To Develop Future-Ready Students, Project-Based Lessons Teach Real World...

Project-Based Learning

To Develop Future-Ready Students, Project-Based Lessons Teach Real World Skills

from TeacherVision

By Stephen Solomon     Aug 22, 2017

To Develop Future-Ready Students, Project-Based Lessons Teach Real World Skills

Higher test scores. Better graduation rates. Increased lifetime earning potential. Incorporating social-emotional learning and character education into K-12 classrooms improves students’ lives—measurably.

Indeed, recent research indicates there is a direct and undeniable correlation between improved student outcomes and integrating SEL and life skills—like problem-solving, collaboration, and good judgment—into existing curriculum. What's more, teachers value these skills. So do employers. They help changes lives, break the cycle of inequity, and foster economic opportunity.

Unfortunately, most teachers simply don't have the time or resources to revamp existing curriculum on their own. If they did, their students wouldn’t be the only ones to benefit; studies show incorporating character education is good for teachers, too.

In the course of adapting many of our curricular resources to fit teachers’ changing needs, we have distilled a robust collection of skills into lessons we believe will help teachers foster social-emotional learning, and in doing so develop future-ready students.

Inspirational vs. aspirational

“I absolutely just want to spend my day nagging my students to finish an endless pile of worksheets and practice tests that will be totally fulfilling and meaningful...,” said no teacher ever.

In discussing SEL curriculum with numerous educators, I’ve heard slightly different versions of the same story: They are inspired by the possibility of helping their students become informed global citizens and well-rounded changemakers who make an impact in the classroom, in college, in their careers and communities. But in the current landscape of intense pressure around standards and teacher accountability, that inspirational focus is largely aspirational.

Teachers report that nurturing the whole child develop brings a spark back to teaching that is too often buried under an avalanche of paperwork, meetings, and frantic Sunday-night searches for lesson plans. They also tell me that it’s hard. These are smart, creative, and talented people who would love to be able to enhance their everyday curriculum with SEL skills such as empathy, initiative, self-reflection, flexibility, service, and persistence. They just need the right tools to make it happen.

Helping students become FutureFit

A cursory scan of popular teacher Twitter feeds and mainstream education news sources quickly reveals that the idea of imbuing this generation of students with an amalgam of 21st century skills is more than just a cause célèbre—it’s quickly becoming a must-have in the classroom. “We can no longer afford to view social-emotional learning and character education as pleasant supplements to the curriculum,” says Michael DiSchiavi, a veteran New York City public school teacher.

Accordingly, frameworks have been created. Standards have been developed. PD has been implemented. Books have been written. Yet at the individual classroom level, the simple ways to describe, organize and teach the skills students need to be future ready are still a little nebulous. In adapting many of our existing K-8 curricular resources to meet teachers' evolving needs, we have culled our broad and diverse collection of skills into nine domains we call FutureFit. We think these skills will help teachers develop the whole child.

The FutureFit skill domains; expanded graphic available here

I’ve had occasion to share the graphic above with a number of educators. It usually prompts a response along the lines of: “Wow. Yes. I’d love to do that. But how do I apply service to science? Or initiative to math? How do I tease empathy out of earthquakes? Or good judgment out of gerunds?”

The answers to those questions are fairly simple; resources designed to reinforce these skills are readily available. It’s a question of curation—finding the best content, adapting it for classroom use, integrating it with existing curriculum, incorporating assessment and rubrics, and so on.

We’ve seen firsthand how dynamic the modern classroom becomes when teachers are empowered to:

  • Incorporate project-based learning: PBL can be an incredible vehicle for building SEL and character education into academic curriculum. Whether it’s home-grown or off-the-shelf, the possibilities for adding future-ready skills to a science or social studies project are endless. One of our favorites: Helping sixth-grade earth science students develop empathy by incorporating a perspective-taking lesson on Red Cross disaster relief efforts during the 2015 Nepal Gorkha earthquake; the lesson uses source video and materials from the IFRC, US Geological Survey, and BBC.
  • Encourage inquisitiveness: Inquiry-based strategies like Genius Hour encourage students to pursue learning goals personalized by their passions and interests. The opportunities for creative expression, problem solving, collaboration, and initiative are powerful and purposeful, and lend themselves well to helping students produce meaningful work. Besides, what second grader learning about states of matter doesn’t want to find out the answer to the question, “What would happen if I put raisins in seltzer water?”
  • Bring service-based learning to life: Foster a service mentality and a sense for real-world effectiveness by building service learning into lesson plans and units. While it’s rewarding and effective to get out into the community if possible, it’s easy to start with the classroom itself as an environment for cultivating community engagement. For example, connect a lesson about selling a timeshare to squirrels with an activity that proposes simple steps students can take for improving their own habitats.

Simple—but not easy

We know that curating resources and strategies like these requires something that teachers have very little of—time. As someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about and working to build an effective way for educators to do this, I have come to understand and appreciate both how hard and how important it is. TeacherVision makes it easier—and solves the curation problem—with FutureFit Projects, a collection of project-based lessons combining SEL and real-world skills with existing academic curriculum. With the input of educators, we’re happy to at least have made a start. It’s a learning process—and we’re not done learning.

FutureFit projects for your classroom

Below is more information about the projects mentioned above. For an overview of all our FutureFit resources, check out The Ultimate Back-to-School Guide for Teachers, an ebook created for educators to use both inside and outside the classroom.

Project Grades and Subjects Skills
Nepal Gorkha Earthquake Grades 6-8 Earth Science, Earthquakes and Volcanic Activity, Earth Systems, Earth and Human Activity Critical thinking, collaboration, empathy, persistence
Hurry to My Habitat Grades K-2 Life Science, Biomes and Animal Habitats Data synthesis, communication, self-direction, self-awareness
States of Matter: What Would Happen If…? Grades K-2 Physical Science, States of Matter Collaboration, initiative, global awareness, self-regulation
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