Hi, I’m Maggie Hutchinson! Thank you for checking out PBLS!
PBLS:Project Based Learning Supports (affectionately referred to as “pebbles”), was first initiated in the fall of 2017 when I began to notice that not only was project based learning an up and coming trend, it was also already in line with my own teaching style, and with other effective teaching strategies. However, even though it’s something I seem to come to naturally (and REALLY enjoy doing!), conversations with co-workers and fruitless internet searches for resources, led me to several realizations.
- Other teachers struggled to make or implement project or task based learning experiences.
- Resources to incorporate these opportunities into the curriculum were difficult to find or non-existent, particularly for upper level classes.
- There are many misconceptions about project or task based learning and how to implement it
- There is a lot of variation in quality and effectiveness of project or task based learning opportunities.
PBLS:Project Based Learning Supports, is my answer to those problems. Through this blog and the resources PBLS offers, I hope to support teachers in finding, creating, and implementing effective project based learning opportunities.
Why am I uniquely suited to meet this need? Well, on some level it is probably just in my nature, but this paired with my educational and career journey, has led me on a distinctly unique trajectory. I started out my post-secondary education as a chemistry major. I’d like to say this was because I loved chemistry (which I do! So cool!), but it was more because I had no idea what I wanted to do, and I knew a female going into a science field would get more funding (I admit, I was working the system!). I was a “good” student at nearly everything, so narrowing down to one thing seemed impossible. What I have since found out, is that this is called being “multi-passionate”, which basically means instead of having one thing I’m passionate about, I have many things (and typically, if we’re passionate about something, we put in the effort to also be good at it).
I truly enjoyed chemistry, and earned the chemistry award my first year in the program, as well as being on the deans list. Because of this, my instructors asked me to lead a tutoring group. That was seriously one of the most fun things I ever did, but even at this point, I was realizing that many students seemed to have a disconnect between things they already knew in other subjects (namely math), and what they were asked to do in chemistry. For some reason, even if they knew the math just fine, putting it into a chemistry context confused them. Similarly, some students seemed to take to the chemistry concepts easily, but struggled with the math. I treated the symptoms as best I could in those tutoring sessions, but kept that knowledge in the back of my mind.
It would later come back to influence my direction in graduate school, but before I got there, I discovered that the chemistry program at my school of choice was not accredited. What this basically meant, was that unless I wanted to do more education to supplement my chemistry degree, it would effectively be useless. I transferred to a larger state university with an accredited program, but quickly realized the program THERE was designed to turn out research chemists. While I enjoyed chemistry and the understanding it gave me about the world, I had no desire to be in a lab doing titrations all day (exaggeration, of course). I didn’t want to waste my chemistry background, but I wasn’t keen on the idea of being a chemistry teacher at the time (it’s laughable now, isn’t it?) so that left me with only a few options:
- Doctor/Dentist (Ie. LOTS more schooling!)
- Chemical/Environmental engineering
- Civil engineering
I settled on civil engineering because again, that multi-passionate trait of mine was drawn to the multi-faceted uses of civil engineering (It is sometimes referred to as the liberal arts of engineering), rather than having to decide on one. Quite honestly, I think this was one of the best decisions for me, and if it weren’t for my other non-academic goals, might have been the perfect fit for me. As it is, when graduation was drawing nearer and I started looking for jobs to apply to, I quickly found that the jobs I was most interested in at the time were either not available in my area (I wanted to stay in my home state), or not available at all because they had low job turn-over rates! Good once you get in to a position, but not so great for starting out! Having worked for a year in the field while completing my bachelors degree, I also had some industry knowledge and experience that showed me I was not interested in the alternative positions available.
Around this time one of my other engineering friends told me about a graduate program at my school specifically designed to take individuals from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) backgrounds and train them to be teachers. I had realized by this point that I actually did like helping people learn and understand things, and if I got in to the program tuition would be completely covered, so I applied. I got accepted and began a new journey, now in the teaching field! Remember that realization I made back when I was tutoring chemistry? Well during my graduate program, I was required to research and write a thesis about either how people learn, or effective teaching practices. I was still curious why there seemed to be a disconnect between content area knowledge, so I did my thesis around the concept of transfer; essentially, how our minds use prior knowledge to make connections to new knowledge. This has largely informed how I approach teaching and validated my belief in project/task based activities!
Lets recap for a moment…I started out in the chemistry field, transferred to the engineering field, then transitioned into the education field! Can you think of a better background for a project based STEM teacher interested in how things work together!?
On top of that the graduate program I was in strongly encouraged and informed my project based tendencies and methods, and the teaching positions I have held since then have required me to use my creative resourcefulness to provide my students with effective instruction. Essentially, lack of resources with a minimal budget required me to find or create my own. This is when I truly discovered how much I LOVE making project/task based activities! I have also been involved with an experiential learning collaborative, and have collaborated with other cross-curricular colleagues to implement these application activities for my students! And, in addition to all this, I am conveniently situated on the cusp of this shift in pedagogy, so I am familiar and comfortable with traditional methods as well (having successfully experienced them as a public school student) and able to “translate” between the two!
I am so glad you are here and I hope PBLS can help support you in your efforts to include and implement project/task based learning activities!
P.s. Wonder why I keep writing project/task based?…it’s because even though there have been many phrases to describe this, the overall method is the same! It’s taking content about a subject area and requiring students to engage with it in real-world scenarios, research projects, application observations, experiences, etc. It requires students to take what they are learning, and apply it to things they actually interact with in their daily lives! I guarantee you are already doing some of this! Please stick around and see why I believe this is such a valuable method of teaching!