What did I learn from listening to the question and answer session of Anthony Capps and Dr. Strange? I learned that teachers who are currently using a Project Based Learning approach are still learning too.
It is important to take a pro-active approach to get and keep the students interested in assigned projects. This can be done by making sure the essential question is not only connected to the standards but is also relevant to the students. The students should also have plenty of options to choose from in deciding what aspect of the essential question is most important to them. This is referred to as student "voice and choice". If the student is still struggling with staying focused on the project or is losing interest, then some self-reflecting may be in order for the teacher. Make sure you haven't given the student too much to do in the learning period assigned. Some students may seem overwhelmed with open questions, or they may have found too much information on the topic. The teacher should give the student some guidance as to where to begin or where to go from a certain point and hold the students accountable by chuncking the assignment into smaller pieces. Some students need these check-in points to stay on track.
It is important for Project Based Learning to be a whole school initiative but to do so in small steps. There must first be a decision from the top (hooray for Baldwin County Leaders!). Then there should be a small group of teachers who are well trained and pilot the program in their schools with support and encouragement from their administration. Their responses and lessons learned should be shared with other teachers at school, provide all teachers with professional development, making it available to all and required by all. Once implemented, ensure students have an authentic audience in which to share their knowledge, critique one another's work, and improve their own.
Finally, and most importantly for me, and probably the hardest, will be the building a community of learners. Developing an atmosphere of trust among the students to know they can ask each other for help and not get in trouble, and for me, the teacher, to trust the students will stay on task. Developing trust with the parents by keeping them involved with the process and having frequent and open communication is essential to the success of a PBL classroom.