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Project- Based Learning: The Swiss Army Knife of School Reform

School Leaders and Change Initiatives

Are you a school leader or teacher leader involved in school reform? Do you stay up late at night questioning each and every decision you make in the process? Do you juggle a thousand ideas and feel challenged to implement any of them well?

You aren’t alone. There are thousands of leaders just like you.

What if there was a way to focus your change initiatives, and deepen student learning through a single, focused approach?

What if you could incorporate STEAM, Experiential Learning, 21st Century Skills, Tech, and personalized experiences with the current curriculum and time you have now?

The Swiss Army Knife of School Reform

When I lived in China, there was an incredible app that was cleverly coined “the swiss army knife of apps.” It was appropriately named. It literally did everything aside from make invisible money appear. You could pay your electricity bills, create social media posts, collaborate on projects, and join local interest groups. The name of the app is Wechat.

What if we had the same thing for schools?

What if there was an approach to learning that allowed school leaders to accomplish all of the the things we know enhance and deepen student learning.

There’s good news. Such an approach does exist. It’s called Project- Based Learning, and it has literally transformed schools in some of the toughest neighborhoods in the world.

The Power of PBL

I have seen the transformative effects of project- based experiences first hand. I have seen students as young as ten years old 3-d print medical devices to assist doctors in opthalmology exams, and as old as 16 create award winning enterprises.

Through the process of these experiences, they discovered and learned the things we as educators know are most transformative.

They gained creativity and communication skills through being forced to solve local problems and communicate the results; they discovered maker spaces by having to 3-d print and engineer their designs; they took part in authentic experiences by working side by side with local experts in the business and medical field; they had personalized experiences, as the solutions they engineered stemmed from their own ideas and strengths; and finally, they learned more about STEM through constant feedback cycles and iterations of their solutions.

Narrow the Focus

I want to make something abundantly clear. I am not an advocate for a “one size fits all” approach. You as a school leader have your own unique challenges and needs. We all serve varying demographics, and every school has its own curricular and financial restraints. You might have class sizes of over 35 or a budget that can barely fund textbooks. These are challenges that cannot and should not be ignored. But I can say with certainty, that taking a project- based approach will help you as a school leader overcome these challenges. Project- Based Learning will engage your students, re-ignite your staff, and enliven your parents and community.

Most importantly, it will help you as a school leader to focus on the initiatives that have the greatest impact on student learning. Rather than create a mishmash of initiatives that pull your school in a thousand different directions, you will be able to move it in one direction with courage and clarity.

How I can help

I would love to help you get your PBL initiatives off the ground. My experience with PBL affords me this kind of insight, from understanding how to implement its tenets, to how to get the most out of it. I was part of the initial cohort of PBL leaders at High Tech High, the most infamous project- based school in the world, and have led programs in both independent and international schools that utilize PBL as their main approach.

I want to share some of my learning with you so that you too can lead change in your school.

At the SXSWEdu conference, I will be offering short mentoring sessions on Tuesday, March 7th from 3:30-4:30 pm to help you work through your own ideas. I will pull from my experience to offer guidance for you in yours. During our chat, I will listen to your journey with PBL, and offer a few concrete ideas to move it forward.

The Power of Simple

Immediately following my mentoring session, I will be signing copies of my book that will be available for purchase in the SXSWEdu bookstore. My book, ‘Power of Simple,’ disseminates my learning with PBL and offers strategies for school leaders who want to engage in similar work.

Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing courageous leaders like you inspire and lead change. I would be honored to help support you in any way I can! See you Tuesday, March 7th at 3:30 pm.

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Kyle Wagner
School Transformation and Project- Based Learning Coach

I coach school leaders on how to lead change and improve student learning through simple, innovative srategies and teaming structures.

Preliminary School Transformation Guide



Learn how as a school leader to take the first steps to transform student learning at your school!

My Book

Change doesn't have to be so hard. This book equips leaders with simple strategies for school transformation; helping schools conquer standards, individualize learning, and create a community of innovators.

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