Project-Based Learning for Global Readiness

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Project-based learning for global engagement

The narrative of “global readiness” has a pitfall. When we talk about global readiness, we project it into the future.Project-based learning for global engagement We discuss, “how will our student be ready for a globally connected world?” or, “how are we preparing students for the future?” While it is in fact important to begin with the end in mind, and have a goal, sometimes that goal is too far off. By putting it off, we run the risk of doing the work now to really prepare students. Instead, I believe we should focus on make our student global ready by putting them into these contexts to experience the world. Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a tool that not only helps to align curriculum, but can be used to focus on global readiness by having students engage with the world around them now instead of later.

As an instructional coach at the Shanghai American school, I have the unique opportunity to work within an “American” curriculum but also be closely connected to an international lens. Even within an international school, it is easy not to have to engage with the world directly outside of the walls of the school. However, I have wonderful teaching colleagues that have taken risks to create and implement PBL projects that focus on global competencies.

Here are three sample projects.

Shanghai Documentaries

My colleague, Mr. Irwin, teaches Middle School social studies. Focusing on research and historical inquiry, he decided to have students create 3 minute documentaries on a major cultural change that occurred in the city of Shanghai. These films (which can be viewed here) we screened at a film festival for the community. Students got to choose a variety of topics. Some students focused on how transportation had changed. Others focused on how hygiene in the wet markets around the school. Students were truly engaged because of this choice, as well as the awareness they brought to their fellow students, parents and faculty. One additional factor that made this project powerful is that the students had to actually visit and do “field work” at the places they wanted to investigate. Instead of simply researching on the internet about “The Bund” here in Shanghai, they had to physically go there to investigate and experience the culture.

Food Festival to Connect with Local Restaurants

Mrs. Hefte, an art teacher, wanted to connected with local restaurants to have students work on their graphic design skills. Students choose local restaurants, visit them, and communicate with them to understand the food, the cultural connections to the food, and how they wanted their food “messaged.” In addition, students worked with their Chinese teachers to translate the language for both Chinese and English language speakers. Here students not only connected directly with people of different cultures, but they partnered with them, and worked on their global language skills. The project was culminated with a food festival celebration to share menus and marketing designs with their clients and the community. To this day, the menus are still used at the restaurants.

Playground for Students in Nairobi

Ms. Habel, a math teacher, tasked students to design a playground for a partner school in Nairobi. Students skyped with the Nairobi students to learn about their school, as well as the constraints they had to design the playground, from flooding concerns to space. Students also had to consider feasibility in supplies and budget. Students shared initial designs for feedback and revised their work. This wasn’t simply a fundraiser, but also a partnership. Some students, however, did take the project a step further and organized fundraisers to support the purchasing of supplies for the playground. This project is still a work in progress, and Ms. Habel hopes to continue this project into the future, as students on both campuses loved learning from each other to make a difference.

PBL naturally connects to global readiness as it focuses on complex issues, problem solving, and taking action. Consider ways to create PBL projects where students engage in global competencies, or take existing projects and revise them to have that global lens or focus on global action. It is possible! Only by having students engage with the world now can we truly prepare them for it.


Andrew Miller is the author of the ASCD Arias publication Freedom to Fail: How do I foster risk-taking and innovation in my classroom? He is currently an instructional coach at Shanghai American School and is on the national faculty for the Buck Institute for Education, an organization specializing in 21st century project-based learning. Miller is also an ASCD Faculty member, providing expertise in a variety of professional development areas, and a regular blogger for Edutopia. Connect with Miller on Twitter @betamiller.

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