Jumping into Project Based Learning

I’ve been implementing PBL into my practice in baby steps over the past few years and decided it’s time to just dive right in this semester. No more worrying about whether or not it would work or if the students would respond. Time to jump.

I love teaching the grade 12 World Issues course. It is by far my favourite course to teach because I learn so much every time I teach it – and most of that learning comes from my students. And really (in my opinion), there is no better course for PBL than World Issues.

Two of my former students have recently formed a NGO (REACH Diagnostics) that “provides urban slum citizens with access to inexpensive diagnostic tools that will promote detection and regular screening of non-communicable diseases.” I was inspired by their work (and what teacher wouldn’t be) and thought, why can’t my current students do this as well?

So here it is, the International Development Project. In teams my students will find an existing problem in the developing world and work to find a solution. So far my students have decided to focus on the challenges faced by women and children in Syrian and Darfuri refugee and IDP camps, child marriage, child trafficking, female genital mutilation, and the lack of girls education in Afghanistan (amongst other issues). We will spend the next three weeks exploring these issues and seeking solutions.

I had two former students come speak to my class to help kick-off this project. Dhaman Rakhra (CEO of REACH Diagnostics) spoke passionately about his work in social enterprise and outlined what eventually became the inspiration for this project. Omer Aziz shared his experiences writing and speaking about international relations and inspired my students to follow their passion.

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One element of the project that I am particularly excited about is the requirement that my students involve mentors, like Dhaman and Omer, in the process. I have a number of great former students who have volunteered to serve as mentors. Via social media, email, and video conferencing my students will be able to draw upon their expertise in foreign relations, law, politics, global issues, public broadcasting, and journalism.

The products that the students will be producing are a happy marriage of some of the products I have used in the past, including my favourite, Radio World Issues. But like I told my students today, it is not the product at the end that is important in this process. In fact, it is the process that it is important. It’s time to let go as teachers and allow our students to find meaning and purpose in the material that they discover, on their own. It is time to empower them to inform, inspire, and interact with a global audience.

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