Power the PBL through Partnerships

How engaging would it be to give students complete say in redesigning learning spaces of the school – integrating environmentally friendly, sustainability concepts in the final design?  How much better would these final designs turn out if the students received feedback from experts of environmental sustainability throughout the design process?  Answering these and other questions will be the mission of a newly created PBL unit at Avonworth High School – Earth, Wind and Fire:   Exploring Renewable Energy & Sustainability Through Alternate Learning Spaces.   To spur this innovative project, a small team of teachers and I applied for and successfully received a STEAM grant through the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

Throughout next school year, small groups of students led by teacher leaders will work with outside partners to redesign spaces on the high school campus.  It is difficult to describe what the final outcomes of these projects will be, as it is meant to be student-led and student-created.  However, I am already super excited about partnership development with The Drew Mathieson Center of Horticultural and Agricultural Technology, located in Pittsburgh!  I have visited the center twice, meeting first with Mark Wallace, Director of Greenhouse Operations!  The potential for students to gain knowledge about greenhouse operations, production of specialty crops, career exposure/awareness, and other “green” skills is exciting!  The second visit to The Drew Mathieson Center gave me and the teacher team an opportunity to sit down with a group of staff members who had just trained with The Buck Institute for Education on Project-Based Learning.  We brainstormed the possibilities for students to create a green, living wall both inside and outside the school walls, a butterfly garden for observation or a weather station for data collection.  Of course, these were the ideas of the adults in the room, and to keep the PBL student-centered, our team will need to work hard at honoring and elevating the ideas of the students.

I am hoping to make some further connections with additional sustainability partners, allowing students to self-select the expert mentor to work with throughout the Earth, Wind and Fire PBL process!  I also recognize that sometimes great ideas start small and are scaled later!  Either way, providing the opportunity for students to take an idea to fruition will keep me inspired through the hard work!

If you have ideas or feedback to strengthen the Earth, Wind and Fire PBL, I am eager to connect and hear your thoughts!  Reach out to me on Twitter @EClare_AHS

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