Tonight will be an exciting night. At the library downtown, over 60 people will gather to discuss alternative education opportunities that are expanding in the Chippewa Valley at an event called Pizza and PBL. The group will include educators, parents, and other community members interested in deepening their understanding of project-based learning (PBL) and increasing their awareness about action taking place in our area.
The event has been organized by a rapidly-growing group of community members who call themselves Initiative for New Directions in Education (INDE). Oftentimes when I describe my current teaching position and our learning environment to people who ask about it, I receive responses similar to, “I wish school was like that when I was that age!” It seems as though many people recognize something was missing from their own schooling experience but can’t quite put their fingers on it. INDE is the opposite. This is a group of community members, most without any education background, who know something is lacking and who are seeking knowledge regarding alternative approaches, connections to others who share similar opinions, and pathways to invent new opportunities for youth in our area. Instead of waiting for our district to make similar realizations, INDE is taking it upon themselves to get things moving.
Now suddenly, Andy and I are the experts in one of the newer educational approaches – project-based learning. Though I hardly feel like an expert, with nearly three years of experience under my belt in this new environment, along with the long list of books, blogs, and other resources I’ve explored, I can say I do feel far more confident speaking to the benefits of PBL in a classroom setting. So tonight, we will share our knowledge about PBL with this group and examples of how it is working in the ARCTIC Zone.
Tonight’s free event will cover the following topics:
- What is project-based learning?
- What alternative learning programs exist in our area?
- What is happening with the charter school being planned for Anthony School between Eau Claire and Mondovi?
- What is the status of the Little Red Nature Campus proposal in the Eau Claire Area School District?
- What innovative programming could we offer to best serve students in our area?
Before last year, we felt somewhat alone in our efforts to implement an alternative learning environment for students in our district. We have been faced with many obstacles. As I look at the five bullet points above, though, I am energized by the enthusiasm in our area regarding these new ideas. It may not be happening as quickly as we would like, but we have an entirely new project-based learning school being developed in a neighboring district as we speak – all because of INDE. We have multiple proposals in place requesting project-based and outdoor education opportunities within our district as we speak – many through INDE. We have a school board president seeking new board members who share the desire to offer these learning environments to youth in our district. And we have people taking time out of their evening to join in a discussion about these topics. Forward is a good direction.