The value of PBL

In a world where knowledge is growing at a rapid pace, tomorrow’s leaders need to be experts at using available information rather than merely memorizing facts. The Expert Thinking Model teaches children to integrate skills, apply knowledge, and work in teams to solve real-world problems.

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Dan Ohl, middle school math

“It drives the kids crazy,” says middle school teacher Dan Ohl with a wicked grin, when speaking of project-based learning (PBL). This longtime faculty member, who recently completed the Friends Council on Education’s two-year leadership development program, embraces PBL in his classroom. “PBL asks students to use classroom skills to solve real-world questions,” he explains. Students don’t receive an assignment; they design it. “At first, they want me to tell them what to do,” he laughs, “but before they know it, they find they like building the process, and they’re even prouder of the result.”

When it was time to introduce the Pythagorean Theorem, Dan withheld the well-known formula (a2+b2=c2), instead challenging students to discover it on their own.  They could use any resource, with one exception: a teacher could not ‘teach’ them.  Students raced to the Three Oaks Woodshop; others searched online woodworking forums. One phoned an uncle who worked construction and before long was explaining the time-tested carpenter’s ‘3-4-5’ rule to her peers. Using their new knowledge, students were soon creating right angles on the floor with lengths of wood.  The resulting discussion of Pythagorean primitive triples held deeper and more lasting understanding for each individual.

“With PBL, students stretch outside their comfort zone and wrestle with difficult questions with no clear answers,” Dan says. “I’m inspired by the skills and confidence they gain.”

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