Andrew Miller

Project-Based Service Learning

Project-based learning (PBL) by nature lends itself to authenticity and real-world relevancy. All well-designed projects connect learning to an authentic task, but some can really run with it. This is where project-based service learning comes in, where PBL is used to not only create authenticity, but also fulfill a community service and need.

I have a long term partnership with EagleRidge High School in Klamath Falls, Ore. PBL is becoming one of its core identities as the school moves forward. On a recent visit, teachers were collaborating to build a PBL project for a Community Studies course.

Project Rationale and Summary:

As they were coming to the close of the year, the team of teachers planning the project wanted to do something that would continue to build knowledge, but also give back to the community. Math teachers wanted students to feel confident in the skills they learned, English teachers wanted students to write, and the Community Studies teacher wanted the students out in the community. The school itself had always wanted a tutoring program, but no one had implemented one. The team decided, therefore, that they wanted to students to apply and work in a math tutoring program to provide intervention and support mechanisms for future years. Students needed community service hours to graduate, and this could also fulfill that need while fulfilling a need for the school community.

Culminating Products:

Although the major component of the project was the actual tutoring program itself, students were also required to create major writing components. All students were required to create a cover letter and resume in order to apply for the tutoring job—yes, all students. The team wanted students to realize that they ALL could be math tutors, reflecting a culture of excellence. The students also created sample lesson plans and teaching philosophies to show applicant reviewers that they would have the skills to teach, as well as the heart.

Learning Targets:

Although students were math tutors, they were not going to be graded in math. This is because the tutors had already learned their math skills, so this would not be driving the instruction. Instead, the team decided to grade students on technical writing, as they wanted to improve writing scores. They wanted to focus on conventions and organization, which would be the students' primary grade and apply to the current English course. In addition, students would be assessed on the 21st century skills articulated below. This grade would be part of the Community Studies course, but could easily fit into any course assessment.

21st Century Skills:

During the planning stages, the team identified and aligned career and technical education (CTE) standards to 21st century skills normally taught and assessed in other projects. Because they wanted to align this project to CTE standards, they wanted to make sure the connection was there and that they were justified in targeted the 21st century skills of communication and collaboration. The specific state standards are "demonstrate professional behavior and etiquette in all business management and administration teams, work units, departments and organizations in order to enhance the work environment" and “exhibit ethical and professional behavior." Both are clearly aligned to the 21st century skill of collaboration and communication. During this project, students would have to remain professional as they taught and collaborate with fellow tutors to meet student needs.

Next Steps:

I'm very excited to see the long term effects of this PBL project. While the project itself where students are assessed may not occur next year, the teachers and students have built a structure that will last at the school and provide a real need for the community. I could see this spreading like wildfire to other schools, where they start to see the success of the program as it becomes a part of the ongoing culture at EagleRidge High School. I am inspired by the drive of teachers to create projects that provide community service. I encourage all teachers to explore ways to meet community needs through PBL, no matter how small that impact might be. It builds relevancy for learning and builds a nurturing school culture.

Andrew K. Miller is an educator and consultant. He is a National Faculty member for ASCD and the Buck Institute for Education. Connect with Miller on Twitter @betamiller.

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