In part 2 of this 4-part interview, TheEduProject CEO Lacrecia Terrance defines project based learning and talks about what to avoid when implementing it in classrooms.

– Welcome to another PLtogether Lounge Talk. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena, the video-powered professional learning platform for educators everywhere. Today, we’re talking with Lacrecia Terrance. She’s the founder and CEO of theEduProject. And she’s also an ELA-certified teacher who’s taught math from elementary all the way up to high school. Lacrecia, thanks so much for joining us.

– Thank you, Adam, for having me. Appreciate it.

– Well, yeah, absolutely. One other thing I may have needed to put in your introduction there, but really relevant to what we’re about to talk about, you’re also on the national faculty of PBLWorks which is the leading organization related to project based learning. That’s what the PBL stands for. So I did, I guess, a good job there of defining the three letters, but I’m gonna need you to define a little bit for our viewers, what is project based learning? If I’ve never heard of that before, what should I be thinking?

– Project based learning. So I’m gonna say it in my terms. So project-based learning is an instructional model that prepares students for the future through the process of project, through projects, giving them experiences, giving them relevant lessons that just equips them for the 21st century.

– So now if I’m a teacher and I’m thinking, “Oh yeah, I must be doing project-based learning. I have lots of projects in my class.” Should I put a big check next to the PBL on my “What I’m Doing” sheet? Or do I need to be thinking about something else before I can say, “Oh yeah, I’m a PBL-style teacher.”

– Of course, Adam. When I, I shared before, when I first started teaching, long, long time ago, we’re not gonna talk about how long ago that’s, but I thought I was doing project based learning. I had students engaged. I had created all of these games for students to do. And I was up late, late hours at night, just creating all types of manipulatives and things like that for students. But when it came to the moment where students had to do state standardized testing, and when they had to do the district benchmarks, my students were not succeeding. And so I was like, “There has to be some type of disconnect there.” I just really thought I was doing a great job at PBL. Then I ran across this company called BIE which is the Buck Institute at that time for PBLWorks before we transitioned over. And I learned that there was a structure to it. In order to have high-quality projects and high-quality planning, there was a structured planning that happens behind the scenes, that need to happen before I actually introduce a project to students. And so in PBLWorks, we what is called the dessert project and we have the main project. And what I was doing was more dessert. Most teachers during that time, we would call it an extension project. We teach this awesome lesson, and then we say, “Okay, we’re gonna extend it.” “We gonna play a game!” Or “We gonna create a game!” Or just something to that affair, but project based learning, we actually launch a project and we continue to research within the project. We create things in the project. And so the project is the learning. It becomes the process of the cognitive learning that students go through.

– Yeah, hearing you describe that I’m realizing I may have served up dessert to my own students on one or two occasions, but I’m hearing from you that the kind of big difference with projects that may or may not be in the PBL frame is that when you’re really implementing project based learning, that the students are going to use that project to kind of discover something new. It sounds like that could be a good idea. I’m gonna guess there’s probably research that that’s a good idea, but convince me, I’m skeptical. What’s the advantage to project based learning compared to maybe another style of lesson? Because, hey, I’ve taught the states of matter the same way every single year. Why do I need a project for that?

– Right, so PBL or project-based learning opens the door to so many other things. We mentioned culturally responsive teaching practices. We also have, I’m gonna say, any strategy or any platform that you have engaged in before, project based learning is the best practices of all of those put together. It’s the integration of all of them being whatever works best for your student. What I really love about project based learning, and I tell this to folks all the time, it allows students to become the owners of their own learning and their own journey, their process, and it makes it relevant to them. And so when you make learning relevant to students, what happens? They become excited about learning. And so in that, in doing that, we pull in collaboration, 21st-century skills, students become critical thinkers, all of those ideal graduate things that we talk about all the time. “Oh, we want students to manage their learning.” “Oh, we want students to become critical thinkers.” “We want them to learn financial responsibility.” Just the things that people talk about when they say, “Oh, the ideal graduate.” And so they can’t learn it unless we give them the experience of doing it. Another thing that PBL does is, for so long, the pedagogy, we teach it to students. We teach the knowledge of it, and we don’t allow students that time to apply what they’ve learned. Project based learning allows them that time where students not only can just apply what they’re learning, but they research what they’re learning about, which, there’s a greater gain in that, because that’s when you begin to close those achievement gaps, because I’m learning at my own level and I’m learning things that I enjoy learning. And I hope that helps.

– Oh yeah, of course. I mean, what I was thinking about in that kind of description is the kind of empowerment of the student that, the end goal here is learning how to learn, right? It kind of shifted –

– Right.

– Why they were there. It wasn’t about being able to prove the, you mentioned about financial literacy, maybe it’s the, I mean, of course we probably care about the specific names of the routing number and the checking number and all those things. I don’t know, do we still teach people how to write physical checks? I haven’t written a physical check in a long time. But you get what I’m saying here, which is, it’s not about the vocabulary words. It’s suddenly about learning how to learn about finance –

– Right.

– As a topic that you might need in life.

– Right.

– Okay, so if I’m a teacher and I’m feeling like the light bulb is going off, help me get started because I’m gonna guess, I don’t just introduce this project differently. I probably need to go do some learning. So do you have some kind of go-to best resources you would point me to, to kind of find my way?

– Absolutely, so one, you can find some resources on our website and we’re building that library more and more each day. Another place you can go is the Harvard Project Zero. And so what they have is visible thinking routines. So you can go there. I always tell folks when they’re first starting PBL or project based learning is to look at the protocols, look at structures, because they find it hard to just say, “Oh, I’m just gonna let students take over the learning.” And it’s really about how you plan. Everything is about planning when it comes to PBL. And so just kind of looking at those types of resources as well as going to PBLWorks. There’s another company that I work with very closely which is AdaptiveX. And so they have lots of resources that you can use as well just to kind of get started.

– And for those that don’t know your website, tell us what that website is again.

– So our website is www.theeduproject.org.

– All right, well, Lacrecia, we are going to take a quick break. For those of you that are listening or watching this conversation shared to you by a friend or a colleague, make sure you head to PLtogether.org for the rest of this conversation with Lacrecia as well as many others. Lacrecia, thanks so much for being part of PLtogether.

– Thank you, I appreciate it.

Share the learning