Amy Short (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Assistant Director of Library Media Services at Cambridge Public Schools and a 2019 recipient of the Peggy Hallisey Lifetime Achievement award.
Kendall Boninti (email@example.com) is a Library Media Specialist at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.
“It's no secret that teacher librarians are leaders. Teacher librarians work with all members of the learning community--students, teachers and administrators. They are uniquely situated to be educational leaders within their school communities. They have a valuable skill set as instructional leaders” (Kleinmeyer).
Kendall and Nicole Hart, Instructional Technology Specialist at CRLS, have been collaborating for a number of years and recognized a need for more integrated, hands-on, real world learning opportunities for students and teachers. Through discussions with many CRLS teachers, Kendall and Nicole knew that their colleagues recognized this need as well. Equipped with this knowledge and with the full support of CRLS and district administration, Kendall and Nicole embarked on a collaborative adventure to promote project based learning (PBL) at CRLS. Their foray into PBL began with a field trip to the Changemaker Academy, an interdisciplinary PBL-focused program at Waltham High School. Kendall and Nicole were accompanied by teachers in a variety of disciplines who yearned for opportunities to see PBL in action in their own classrooms and across the school. They all left inspired and wondering how they could get this off the ground at CRLS.
Kendall and Nicole wanted to capitalize on this momentum. Even though they felt they were not experts in PBL, they decided to design and facilitate a professional learning course for CRLS educators. The focus of this 20-hour course, currently running at CRLS this year, is to walk educators through the project based learning experience while developing PBL curriculum for their students. Kendall and Nicole knew that they would be learning alongside their colleagues, so they wanted to bring in outside collaborators to help move the learning and work forward. They were lucky enough to partner with community organizations, such as Harvard's Right Question Institute, MIT's Playful Journey Lab, Allyson McHugh and Emilie Perna of Waltham High School's Changemaker Academy, Edutopia, as well as with colleagues such as our Cambridge Public Schools District Innovation Coach and local design-thinking expert Angie UyHam. Kendall and Nicole designed an ambitious syllabus for the course with the goal of providing CRLS educators with the tools to implement project based learning into their classroom planning and activities as soon as the next day. Thus far, the course has inspired participants to change their practice in a number of ways. For instance, after the session with Harvard’s Right Question Institute about how to incorporate the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) into classroom discussions, many of the participants changed upcoming lesson plans to instead try QFT with their classes. Spanish Teacher Alejandro Hernandez tried QFT with his class the next day and reported back, "So I did the Right Questioning process we learned yesterday in my Spanish classes and we had a blast! A completely positive experience; the students loved it. Great stuff. Thank you for inviting me to the workshop yesterday."
While this course is still in progress this year, it has already inspired participants to examine their current practice and make some effective changes using PBL techniques. Moving forward, the plan is for participants to use a portion of the 20 hours of course time to plan a specific PBL project to incorporate into their courses for next year. Time will be given to plan, revise, and receive targeted feedback from colleagues on these projects.
To make room for the expected increase in PBL projects across the curriculum, Kendall, Emily, Nicole and Paige Graves (CRLS Instructional Technology Specialist) have also collaborated to transform the CRLS Library facility to make it a more collaborative, student focused, and inquiry driven space. To introduce the new Inquiry Lab and spark ideas for how it could be used, Kendall, Emily, Nicole and Paige taught multiple sessions during Assigned Professional Time (APT) to introduce CRLS educators to the space and materials and generate ways that it could be incorporated into their class projects. In feedback collected after these APT sessions, teachers expressed enthusiasm for using the space with students. Since then and in the span of a few short weeks, some exciting learning has already occurred in the new space. A brief sample of the creative, engaging and collaborative projects teachers have already used the Inquiry Lab for includes:
- An SEI History Class conducted research and created 3D interactive timelines to highlight important historical events and their impact on American History.
- A Statistics class designed board games to determine the statistical probability of winning. Students also built public service announcements on WeVideo and designed pamphlets on LucidPress to raise awareness about the dangers of casinos.
- World Language students constructed dream homes and presented AirBNB advertisements in Spanish.
- Students in the Health Assisting Program deepened their understanding of infectious diseases by building 3D models of bacteria, fungi, or viruses.
The work that Kendall, Emily, Nicole and Paige have undertaken to further PBL at CRLS as well as to create, promote and collaborate in the new CRLS Library Inquiry Lab are clear examples of how librarians successfully partner with colleagues and lead from within to build collaborative relationships, further engaging and culturally responsive instruction, advocate for students’ needs and best interests, and begin to change the face of instruction in the school community.
For more information, please see the following Recommended Reading for Getting Started with PBL:
- Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning by John Larmer, John Mergendoller, Suzie Boss
Sheds light on how to master the art of inquiry through questioning. The book explores several important questions: "Why aren't we nurturing kids' natural ability to question-and what can parents do about that? Since questioning is a starting point for innovation, how might companies and business leaders begin to encourage and exploit it? How can each of us reignite that questioning spark-and use inquiry as a powerful means to rethink and reinvent our lives?"
- Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana
- Launch: Using Design Thinking to Book Creativity and Bring Out The Maker in Every Student by John Spencer and A.J.Juliani
- Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity Through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play by Mitch Resnick