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Prepping Your School for Project-Based Learning

By Jeffrey Shields posted 07-25-2017 09:28 AM


CEO Notebook |

Creating student-centered learning spaces doesn't have to break the bank.

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

The summer chess game is in full swing for business officers and facilities directors! We are looking at our facilities “to-do” lists strategically. Even as summer camps generate precious non-tuition revenue on some parts of our campuses, we are identifying opportunities to repair, renovate and otherwise refresh other parts of our physical plants while buildings and classrooms are unoccupied.

One of the hottest topics many schools will be working toward over the summer is creating learning spaces that cultivate student-centered learning and real-world problem-solving. Much of this falls under the vernacular of project-based learning (PBL), which experts say can better equip students to address challenges, innovate and become leaders. Fostering PBL requires a partnership between faculty and facilities staff — and this partnership is very often navigated by the business officer.

In support of this partnership, consider as a roadmap an article called “Six Must-Have School Spaces for Project-Based Learning.” I think it could serve as a valuable guide for schools regardless of their financial resources or progress in increasing students’ opportunities to engage in more project-based learning.

Three highlights that I think almost any school can achieve:

My personal favorite is more conceptual than physical; it doesn’t even require a change in facilities. The professional incubator engages students with employees of outside companies as they work to solve actual problems. Your incubator can take your students off-campus to explore, or it can involve inviting professionals into your school environment. The key is to build connections to individuals who are trying to address a challenge that may seem enormous, like addressing poverty, or more finite, like growing their business’s customer base. The article cites Tech Academy in Chicago, which partners with more than 100 companies for field trips and mentorships.

A den — not the kind you might see on Mad Men, where dads retire after supper to have a drink — but where students go to quietly reflect on the funnel of information that our schools provide in class after class. Offering a change of pace from the busy hustle of the day, the den invites students to take a brief respite that is mental and physical alike. Your den doesn’t require deep resources; it simply must be slightly off the beaten path within the school, quiet and equipped with comfortable furniture.

Offering a change of pace from the busy hustle of the day, the den invites students to take a brief respite that is mental and physical alike.

A space where students can literally put everything on the table — their smartphone, laptop, notebooks and textbooks — and use all these tools (and then some) at once. The author calls such a space the design studio. A visit to the Khan Lab School revealed that students “craved more tabletop space” than small desks provided. To me, the design studio epitomizes how the practice of PBL is both mental and physical, and how both need to be in play to help this generation of students solve the next generation’s big problems.

So, while you’re racing from place to place on your campus this summer, make time for project-based learning practices of your own. Find time to slow down and take a break, spread out to ensure all the resources you need are available to you, and keep in mind that NBOA is always here to be your professional incubator. Look no further than NBOA Connect, and you’ll see.

Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.
FromNet Assets NOW, July 25, 2017. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.

#Facilities #Technology

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