PBL - Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose!

Most experts agree the average adult attention span is 20 minutes. That's it - 20 minutes. So why was the Kimmel Farm Elementary's faculty able to maintain positive engagement at its second PBL professional development training for more than 3 hours? It's possible there are three reasons - and they're featured in Dan Pink's book Drive - The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

We began the four-hour evening training with an overview of Drive and what Pink describes as the mismatch between what science says and business, or in our case our school, does. The science of intrinsic motivation comes down to three elements - autonomy, mastery and purpose, and the good news is intrinsic motivation can be "built."
is training focused on facilitation, observing it from the learners point of view. The PBL experience used to teach us about facilitation was a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery where each learning team worked together to try to solve the murder based on letters, facts, witness accounts, etc. The ultimate goal was to come up with plausible and defensible theories as to who did the deed, how they did it, and why the act was even committed. As it turned out not one learning team completely solved the mystery, but that's not what was important. What was important was learning how to manage the process, how to facilitate learning by answering questions with questions, and how to guide students in the right directions to achieve stated learning goals.
Why, after a full day of teaching was the faculty engaged in the process nine times longer than the average adult attention span? I think it is the three elements of intrinsic motivation - autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
After getting a very basic set of directions each group had the autonomy to go about the process their own way. Some read aloud, others wrote on legal and chart pads, some drew maps of the crime scene, while others just analyzed information. Everybody was given opportunity to play to their strengths. Nobody was told what to do next. The
challenge to solve the crime provided the element of mastery.
Mastery requires effort and deliberate practice, and it’s impossible to fully realize which makes it simultaneously frustrating and alluring.
Every group wanted to solve the crime for the sheer enjoyment of the process. It was learning for the sake of learning and that's what we are building for students at Kimmel Farm. It also fostered a learning environment where we went far beyond the stated learning objectives by asking our own questions. The PBL lesson was fun, but it served a purpose - to train how to facilitate learning, and to enjoy learning the process from the learners point of view. That's something I don't believe we do enough of as educators - put ourselves in the role of student. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose was why we stayed engaged until 8 PM. If PBL methodology can keep adults engaged nine times longer than the average adult attention span imagine what it can do for students. Experiencing it first hand will make one a believer, and that's powerful and positive.