Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why do Hoosiers have a hankering for PBL?

THE VIEW FROM 30,000 FEET | David Ross

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog that cast a spotlight on the incredible growth of PBL in Texas. I received a ton of emails from Texans who said, “heck yeah, we rock. “The second biggest pile of emails came from Indiana. They all contained one question: “What about us?”

Good point. At the moment, Indiana is the golden child of PBL.

Our friends in the New Tech Network are opening their 19th school in the state. California, where the network was born, has seven. There are two, that’s right, two PBL conferences in the Hoosier state each year. The first is sponsored by the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL) at the University of Indianapolis; the second, called the PBL Academy, is a joint project of Indiana University and EcO15, an initiative of business, education and community leaders to advance K-12 education in southeastern Indiana.

BIE has been flexing its muscles in Indiana, too. This summer we facilitated workshops for more than 700 teachers and administrators through a grant program funded by the Lilly Endowment’s Talent Initiative.

There’s more. We are collaborating with the Talent Initiative on a documentary film that will portray a year in the life of teachers and students experiencing PBL for the first time. This summer, again in partnership with the Talent Initiative, we launched our first Best Project contest, a regional competition in northeast Indiana. The winners of that contest will receive cash awards and see their work appear prominently on the BIE website next June.

So why Indiana?

As usual, I turned to the source to find out why Indiana has a hankering for PBL.

My initial curiosity was focused on Indiana’s ability to host two PBL conferences when no one else, including BIE, can manage to deliver one. I confess to an ulterior motive because I have a dream that BIE will host a national PBL conference. I sent a message to Lynn Lupold, Fellow for Strategic Initiatives at CELL, asking her to explain the process.

“CELL began hosting an annual PBL Institute where teachers collaborated and learned the process and crafted units,” said Lynn. “This Institute cultivated even more interest and over the course of the last three years has grown exponentially. Indiana educators have seen the success of this methodology and implementation growth continues to increase.”

Amy Leeson, the Region 8 ESC Program Coordinator in Fort Wayne, takes a different tack. She cites the New Tech invasion as a PBL beachhead. “By August 2011, Northeast Indiana will have the most New Tech High Schools in the country,” she explained. “For those school corporations who have middle schools and elementary schools feeding into these high schools, they see the need to prepare their elementary and middle schools students for the rigors of New Tech and PBL is a key way to do this.”

Amy also drew attention to a phenomenon that BIE has been tracking. “School districts that do not have a New Tech High School do recognize the importance of the 21st Century Skills that students need to be successful when they leave high schools, “she said. “These schools see PBL as a way to ensure that all their students have these skills. “

I called Brad Sever, an 8th grade social studies teacher at Creekside Middle School in Carmel to get the classroom perspective. Brad, a thoughtful practitioner, focuses on the skills students will need to be successful in college, career and citizenship. “Project Based Learning encompassed so many best practices that Indiana educators simply could not turn their back to this methodology,” Brad explained. “Collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, relevant inquiry, written and oral communication are all aspects of PBL and Indiana educators quickly made that connection.”

I’m pretty sure that California educators can make that connection, too. What are we waiting for? It sure ain’t Superman.

David Ross
Director of Teacher Professional Development
& Dean of National Faculty


  1. I'm a brand new curriculum director for our district (previously a second-grade teacher). Yesterday, our 8th grade Honors Science teacher invited me to observe her class during her first initial PBL lesson. The students were engaged and excited. Honestly, it made me want to take part in the project! I'm embarrassed to say that I have little previous knowledge of PBL, but am anxious to learn as it definitely seems the direction we need to take our students to be successful in life after high school.
    Proud to be a Hoosier,
    Janelle McLaughlin

  2. David, PBL is alive and well in SW Indiana also. In Evansville, we have one NTI and I work at a middle school that implemented PBL this summer. We were trained by BIE. I am also proud to be a Hoosier,
    Dianne Matheis