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PBL and SEL Part 1: Setting the Stage for Future Collaboration!

Recently I got to work with some fantastic educators from the Minneapolis Public Schools, specifically teachers at two of their alternative high schools, on connecting PBL and SEL. Anyone familiar with both models will instantly see the connections and the potential that PBL has to be a powerful mechanism for growth, but surprisingly, there are few resources that give actionable steps for teachers to follow. This became the focus of our collaboration, and to make sure that we had fertile ground for a discussion about what each school does to assess SEL growth.

The focus of the project was supporting the integration of SEL goals into required content through project-based learning. There are a few articles on the subject, but none of them really provided the “blueprint” that teachers at these sites were needing. Some of them had some experience with project-based learning, but the components of the model that they adopted was very much left up to themselves.


We began by creating some uniformity around what PBL is, specifically the use of the HQPBL model. After taking some time to explore how the six elements of HQPBL were already being used in their own practice and then moving on to which elements they could integrate more thoughtfully into their practice I provided them the outline for a proposed sample project. The project was based off one of the free project outlines on the PBLWorks website and was designed to be very loosely structured but rooted in high-quality practices. It was a very interesting juggling act to try to create something that would provide enough room for customization so each school could make it their own while still meeting the goal of creating a shared experience that could be analyzed and built upon.


Upon analyzing the project, many of the teachers quickly found connections to their own subject area, especially in social studies, ELA and parent ed classes. But even the teachers of science and special day courses were quick to pick up on possible inclusions they could use.


Following the group analysis of the project, we went into a discussion of how social emotional learning could connect to the project. The project was specifically selected with certain parts of the CASEL model in mind to facilitate opportunities for the assessment and development of SEL skills. To get teachers thinking about how the work of the project connects to the CASEL model, a set of student-centered learning goals was provided that would function as part of the rubric. The teachers later agreed that this part of the workshop was the most helpful especially since there are very few assessment tools that allow for the monitoring and growth of SEL skills that both teachers and the students could use. By creating a set of student-centered learning goals, the teachers had exactly what they needed to customize their rubrics while still aligning their work to that of other sites for future discussions. Teachers also began to see other areas of the CASEL model self that could be added, such as cultural awareness, while another teacher instantly began to adapt the list into one with numerical values that she could deploy with her students who needed a more quantitative measure of how they are doing.


Admin at both sites were going to continue this discussion so we could find a common timeline for the projects as well as a date to follow-up and share, but this first workshop provided a strong start to our SEL/PBL initiative.

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