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.

Learning in the Real World

Any time a school tries something new there's always a level of apprehension. Change is inevitable, but in most cases necessary to move forward. Before we began staff development with Problem Based Learning we surveyed the staff to gain insight into their level of experience and comfort level with the process and yes, there existed a certain level of apprehension. I think that's now gone.

Thursday, February 11th Kimmel Farm Elementary's faculty embarked on a seven week journey to be trained in the PBL process/methodology. Training took place for four hours after the end of the regular school day, but thanks to the wonderfully engaging staff of CERTL, especially Dr. Ann Lambros and Adrienne Loffredo, the experience was engaging and energizing. Here are some of the reflections of the faculty following the first training.

I found the PBL approach to be very interesting. This is my
first exposure to it and I am thinking of how to adapt it to my classroom setting, but I am sure that it can be done with great results. I must say, one of the better staff development sessions I've ever been in.

What excites me most about what Kimmel Farm is doing with PBL is the level of commitment, engagement, and excitement everyone is bringing to the table. It is about doing what we know is right for students in order to make them lifelong learners.

I am excited to integrate PBL into my classroom because I feel it will involve and engage all my learners, especially the ones who are usually shy and try to go unnoticed.

This process seems like it lends itself very well to utilizing the tech and media center resources. I'm excited to work with a highly motivated and professional staff to show results in education can be achieved if one used the right methodology and breaks out from the mold.

I'm blessed to be part of a team of teachers AND administration that can step back and think outside the box when it comes to educating young people. Most importantly everyone is willing to jump in and do whatever is needed to meet our shared goal of being the best teachers we can be. I sat many times in my graduate classes last year and listened to other teachers gripe that the schools they were at did not support teaching that pushed the standards of what we are all used to and here I am at a school where EVERYONE is willing and eager. I think PBL is a tool that will make us all better teachers and most importantly our students better learners.

It is AWESOME to be at a school where we will all be teaching PBL!!!!!! Imagine teaching students to think outside the box and become problem solvers. AMAZING!

Sometimes it is hard to me to believe that as a new teacher I am privileged to be a part of such an awesome learning environment. I am so excited about the PBL implementation here. Not only am I excited to see what the kids in my second grade classroom can do with this style of learning, but I am excited to know that I will be able to carry on a conversation over the dinner table with my own children about they will be learning the their experiences with PBL. I am truly blessed to be a part of Kimmel Farm.

As I sat and listened to the staff work through their first PBL problem, I felt so honored to work among such talented and creative people. I was so proud of how well we all worked together as a unit. Responses were so thoughtful and everyone was truly engaged. I think that if it engaged us as a staff it will truly do amazing things for our students. I have loved PBL for such along time and am so glad to share my love and passion with my fantastic colleagues! I look forward our next sessions together and can't wait to see us grow even closer from this staff development!

Photo by woodleywonderworks via Flickr