Hands-on Training Model Shows Teachers the Power of PBL

A New Jersey district uses a train-the-trainer model to introduce educators to project-based learning.


If you had walked into a Hopatcong Borough School District classroom two years ago, you likely would have seen students seated quietly, with a teacher standing at the front of the class giving a lesson. In 2015, Hopatcong’s goal was to increase student engagement, and district leaders agreed that project-based learning (PBL) was the answer.


Knowing that many teachers had never engaged in PBL before, Acting Superintendent Joanne Mullane aimed to provide teachers with professional development and tools to help them effectively implement PBL lessons.  To guide teachers through the process, Mullane used a train-the-trainer model to facilitate training of new PBL tools at each school.


Mullane knew that, for her teachers to truly see the power of PBL, they’d have to experience it for themselves. “All of my teachers went through hands-on training sessions. Hopatcong opted to implement a new PBL resource, Defined STEM, using the Certified Trainer Program. The program follows a train-the-trainer model to create a handful of Defined STEM experts who facilitate training and implementation at each school. Teachers were split into groups and completed a Defined STEM performance task just as students would. They conducted research using the research resources provided by Defined STEM, then had to design, draw, and present their projects.”


Working through a PBL performance task allowed teachers to experience how performance tasks are naturally cross-curricular and have the power to engage students while challenging them to use their problem-solving and critical thinking skills. During the first year of the implementation, all students had to complete at least one performance task, and at the end of the year, teachers showcased their student’s work during a faculty gallery walk.


Hopatcong provides a plethora of PBL PD opportunities for their educators, including full- and half-day in-services, collaborative lesson-planning time every six days, team-building time, and faculty meetings to ask questions and share best practices for implementing performance tasks.  “It’s taken a bit of time to get everyone on board with PBL, but once teachers see students actively participating in their learning, it’s contagious," said Mullane.


"Students are used to being spoon-fed information from the teachers. With PBL they are engaged and motivated to use what they know to solve the problem at hand while discovering new information along the way.  There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing students excited about learning. Teachers realize the benefits of PBL are worth the hurdles.”


Joanne Mullane is Acting Superintendent of Hopatcong Borough School District in Hopatcong, New Jersey.




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