Should School Districts Open Incubators for Project Based Learning?

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Often times educators are faced with the challenge of integrating project-based learning into an already established classroom, within an already established school.  Integrating such change can run into all types of obstacles, with one reason being that the infrastructure of the school (physically and intellectually) was not originally intended for such an immersive and potentially expansive learning method.

The Kent Intermediate School District in Grand Rapids, Michigan is taking a different approach: giving project-based learning its own building, faculty, staff, and dedicated time, outside of the traditional schools.

The district’s Kent Innovation High School (KIHS) serves as an incubator for PBL and innovation.  Students from across the county attend the high school in the morning and use PBL to work on their core classes (Math, English, etc.) before returning to their home school for the remainder of the day.  By providing students a space that is dedicated to PBL training and application, issues that normally limit this type of learning in traditional schools can be prevented (or at least minimized).

An example of the kind of work this space allows was recently featured in a Michigan news website.  Ten veterans from World War II visited KIHS and told their war stories, as students interviewed and filmed them for a documentary that they will show to the community in May.  More than just your basic “guest speaker” sessions, the students took ownership of discovering more about the veterans and the War.

For the documentary project, 110 students from the county are working together, and have interviewed 55 veterans total. They are also creating artwork to go along with the film. The dedicated incubator for PBL provides a space for students to collaborate with students from other schools, and also a supportive structure for their imagination and creativity as they explore topics like History through engaging projects.  The grand scope of the KIHS documentary project shows what is possible when PBL is given its own space, faculty, staff, time, and consideration. It’s difficult to imagine all of this coming together to this scale in the traditional classroom.

As more educators explore the possibilities of PBL, the idea of the incubator (even small units) might be something worth considering.  Providing dedicated space, staff, faculty and time to this method may give students just what they need to unlock the greatest levels of their learning and discovery.