PBL Tutorial-Using PBL to Build Relationships with School Staff

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As another school year begins, OST providers are encouraged to reflect on the importance of good relationships with host schools. Afterschool programs require space for daily activities and the occasional special event, and most school administrators are eager to oblige. After all, OST programs provide a valuable service to the schools that house them. School administrators rely on OST programs to care for students after the school day, and school teachers rely on OST programs to reinforce key concepts and assist with homework completion. Nevertheless, some schools are slower to recognize the value of afterschool education.

For OST providers who would like to strengthen their relationships with school teachers and administrators, Project-Based Learning is a valuable tool. A flexible, multi-disciplinary instructional model, PBL offers hands-on, real world opportunities to reinforce concepts learned in the classroom. Here are some ways that OST providers can use PBL to build strong, mutually-supportive relationships with schools.

1. Demonstrate an interest in incorporating school-day content

Many school teachers and administrators do not realize that OST programs incorporate the same rigorous academic content found in school-day classrooms. Contact the appropriate school administrator and ask permission to attend school staff meetings where curriculum is being discussed. Or, contact individual teachers and explain that you are interested in using school-day curriculum to drive PBL topic selection. Not only will you build relationships with school staff, but you will increase the visibility of the OST program in the process.

If school teachers and administrators are not comfortable involving OST providers in the curriculum planning process, there are still ways to align the mission of school-day and OST staff. Carefully review the K-12 Common Core Standards (which are followed inPennsylvania), and integrate those skills and concepts into your PBL plans. Also, a quick review of OST students’ textbooks and planners will tell you what concepts they are currently studying. Integrating those concepts into OST activities – and doing so without being asked – is a great way to demonstrate to the school administration your commitment to student performance. 

2. Reinforce key concepts

Using PBL, OST providers can not only integrate school-day concepts into afterschool activities, but reinforce those concepts in the context of real world projects that employ different teaching and learning styles. If 3rd grade students are practicing multiplication during the school day, consider planning PBL activities that incorporate math in a real world setting. The Driving Question might be, “How can we plan a party using only the resources in our classroom?” and one of the activities might ask students to determine the total number of supplies – plates, cookies, napkins, et al. – they will need. If there are 11 students, and each student receives 2 cookies, then, of course, the solution will require students to use information found in their Multiplication Tables.  

PBL activities also allow OST staff to present school-day concepts in different ways. If 5th grade students are learning about the life cycle and migratory patterns of Monarch butterflies during the school day, they can spend time afterschool applying these lessons in different contexts. Students may make models or draw pictures to graphically represent the life cycle, or create a map and “travel itinerary” for migrating butterflies. By applying school-day concepts in varying, real world contexts, OST providers help school-day teachers improve students’ understanding and retention.

 3. Capitalize on PBL’s strengths

The PBL instructional method is particularly effective because it emphasizes and cultivates skills that are sometimes ignored in traditional, direct-instruction classrooms. Using PBL to incorporate those often-omitted skills and concepts is another service OST programs can offer school teachers and administrators. 

PBL is an excellent vehicle for delivering 21st Century Skills like collaboration, communication and critical thinking. These “soft skills” are included in the Common Core Standards, but are difficult to teach in larger, harder-to-manage classrooms. However, in afterschool programs that implement PBL, 21st Century Skills are at the heart of each day’s activity. In PBL classrooms, students write blog posts, perform skits, prepare presentations for family members, compose letters to community leaders and communicate with pen pals. Students also choose project topics, conduct group activities, plan parties and teach skills to younger classmates. These lessons in communication and collaboration are invaluable, but often difficult to incorporate into the school day. 

4.     Plan a project with school-day teachers

Even OST programs with open lines of communication to school teachers and administrators can look for ways to build on these relationships. This summer, Belmont Charter School staff and OST providers joined forces to offer PBL projects during school-day and afterschool programming. OST staff assisted with project implementation during the school day, and continued project activities in the afterschool setting. Likewise, at the Aspira OST program, staff members work with Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School teachers to include key literacy concepts from the school day in afterschool PBL plans.    

Using project-based learning and working together, OST and school staff can ensure that learning doesn’t stop at 3:00pm!

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