What should I ask principals of problem-based learning schools? [HELP WANTED]

I want to interview principals of schools that are dedicated to problem-, inquiry-, and/or challenge-based learning. You know, schools like those in the New Tech, Expeditionary Learning, Big Picture, and other similar networks. In particular, I’m interested in how they’re balancing their hands-on, student-directed learning missions with the demands of NCLB, AYP, and other external accountability policy mechanisms.

Do they care about accountability assessments? Do they even pay attention to them? How do their students do on those exams? And so on…

We’re creating our interview protocol right now. What would YOU ask them related to implementation, instruction, curriculum, and/or assessment? Thanks for any suggestions you can provide!

18 Responses to “What should I ask principals of problem-based learning schools? [HELP WANTED]”

  1. Hi Scott,
    You might want to post your query in the Edmodo community for PBL: http://www.edmodo.com/publisher/biepbl
    I’ll look forward to hearing what you discover!

  2. Ask about attendance, ask about parental feedback, ask if they’ve tracked post-secondary success, ask if they have compared or could compare standardized test scores for their students with those for a comparable non-PBL school, ask what their interactions have been with teachers, ask how much technology has impacted the PBL efforts, and ask if they’d do it again if they had the chance to reconsider.

  3. Great suggestions from both of you. Thank you. Keep ’em coming!

  4. I would ask about teacher satisfaction.

    I would ask about misconceptions about PBL ( e.g. Do the kids read as many books?).

    I would ask about the impact or lack of impact of technology integration.

  5. I’m curious how projects / challenges are vetted.

    I’m frustrated by pointlessly simple challenges (calculate how many m&m’s are in the jar – tell me again how this is relevant to a real world situation?) but also pointlessly huge ones as well (design a school or design a Mars habitat – students will likely never actually have the chance to do either of these things).

    Thanks for asking – interested in your results.

  6. Ask the leaders to share with you the path of change at their school. At some point, the school could have been a more of a ‘traditional instructional model.’ When the transition to PBL occurred, what was the impetus? What was the communication and training plan for the teachers? What was the communication and training plan for the parent? And how are both of these communications & training plans continued today to ensure success?

  7. Thank you for the continued stream of excellent suggestions. Much appreciated!

  8. How would these leaders counter James Hattie’s meta-research that claims problem-based learning has little effect on student learning?

  9. Hi again, Scott. In the grad course I teach on PBL, the most common question is: does the depth of knowledge on key topics involved in PBL help students on standardized tests? In other words, is knowing a lot about the important topics better than knowing a little about all the topics?

  10. You must ask them how PBL improves performance on standardized testing. It’s sad to have to ask, but that’s what many administrators will want to know.

  11. Scott,
    I would ask them how they would respond to the AFT “American Educator cover story” that says discovery, inquiry, problem-based, passion-based and other constructivist learning theories have been “proven” to not be as effective as “fully guided instruction.” How do they defend themselves?

  12. All great suggestions. Much appreciated.

    Michael, I saw that article too and need to unpack it a bit. It doesn’t make sense to me on its face. I believe there’s LOTS of research out there on the value of discovery-oriented and/or constructivist learning. So I’ll have to dig into those references…

  13. I just read quickly the “fully guided” compared with “partially guided or PBL” portion of the article. To me, the way I believe PBL should be facilitated, it’s “partially guided” ONLY AFTER a “fully guided” directly connect portion of the effort.

    Consider the following: I do not consider doing PBL on any topic or field UNTIL the CORE KNOWLEDGE is effectively learned by the students doing the PBL efforts. In other words, I would not go into what amounts to PBL efforts until I MYSELF knew the core information that would enable me to gather, understand, organize, evaluate, and use new information and/or talk with experts and be able to understand, organize, evaluate, and use new information gained – MY DEFINITION OF CORE KNOWLEDGE.

    Therefore, when working with students, I FIRST facilitate the effective learning of CORE KNOWLEDGE. My current favored pedagogy is the flipped classroom approach. Regardless of choice, the associated core knowledge efforts are “FULLY GUIDED” and I would believe a necessary component of any PBL effort – in formal education settings or later in career or personal life informal (but required) settings.

    BOTTOM LINE: I firmly believe the AFT article authors and/or the cited reference authors mischaracterized PBL: as I would expect with and approach to effective learning, it will begin with “fully guided” and transition when appropriate to “partially guided” – and hopefully eventually “UNGUIDED” as I might characterize peer-reviewed research efforts!

  14. Scott, I would love to talk to you about our program. We are an expeditionary learning school that is 1:1. There is a feature about our work in Principal Leadership from October. You can also see more about us @mrhmiddleschool or our YouTube page search mrhmiddleschool.

  15. Keep in mind that there is “problem-based learning” and “project-based learning”. Two different animals. I believe John nicely explains the true nature of the latter.

  16. We created an interview protocol for teachers using PBL to teach computer science a while back. A few of the questions we will be asking might spark ideas about questions you might want to ask school leaders, so here it goes:

    What are your thoughts about problem-based learning now that you’ve used it to teach this course?

    Would you or wouldn’t you use PBL when teaching another course in the future? Why/Why not?

    Please describe to me what was effective about the course overall.

    What things didn’t work well?

    What was particularly challenging in teaching this course?

    How can we prepare future teachers to teach this course?

    Describe your teaching philosophy to me.

    How do you see your role in your classroom?

  17. Is there a difference between how a PBL is done with lower elementary students than students in upper grades? (lower elementary students are still acquiring skills such as learning to read, learning to choose operations in math, etc)
    How does PBL allow students to be prepared for state standardized testing? (not that we teach to the test)

  18. Hi again,
    Good comments here. I’m curious about the system changes necessary for PBL to take hold. Do changes need to happen first (i.e., block scheduling, time for teacher collaboration), or can a handful teachers get PBL underway–and then the system evolves in support of their efforts?
    Also, how do school leaders communicate with parents and others in the community about PBL? (And how do they respond if they encounter push back?)

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