My PBL journey began when I was working with a team to open a new elementary school in Colorado. Most of our core design team had been trained in International Baccalaureate (IB) and already knew the power of inquiry in classrooms. When my principal, Carrie Stephenson, introduced us to PBL and the Buck Institute for Education (BIE), we knew we had found something really incredible. We self-trained the first year, using materials from BIE. We were starting to see our students become really engaged as learners and our educators even more excited about teaching. Our Parent - Teacher Organization was also recognizing the shift and wanted to help us learn even more. They offered to fund the registration and travel fees for a team from our school to attend PBLWorld in 2012. I was so thankful and excited to join the crew of teachers selected to go.
While it’s been 10 years since I attended PBLWorld as a participant, I still remember the distinct feeling I had at the end of every day - I was mentally exhausted and cognitively full, but still craving more learning. I was eager to return each day, knowing that the learning I was engaging in and the project I was designing would have such an incredible impact on my students. The keynote speakers each morning ignited my energy. Their words were so connected to our focus within the workshop and they caused me to deeply reflect on my practice. The way the PBL 101 workshop was designed allowed each of us to experience a project in the same way our students would in our classrooms. The learning was authentic, meaningful, and scaffolded beautifully. Each learning experience contributed to my overall understanding of how to design and facilitate Project Based Learning.
Following each day of the workshop, my school team gathered to debrief and reflect. Those conversations were my favorite - we couldn’t stop thinking of new ideas that we wanted to implement back at school. The learning was more than just about a project - it was changing the way we were thinking about education as a whole. PBL was shifting the culture of our team and school.
What made our experience even more powerful was the National Faculty member, Jenn Cruz, facilitating our workshop. She recognized the expertise we had coming into the event and she coached us to go deeper, think differently, and expand our projects to be even better. I watched her effortlessly differentiate learning and support each and every person in the room. I remember thinking, “I want to be her some day.”
The impact that she had on me as a participant ended up being life changing. Throughout the next school year, my love of PBL continued to grow. My students were so stoked about the learning we were doing in school that they went home and continued to dig in. I knew then that I needed to share my experience with other teachers and help them find the joy that I was feeling. I was accepted into the National Faculty in 2014 and began facilitating workshops for educators all over the country. In 2015, I was asked to facilitate at PBLWorld. The feeling I had then was like no other - it was surreal. My dream of being like Jenn had come true.
As a facilitator, I strive to recreate the experience that I had as a learner at PBLWorld. I want my participants to end each day feeling like each minute was purposeful and leave them wanting even more. I tell them that it’s really selfish work. For as much as I offer to my participants, I always gain something from them. I learn so much from the stories they share about their students, their experiences, and the projects they design. There really is nothing better.
I look forward to PBLWorld every year. From the keynotes to the social events, there’s something every participant will love. For me, the most powerful piece is connecting with educators that all have similar goals for their students. There’s a synergy and excitement that’s hard to describe. The connections I’ve made with other teachers there have had lasting impacts on my practice and I’m so incredibly thankful for them.