Category: Project Based Learning

iLEAD Culture: Real-World Experiences

Editor’s note: This is one in a regular series of articles exploring the pillars and core principles of the iLEAD approach to education.

Consider this for a moment: What would be an ideal way to learn about flight and all that it involves? Do textbooks, lectures, and maybe a few videos help learners gain a firm grasp and understanding of the concepts? 

What if, instead, kids could learn about the magic of flight through hands-on experiments in the classroom, logging time with flight simulators, seeing a glider up close on campus — and culminating their studies with an actual glider flight

At SCVi, iLEAD’s founding school, and iLEAD Lancaster, for example, learners have the opportunity to do just that through our partnership with a local soaring academy, and it’s just one example of how iLEAD embraces real-world experiences as a way for students to fully immerse themselves in the learning process.

Particularly in light of how iLEAD emphasizes 21st Century Skills [link to the 21st Century skills article] and preparing learners for the work world, tangible experiences help elevate the learning process.

Other examples include our DreamUp to Space challenges, where teams of learners have come up with scientific research projects, several of which have been successfully launched to the International Space Station for testing, or living history programs where learners recreate scenes from the American Civil War.

Real-world experience is at the heart of what can make project-based learning (PBL) truly exciting, challenging, and rewarding for learners. When PBL curriculums are infused with exposure to real-world experiences, learners do a great job of developing crucial skills while they’re still in school. Additionally, these experiences can provide learners with deeper insights into career areas they may want to pursue. Not to mention, kids find that their success isn’t merely judged by what grade they earn, but by the experience they gain and develop through the process.

Finally, a lasting benefit of learning that incorporates real-world experience is the way in which it can help support learners in becoming familiar with professional environments. Besides the subject content, the associated skills crucial in the work world are developed, like clear and timely communication, thinking critically, problem solving, and time management. 

As part of a well-rounded PBL curriculum, real-world experience continues to prove invaluable to iLEAD’s mission to help kids be free to think and inspired to lead.

5 Ways Project-Based Education Facilitates Lifelong Learning

We are hearing more and more each day about the changing world of work and what type of skills will define the success of today’s students and future professionals. Outside of education, it’s often called upskilling. In education, we often refer to lifelong learning. Either way, experts agree that an individual’s ability to learn, continuously and adaptively, may define one’s success more than any other employability skills in this ever-changing, tech-infused and globalized economy.

Educators have always professed the priority of creating lifelong learners. But what does this really look like and how can we create learning environments that truly foster this? Project-based learning is poised well to inherently teach learners to become persistent and growth-oriented lifelong learners, among many other advantages.

How does PBL do this? Well, it’s at the core of how PBL functions. Here are a few of those ways:

Real-World Learning

First and foremost, PBL focuses on learners addressing real-world challenges, issues or problems. This immediately creates both relevance and authenticity. The relevancy of working on work that matters demonstrates to students that their school work is related to what others in the real world do and how it applies to their futures, skill development and agency. We talk about problem solving as a foundational skill and it is. However, the problems need to be real. We don’t have to solve them, but students have to continually try to tackle them. This is what all of us do in our professional lives and how new opportunities, jobs, innovations and more advance each day. PBL’s focus on authenticity (or being real world), as a core design principle, creates this real-world learning environment. A project can be authentic in several ways and often in combination. It can have an authentic context, it can involve the use of real-world processes and tools, it can have a real impact on others, and a project can have personal authenticity when it speaks to learners’ own concerns, interests, cultures, identities and issues in their lives.

Sustained Inquiry

This is a core design principle in high quality PBL. To inquire is to seek information or to investigate; it’s a more active, in-depth process than just looking something up in a book or online. The inquiry process takes time, which means a gold standard project lasts more than a few days. In PBL, inquiry is iterative; when confronted with a challenging problem or question, students ask questions, find resources to help answer them, then ask deeper questions, and the process repeats until a satisfactory solution or answer is developed. Projects can incorporate different information sources, mixing the traditional idea of research, reading a book or searching a website, with more real world, field-based interviews with experts, service providers and users. Learners also might inquire into the needs of the users of a product they’re creating in a project, or the audience for a piece of writing or multimedia.

Public Opportunities

In this pursuit of creating lifelong learners, we need to allow learners to experience the true power of learning and the real impact of their work. This is where producing public work, seen by multiple audiences or even users, comes into play.

When people see or even use our work, it creates significance in us. It means one’s work matters. It means learning matters. It means we matter. When audiences see, appreciate, experience, engage in and even possibly benefit from our work we naturally are more engaged, more likely to see the true power of learning. Ultimately, sharing our work publicly provides the opportunity for one to develop their personal brand. It’s the process of sharing one’s high-quality work and getting feedback. This is what we’ll do professionally for the rest of our lives. Lifelong work produces lifelong learning. We buy-in, we have conversations, we consider others’ opinions and ideas; all this while gaining confidence, portfolio, skills, a resume and valuable networking opportunities.

Student Voice & Choice

We hear words like agency, ownership, advocacy, leadership, git and mindset. These are great. And these are really traits of a lifelong learner. But how do we create the environment and means to make these a reality? Having a say in a project creates a sense of ownership in learners; they care more about the project and work harder. If learners are not able to use their judgment when solving a problem and answering a driving question, the project just feels like doing an exercise or following a set of directions. Learners can have input and (some) control over many aspects of a project, from the questions they generate to the resources they will use to find answers to their questions, to the tasks and roles they will take on as team members, to the products they will create. More advanced learners may go even further and select the topic and nature of the project itself; they can write their own driving question and decide how they want to investigate it, demonstrate what they have learned, and how they will share their work. High-quality projects also allow students to assume real roles and responsibilities in the production of their work. Think of things like project coordinator, media coordinator, tech coordinator or dozens of other roles. We don’t create roles for roles’ sake, but rather to move work forward efficiently and allow those involved to specialize a bit (become experts).

The Power of Learning (To Love What You Do)

We’ve all heard the saying that if you “love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” This may be the most powerful aspect of deeper learning like PBL.

Facilitators have always wanted their learners to love learning for learning’s sake. But our traditional system has focused learners more on grades, points or even punitive approaches vs. training them to love learning. PBL, done well, creates the opportunity for learners to focus on the work, the challenge and even the final product. All of these, as well as the opportunity to engage with their peers, their community and the larger world, focus them on the true power of learning. The impact and significance of our work is what drives all of us professionally throughout our lives. When learners produce high-quality and professional projects that are experienced or used by others, addressing real-world issues and products like that of their professional counterparts, they too have that awakening, the internal and external factors that drive us to work, succeed, improve, grow, reach and stretch. We have allowed them to view work and learning differently.

There’s Always More

The beauty of high-quality PBL is that it truly does all the things simultaneously that we think are important in learning. Whether it’s collaboration, metacognition, skill acquisition, social-emotional learning, technology integration, personalized learning or more, PBL can deliver. But with all that being said, nothing may be more important to our learners’ future and sustained success than that of being lifelong learners.

iLEAD Culture: The Importance of 21st Century Skills

Editor’s note: This is one in a regular series of articles exploring the pillars and core principles of the iLEAD approach to education.

At an iLEAD school, what’s important is not only ensuring learners are receiving an academically well-rounded education, but also that they have the tools they need to succeed in an ever-changing world. That’s why we place a high priority on 21st Century Skills.

These skills are essential in a worldwide market that’s moving faster by the day, and they funnel to a key focus: A person’s ability to enact and/or adapt to change. 

Why? Because we live in a world where long-established industries are now regularly disrupted with new ideas and methodologies. Kids are preparing for work in an era when nothing is guaranteed, and it’s important to be adaptable.

When we speak about 21st Century Skills, we’re talking about those things that help learners adapt and thrive in a world that is increasingly more dependent on technology, and a global economy and workplace. The 12 essential 21st Century Skills include:

  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Information literacy
  • Media literacy
  • Technology literacy
  • Flexibility
  • Leadership
  • Initiative
  • Productivity
  • Social skills

Through individualized instruction and project-based learning, we celebrate and foster each child’s individuality and support them in discovering their highest potential. We believe each child will be equipped with the skills and knowledge to achieve their fullest potential in preparation for college and the demands of the 21st-century workplace.

Succeeding in the 21st century calls for skill sets that go beyond basic skills mandated densely packed education standards and what’s evaluated on standardized  tests. Learners also need to build skills sets that will last a lifetime. To solve problems in our complex, fast-changing world, learners must become nimble, creative thinkers who can work well with others.

In line with the 12 skills identified above, there are “4Cs” iLEAD Schools focus on instilling in learners, as identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills: 

  • Collaboration: Learners are able to work effectively with diverse groups and exercise flexibility in making compromises to achieve common goals.
  • Creativity: Learners are able to generate and improve on original ideas and also work creatively with others.
  • Communication: Learners are able to communicate effectively across multiple media and for various purposes.
  • Critical thinking: Learners are able to analyze, evaluate, and understand complex systems and apply strategies to solve problems.

It is critical to keep in mind that those 4Cs don’t replace academic learning goals; rather, they complement and help enhance them.

Since iLEAD’s inception, we have been committed to helping develop well-rounded kids, those who are lifelong learners, empowered to lead and succeed in a changing world. By incorporating 21st Century Skills, we’re making sure they’re ready for anything they face in their journey. 

Design Element #1: Project-Based Learning

Our curriculum is project-based. It provides relevant learning experiences that engage learners’ interests and hold to the California Common Core State Standards. As a result, learners (what we call students) discover underlying concepts and develop a deep understanding of subject matter as they continually build on prior knowledge.

In project-based learning (PBL), learners actively explore real-world challenges to acquire deeper knowledge of the subject at hand. Research shows that learners’ retention of content and attitude toward and interest in learning increase when PBL is done well.

Examples of project-based learning can include projects such as:

  • A pair of learners pivoting an internship requirement into instead developing and launching a legally certified streaming website for public access TV content
  • Teams of learners launching research projects to the International Space Station

There are a number of benefits to incorporating PBL into education:

  • PBL makes school more engaging: In PBL, students are active, not passive. Projects engage their hearts and minds, and provide real-world relevance for learning.
  • PBL improves learning: At the completion of a project, learners understand content more deeply, remember what they learn and retain it longer than is often the case with traditional instruction. Because of this, students who gain content knowledge with PBL are better able to apply what they know and can do to new situations.
  • PBL builds skills for college, career, and life: Learners are preparing for life in a world where success requires more than basic knowledge and skills. In a project, students learn how to take initiative and responsibility, build confidence, solve problems, work in teams, communicate ideas, and manage themselves more effectively.
  • PBL helps address standards: Common Core and other current education standards emphasize real-world application of knowledge and skills, and the development of success skills such as critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, communication in a variety of media, and speaking and presentation skills. PBL helps learners effectively meet these goals.
  • PBL embraces technology: Modern learners are familiar with and enjoy using a variety of tech tools that are a perfect fit with PBL. With technology, facilitators and learners can not only find resources and information they need, but also collaborate more effectively, and connect with experts, partners, and audiences.
  • PBL makes teaching more enjoyable and rewarding: Projects allow facilitators to work more closely with active, engaged learners doing high-quality, meaningful work, and in many cases to rediscover the joy of learning alongside kids.
  • PBL connects kids and schools with communities and the real world: Through PBL, learners have opportunities to solve real problems and address actual issues, and as such they learn more about interacting with adults and organizations, are exposed to workplaces, and can identify and develop career interests.

In short, project-based learning has always been at the core of the iLEAD Schools model because we believe it is at the heart of how kids learn best. Time and again, we’ve seen how PBL helps learners develop academic skills, build leadership skills and character, and lay the foundation for promising careers.

Learn more about our iLEAD and Maker Method curriculum here.