Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Systemwide Implementation of Project-Based Learning: The Philadelphia Approach

Schwalm, J., & Tylek, K. S. (2012). Systemwide Implementation of Project-Based Learning: The Philadelphia Approach. Afterschool Matters, 15, 1-8.

The article lays out Philadelphia's plan to bring project-based learning to their schools and improve student engagement. In it they describe Philadelphia’s system wide approach to project-based learning and their plan to bring PBL to their students through their after-school program. They begin by defining what project based learning is and what it will look like in practice in Philadelphia. In order to convince the reader that it is worth bringing PBL to students, the article goes through the benefits of PBL and why they will use it in their out-of-school-time (OST) program.In order to better understand systemwide implementation they go through the history, documentation, project timelines, and supports for the system. In discussing successes they outline improvement for the OST program through incorporating, youth voice, developing students 21st century skills, offering structured activities, and improving staff development. The article is frank about tensions and issues, citing that some students are in need of homework help, tutoring and skill building instead of working on projects. They also continue to discuss the issues with staff buy-in and how the program seemed to look worse in the cases where buy-in was low.

They went on to recommend the implementation of a pilot program to work out issues before going systemwide. Setting clear expectations, focusing on staff training and reaching out to parents so that they understand were also recommendations. When they saw these recommendations being follow the classes seemed to be most rigorous and the products were of a higher quality.

“PBL gives after-school programs an opportunity to integrate rigorous academic content without losing the fun and informality of OST programming. At the end of a long school day, many students have a natural desire to move and play; they may be less open to teacher-driven instruction.”
“Since the introduction of PBL in fall 2009, PHMC has delivered more than 80 sessions of PBL workshops to more than 1,000 OST staff. These workshops range from basic courses outlining the driving philosophy of PBL and the rudiments of PBL implementation to more advanced workshops that suggest strategies for the incorporation of literacy, youth leadership, and higher-order thinking skills.”
“Successful PBL requires the effective participation of an engaged staff. PHMC program specialists observed that poor implementation often resulted when staff members were not well trained or were not committed to PBL. In Philadelphia, sometimes lack of staff buy-in re­ sulted from simple confusion. After the train-the-trainer workshop in June 2009, some site directors were more successful than others in relaying the content to their own staff. Additionally, turnover in the months between June and October left some sites without any staff trained in PBL.”
“Afterschool program hours can be frustratingly short, and OST providers must balance traditional OST programming—snack, homework help, and physical activity—with PBL activities. Initially many Philadelphia OST providers saw PBL as another scheduling demand to be incorporated into an already overcrowded day.”

Philadelphia laid out a clear plan to get project based learning in schools and they discuss the ups and downs of their program. I really appreciate how straight forward they were because I think it is really important to consider pitfalls and challenges that will arise. I didn’t think that they had enough evaluation of their system. They just seemed happy to bring PBL to students without actual looking into how good of a job they were doing.

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