steve, “Green Bronx Machine was born via collaboration between life-long educator Stephen Ritz and his students who observed that as waistlines expanded, engagement and opportunities in school decreased, school performance suffered, and hope and ambition became minimized. Originally an after-school, alternative program for high school students, Green Bronx Machine has evolved into K-12+ model fully integrated into core curriculum. Our students grow, eat and love their vegetables en route to spectacular academic performance. 30,000 pounds of Bronx vegetables later, our favorite crops include healthy students, high performing schools, graduates, registered voters, living wage jobs and members of the middle class.” I highly recommend that you take a few moments and find his youtube channel or Ted Talks. He is busting with energy and his magnetism is contagious. You can access most of his videos here, my personal favorite is “Meet Green Bronx Machine”.

Our Keynote speaker this morning was Sam Seidel who shared his passion for the High School of Recording Arts in Minnesota with us. HSRA is dedicated to providing all young people a chance to realize their full potential, despite any previous setbacks. “As we engage students through music and the exploration and operation of the music business, we demonstrate that core learning areas and real world, 21st century skills can be acquired at the same time. More than just earning a high school diploma, HSRA prepares students for a positive post-secondary education and life”. Sam has an incredible career history that has taken him across the country and back looking at alternate forms of education and began his questioning of how education is approached in this country. His experience and passion for hip hop helped formulate relationships when he was working with incarcerated youth in the prison system.

Sam now works with several networks of innovative schools, speaks nationally about education issues, and writes for Husslington Post. I found Sam to be inspiring in different ways that Steven. The questions Sam asked  were thought provoking and required introspection on my part.

Both of these Keynote speakers set us up for creative days of reflection and creation in our small groups. I had the pleasure of working with Dayna Laur who is a member of the National Faculty for the Buck Institute. Dayna has been a classroom teacher for about 14 years before she stepped out and began doing educational consulting for organizations like the Buck Institute. We spent the next 2 days working through the 8 Essential Steps of creating an authentic and influential project to enhance, and in most cases, develop student learning. I really enjoyed working with Dayna. She is so knowledgable on this subject and in this area and she really ignited good conversation between the individuals in our group. By the end of the 2nd day we were all freely sharing and collaborating with one another.

I really loved having this opportunity to develop the PBL projects that I have implemented into my curriculum this year. The meat of what I have is good, but I really needed to focus on the pre/post project work which is arguably just as or even more important. Having these 2 days “off” from my classes and family gave me a LOT of time to really focus on my goals and my projects so much so that I am feeling much better about them for next year.

WWW.BIE.ORG is a great website for resources on implementation of PBL practices into your classroom or school, but I really do recommend attending the workshop if you can. It is so great to step outside of our busy lives for just a day or two to focus on our craft so intently.