Since PEF's first STEM Fellows cohort launched in 2012, the Innovation Hub has been identified as a local, regional, and national leader in teacher professional development. While the work has certainly extended far and beyond traditional teacher PD, one of the core tenants of the hub has been to provided educators with innovative opportunities to expand their capacity to develop and deliver highly effective learning opportunities for their students. Central to this endeavor has been a focus to provide teachers with the time, space, and resources necessary to refine and enhance effective Problem and Project Based Learning (PBL) strategies. Whether specific to a particular standard, or encompassing an entire unit worth of learning targets, PBL best practices have played a critical role in the instructional development work delivered through the hub.
As teachers in the region have participated in various cohort programs (i.e. iPLC and STEM Fellows), a common question has emerged, "How can teachers begin to implement PBL strategies if their school has not completely jumped on board yet?" Most schools have a number of legitimate barriers that make fully integrated, interdisciplinary PBL extremely difficult to implement. In these situations, forward thinking educators are eager to maximize learning through PBL, but they face a significant challenge when trying to scale down fully integrated PBL strategies and leverage the benefits within the isolation of their individual classroom.
To mitigate this challenge, it is important to understand the rationale behind why PBL is consistently championed as a high-level instructional strategy. At its core, PBL formalizes the creation of an inquiry-based learning environment which facilitates opportunities for students to engage in higher, more personalized levels of learning. For teachers who are struggling to fully embed PBL in their classroom and/or school, consider starting small. While it is certainly reasonable to start by simply evolving a single lesson into a mini-PBL experience, utilizing Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLEs) is emerging as an interesting alternative entry point into PBL integration.
Developed from research conducted by renowned Educational Researcher, Dr. Sugata Mitra, and inspired by Dr. Mitra's 2013 TED Talk, "Build a School in the Cloud," SOLEs provide students and teachers with an engaging, effective, and easy structure to develop a culture of inquiry in the classroom. According to Dr. Jeff McClellan of SOLE Cleveland, "SOLEs are created when educators encourage students to work as a community to answer vibrant and challenging questions by using the internet." It sounds simple...because it is! A handful of schools across the country are beginning to use SOLE's to develop a culture of inquiry that they hope to eventually use as the entry point for fully integrated PBL environments.
For more information about how you can begin using SOLEs in your school/classroom? Check out the wonderful FREE resources at www.solecle.com.