Project-Based Learning

Published on: Author: bette Leave a comment

We’re on the road again and today find ourselves in Redwood City, California.  We parked the RV at Paul and Debbie’s house and have spent the past 11 days with the grandchildren:  Mason (7), Reese (5), and Miles (2).   I had a chance last week to spend some time at Adalante School, the Spanish Immersion School in Redwood City where Reese is in Kindergarten and Mason is in the second grade.  The program there is fairly traditional except for the fact that everyone  is  (or is quickly becoming) bilingual.  Finally a program that is teaching a second language at a time when the brain is really ready to learn it!


But that’s not why I began to write this morning.  After seeing Mason at school, I became curious about Roosevelt School – the “Project-Based Learning” (PBL) elementary school in Redwood City.

So on Thursday I called to see if I could come visit on such short notice.  Luckily, one first grade class had just finished a project unit and the principal invited me to come see what they had accomplished.  I could go on and on about the experience . . . but it definitely lived up to what I read on one of the school’s websites:

In addition to watching a wonderful group of children demonstrating self-management skills that I’ve seldom seen in first graders, I got a chance to ask the principle, Trish Girardi,  questions about implementation that I’ve had since Laura Kiker (Ancheta) and I spoke at the Autodesk PBL Conference in San Francisco in 1999.    Below are some of the questions I asked:


  1. How did you get 100% teacher buy-in?      Before implementing PBL in 2007, teachers, parents, and administration researched many programs as part of a revitalization program for Roosevelt.  They had suffered declining enrollment that threatened to close the school.     After deciding upon PBL, and after introductory training for the entire staff, one teacher at each grade level could volunteer for more intensive training and participate during the first year pilot program.   The school board voted to expand the program schoolwide in 2010.  On-going staff development has brought all teachers on board.
  2. What sort of staff development was done before and during implementation?      Roosevelt has partnered with the Buck Institute and staff development has been on-going.  After intensive training for the teachers who had volunteered during the first year, all teachers were included in the Buck Institute trainings.
  3. How do the parents feel about the program?  Parents have been enthusiastic about PBL  as evidenced by the percentage of participation and involvement in schoolwide projects and events.  Almost every parent attended the presentation I saw on Friday.  See for more information.
  4. How are your test scores – and how do they reflect the learning that you see going on?     Compared to other schools in Redwood City, Roosevelt’s test scores have typically been low.  This, sadly,  has accounted for the declining enrollment.   Ms. Girardi, however commented that she does not believe their  test scores tell the whole story.   The level of engagement and enthusiasm I witnessed in the first grade presentation showed learning that will not be forgotten after the “test” is given.   Since PBL has only been school-wide for one year and only implemented for Science and Social Studies, it is not surprising that test scores have not caught up with the learning that is taking place.  Teachers are already including reading, writing, and math in their projects just because it comes naturally to do so.   This is the sort of learning that “sticks” and test scores will follow.



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