PBL being a favorite topic here, I am always excited to learn new opportunities and applications for project based learning in our classroom.  NAIS,  in its own hard thinking about the future of education,  has identified high level, academically rigorous PBL as a centerpiece of the educational program of Schools of the Future.

Project-based learning, as an integral part of the school’s program, [should be] woven throughout all grade levels and disciplines.

My emphasis has been primarily on PBL with Web 2.0 technologies, as best demonstrated in the work of New Tech Network schools, which I have visited several times, and in the writings of Suzie Boss, which I have written about often.

But often it is great to set aside the computer (says the blogger who really ought to be packing right now for NAIS), and facilitate our students in making stuff from scratch with their own hands, knowing that this requires a thoughtful and thorough process of planning, preparation, design, collaboration, analysis, and action, and results.

I’m inspired by a both a short session I enjoyed recently at Educon by Laura Deisly (below) and a recent EdWeek article, Encouraging the Hand-Mind Connection in the Classroom.

One of the defining characteristics of our species: Our ability to construct the things we need to understand and function in our lives. How did we manage to get so far off course, to take something that is so quintessentially human and make it so alien?

Fortunately, there is a quiet revolution—called the Maker Movement—that is deeply rooted in these natural instincts and is unfolding in communities across the country. With the potential to transform STEM learning, the movement has been spurred largely by the success of Make magazine and its creation, Maker Faires.   The Maker Movement “begins with the makers themselves—who find making, tinkering, inventing, problem-solving, discovering, and sharing intrinsically rewarding.”

Innovation requires a mindset of tinkering, practicing, experimenting, and more than thinking alone, actually doing.   The maker movement is aligned with all this, and our schools can do well, as this article advocates, to learn from the passion unleashed in the makers movement.   President Obama gets this, tying a direct line from the innovation revolution our nation needs and practical tinkering in our school laboratories:

Innovation, particularly in the STEM fields, has emerged as a rallying cry of the Obama administration. In his April 2009 address to the National Academy of Sciences, the president urged, “I want all of us to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent—to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.”

By creating spaces where individuals can dig deeply into their passions and take time to explore, tinker, and invent with like-minded others, the maker movement affirms the kind of deep learning that matters.

Two resources in particular are identified and emphasized by the article’s authors.   One is the movement of Big Picture Schools, a network I greatly desire to learn more about; we learn here that they have a pedagogical practice they like to call, and I think I love this (I need to roll it around in my head a little longer), called “Thinkering.”

A second resource comes in the form of RAFT: Resource Area for Teaching.

RAFT’s mission is to help educators transform the learning experience through “hands-on” education that inspires the joy and discovery of learning. We are doing this today with over 10,000 educators in the classroom, doing home-schooling, or working in after-school or community-based programs. RAFT’s products, services and low-cost teaching supplies enrich and improve the education of over 825,000 young people each year.   “Hands-on” education translates abstract and complex subjects into activities that young learners, literally, can grasp, and nurtures their natural inquisitive and interactive traits.

At St. Gregory, while we work to advance the use of PBL-T across the curriculum, we have one particular initiative in promoting “thinkering,” an exciting course I have written about here often before called Design/Build Tech Innovation.  A pure PBL course in our loaded Physics Lab, students design and build, and tinker all the day long.   Just because I love it so, I’ll repost here the student Trebuchet video at bottom.  One of our ongoing projects at St. Gregory is to identify ways we can expand the learning happening in our Design Build more broadly– to the middle school, and to other areas of the curricular and co-curricular program.

Laura Deisly has one of the more exciting job titles in world of NAIS; she is Director of 21st Century Learning, The Lovett School, Atlanta, GA.   Her blog, Architecture of Ideas, is a great resource, and highly recommended.   I’m embedding below her slides from her five minute Ignite session at Educon: the slides are mostly photos, so her inspiring words which accompanied them are unavailable, but the pictures tell a story: a story of students engaged and actively learning while they Ask-Imagine-Plan-Create-Improve.