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Kentucky to Train K-12 Educators on Project-Based Learning

The nonprofit PBLWorks has partnered with the Kentucky Department of Education to offer professional development to principals, teachers and administrators on bringing project-based learning into the classroom.

project based learning
The California-based nonprofit PBLWorks recently announced a partnership with the Kentucky Department of Education on a multi-year initiative to use virtual training to bring project-based learning to at least a third of the schools throughout the state.

Spearheaded by Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education and Chief Learner Jason Glass, the initiative was established through federal funding to the tune of $7 million and will run through September 2024 — encompassing the 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24 academic years, according to Kentucky DoE Director of the Division of Innovative Learning David Cook. The professional development will enlighten principals to the benefits of project-based learning and how it can change the classroom from a traditional instruction model for K-12 students, Cook told Government Technology. It will also coach teachers to implement project-based learning in their classrooms, he said.

A group of principals and teachers, in separate cohorts, will go through the training by semester — fall, spring and summer — throughout the duration of the initiative, Cook said. A portion of the training will be virtual while most will be held in person.

“Our best way of going about that is to change the kinds of experiences our students have in classrooms — making those experiences hands-on, authentic, meaningful and connected to the kinds of work they will need to do outside of school,” Glass said in a public statement.

From what Cook has seen to date in various trainings with cohorts thus far, he expects the classrooms will see improvements.

“This is good stuff because it engages. I’ve never been to a training yet where I didn’t see the people constantly engaged in what they’re trying to do,” Cook said. “We’re all hoping for really great things.”

Cook added that teachers will use a measurement tool to quantify how the project-based learning instruction has impacted their respective classrooms year over year.

Following the training for an academic year, principals will have virtual support, while teachers will have a virtual coach, as well as additional support to lean on as they navigate through the new instruction model, according to PBLWorks Director of District and School Leadership Natasha Thompson. The initiative aims to instill “Gold Standard” project-based learning training and support to educators throughout the state by way of face-to-face workshops, personalized online coaching, school site visits and deep collaboration through a peer network of fellow Kentucky PBL leaders, the release said.

In an interview with Government Technology, Thompson said the implementation of project-based learning will provide students with critical thinking skills, collaboration skills, empathy and the willingness to be service leaders and solve problems in their community. Thompson said the organization conducted its own research, and it found teamwork skills widely lacking in recent graduates.

“What we were seeing in industries and in colleges (was) that they were getting these engineers and these scientists, and these really super smart kids who have done great in school as far as grades and standardized tests and SATs, but then they couldn’t work as a team,” she said. “They didn’t have the emotional intelligence that’s needed in the industry. So we really do believe that project-based learning gives that.”

PBLWorks has similar models in Hawaii, Massachusetts and California, as well as an annual PBL World professional development conference in the summer, workshops and training throughout the year, and multiple online PBL resources, the organization said in its news release.
Giovanni Albanese Jr. is a staff writer for the Center for Digital Education. He has covered business, politics, breaking news and professional soccer over his more than 15-year reporting career. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Salem State University in Massachusetts.