Thursday, June 14, 2012

Introducing Problem Based Learning

It's all fine and good to want our students to participate in lessons which involve critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration; but we as admiistrators can't expect this to happen without properly educating teachers in the execution of these methods.

In researching teacher preperation programs in higher education institutions, I've learned that they do a lot of things well. However, modeling 21st Century skills are not one of them. Though I am certain this is going to change, I'm not particularly certain when this change is going to take place.

The last week of school is a WONDERFUL time to try new things. Teachers don't have the stress of standardized assessments and are willing to try anything that will keep their students occupied during these final days.

This year, we participated in Olympic-themed activities during the final days of school. It was a great event. It included a health fair, athletic events, and a "Cerebral Olympics"which included team-based problem solving activities that excited and engaged students and teachers. These activities were simple: egg-drop, card tower, and marshmallow challenge (

Teachers were apprehensive about the project when the Olympic committee decided to incorporate these activities. They were worried about unruly students, making a mess, finding the materials, and having to present the lesson.

If you want your teachers to do something that may take them out of their comfort zone, it is helpful to provide teachers with introductory lessons that result in a positive experience for all involved. I did this by doing the following:
  • The entire grade level did the same activitiy. This way teachers were able to share their experiences with one another.
  • Teachers received the plans and materials in advance. In addition, they did not have to do any prep work. Materials were packaged in brown paper bags. Teachers simply had to divide the class into teams and give each team a bag.
  • Lesson plans were only one page long. Things longer than a page don't always get read from beginning to end.
The activities were so successful that teachers are now eager to incorporate more of these activties into their teaching and learning in the fall. It will be up to me as an administrator to keep this momentum going by slowly releasing the responsibility of developing and implementing these lessons to the teachers I work with; just as the teachers need to gradually release the same process to their students. After all, the best way to learn is to do.

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