We’re being asked if we have or know of any PBL projects about racism.

I’m sure PBL teachers are thinking of the many potential driving questions for projects about systemic racism, the killing of George Floyd and so many other Black people, on the protests, on policing…

And we’ll no doubt be coming up with projects specifically on these topics to add to our project library. In the meantime, here are a few projects from our library that you might use to focus on any of these topics...

We're also eager to share the story of a new project that launched this spring...

Back in April, one of our National Faculty members, Alicia Peletz, told us about a project for remote learning being done by teachers she works with that perfectly suits this moment.

The “Breaking Bias” project was conducted at three different high schools, with the goal “to listen and learn from one another to better equip ourselves to disarm bias in the future.”

In addition to racial bias, I can imagine many applications for the basic idea: connect high school students from varying communities to engage in dialogue.

Here’s how it's described in the project overview: “As we enter into this unprecedented time in our history, due to the Coronavirus, we want to take time to look inward in order to affect change in our line of thinking. Oftentimes, the conversations we most need to have are the ones we are the most uncomfortable to discuss with others. To change this, we want to increase understanding by learning about diverse perspectives from others around the country through a dialogue based on a shared understanding and experience through the help of Flipgrid.”

The project was a joint venture between Liberty North High School in Liberty, Missouri; Young Women’s College Prep in Rochester, New York; and Henderson Inclusion School in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

The project took place across all three schools from April 6 to May 7, 2020.

Each school did some project activities on their own, and the shared part was especially powerful.

Students watched and discussed videos and read about racism in the US. In addition to Flipgrid, they used Padlet to share ideas and writing.

You can find more details about the project on this Google Doc.

preview of google doc

A few weeks after the project, when the killing of George Floyd sparked protests and a national dialogue around race – the participating teachers shared their reflections...

“Now, more than ever it is important to have the difficult conversations with young people. We as Americans need to seek to understand and move forward toward social justice." – Rachel Harcrow, teacher at Young Women’s College Prep in New York

“This is such a crucial time for dialogue in our country. I hope that our students are feeling more equipped to participate in conversations, ask questions, and be reflective about what they are consuming. If there was a single goal in humanities this year, I believe it was to make our students aware that the complexity of history and our current reality is necessary to unpack and it is our job to join the conversation." – Tara Harvey,  learning and innovation coach at Liberty North High School in Missouri

“My hope for our students is that they are able to draw on the information and experiences that this project helped facilitate in order to go out and be an advocate for the marginalized in communities around the country. Humanities (and this project, specifically) was created for the purpose of uniting history with the present and helping students understand their role in learning from the former to impact the latter.” – Josh Baldwin, teacher at Liberty North High School in Missouri

“My hope is that students are able to use what they've learned throughout this year in Humanities (but especially this project!) on what it means to be a humanitarian, someone who fights for those voices that have been oppressed and silenced for too long. I hope that what they've started to recognize is something they can talk about - with their friends, family, and people they've come in contact with throughout their lives." – Elizabeth Rudell, teacher at Liberty North High School in Missouri

“For my students, the news of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor was not a particular shock as most have been socialized in a world in which vulnerability and loss of Black and Brown bodies are all too common. That said, it is my hope that the modern contexts of the moment, combined with a sense of academic inspiration to be engaged through PBL as opposed to more traditional forms of pedagogy, will inspire my students' sociopolitical consciousness to understand that the violence, daily racism, and marginalization aren't "normal" and that they have a responsibility to act in community with others for progress.” – Sam Texeira, teacher at Henderson Inclusion School in Massachusetts

Students made equally powerful comments after it was over in their Padlet reflections, too.

I’m sure its lessons were well learned and will inspire many of them to take action for an anti-racist future in this country.

More on this project ...

Our podcast The Project has an episode featuring the "Breaking Bias" project. Tune in! 

How are you addressing racism in projects with your students? Let us know by joining the conversation with @PBLWorks on Twitter. You can find more blog posts about PBL & Equity.

John Larmer, Editor in Chief
John is editor in chief at PBLWorks, where he has helped create professional development workshops and PBL curriculum materials. He writes for and edits the PBL Blog, and is the co-author of several books on PBL.