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How to Connect PBL With Your Community: Strategies for Successful Partnerships

Listen and learn

Listen and learn : Lecture

Friday, December 4, 1:30–2:15 pm PST (Pacific Standard Time)

Suzie Boss  
Effective projects don't happen in a vacuum. Real-world PBL connects students with communities, content experts and authentic audiences. We'll share practical strategies for taking student learning beyond the classroom and suggestions for digital tools that can close the distance between school and the wider world.

Audience: Coaches, Teachers, Principals/head teachers
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Windows, Android, iOS
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Topic: Project-, problem- & challenge-based learning
Grade level: PK-12
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.
For Students:
Global Collaborator
  • Students explore local and global issues and use collaborative technologies to work with others to investigate solutions.
Knowledge Constructor
  • Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.
Additional detail: ISTE author presentation, Session recorded for video-on-demand

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

Whether it happens face-to-face or virtually, project-based learning offers students the opportunity to experience real-world learning that makes school more meaningful and purposeful. However, many teachers are unfamiliar with strategies to connect their students with experts, issues, and audiences beyond the classroom. This session offers practical, classroom-tested strategies to demystify this important aspect of PBL and strengthen school-community connections.
Opportunities for stronger community connections occur from start to finish in high-quality PBL (as described in Reinventing PBL, 3rd Ed., and in the Gold Standard PBL model developed by PBLWorks). For students, these opportunities become part of the inquiry experience, raising questions such as:
--Problem finding: What are the issues facing our community? How can we investigate these issues or challenges as part of our learning experience? How can digital tools (such as mapping tools or tools for data gathering) help us understand problems?
--Building understanding: Where can we find resources and experts to help us answer our research questions? How can we use digital tools for communication and collaboration to overcome distances? How can we gain access to tools that our school lacks?
--Developing solutions: How can we solicit feedback from community members to test and improve our ideas?
--Sharing results: How can we reach the audiences that will care about our solutions? How can we find out if our ideas or products have made an impact on our community?
Compelling examples of real-world PBL with effective technology integration will bring these learning opportunities to life.
Finally, several models of effective school-community collaboration will help participants imagine solutions for their local contexts.


Introduction: The session will open with powerful examples of real-world PBL, illustrating the opportunities for more engaged and meaningful learning in communities of all sizes--from rural to urban. (5 min.)
When and why to connect: Presenter will highlight multiple opportunities for connecting students and community, from start to finish of high-quality PBL. Participants will consider how and when outside connections can help with problem identification, research/background building, solution or product development, and final showcase of learning. (30 min.)
How to build a strong network to support learning: Examples from schools that routinely connect PBL with community partners and experts will help participants develop their own action plans for moving forward. Strategies include: developing a PBL advisory board with business and university members; establishing ongoing partnerships with government agencies and nonprofits (including training for partners in how to work effectively with students); developing database of parent expertise; using digital tools like Skype or Google Hangout to bridge distances. (25 min.)
Q&A: 5 min. to address specific questions.
In addition to the discussion, a backchannel will be used to capture audience ideas and suggestions, and potentially lead to future collaboration among participants.
OPTIONAL: If this session is converted to a panel, I would invite representatives from the school programs highlighted in the strategy session to share their insights.

Supporting research

This session is grounded in best practices for PBL, as defined by PBLWorks (, High Quality PBL (, and the Deeper Learning Network, along with the ISTE Standards.

Models of effective school-community collaboration include the groundbreaking Iowa BIG ( program and the award-winning Remake Learning initiative in Pittsburgh, PA (, a showcase site for the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.

In addition, several books and resources support this session, including:

Anderson, S. Bringing school to life: Place-based education across the curriculum. (2017). Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield.

Boss, S. (2017). All together now: How to engage your stakeholders in reimagining school. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Boss, S., and Krauss, J. (2018). Reinventing project-based learning: Your field guide to real world projects for the digital age, 3rd Ed. Eugene, OR: ISTE.

Boss, S. with Larmer, J. (2018). Project based teaching: How to create rigorous and engaging learning experiences. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Larmer, J., Mergendoller, J., and Boss, S. (2015). Setting the standard for project based learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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Suzie Boss, PBLWorks National Faculty emeritus

Suzie Boss is a writer and educational consultant from Portland, Oregon, who focuses on the power of teaching and learning to improve lives and transform communities. She’s the author of 10 popular books for educators, most recently Project-Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences and Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age, 3rd Ed. She collaborated with award-winning teacher Stephen Ritz to tell his inspiring story about classroom innovation in The Power of a Plant. A regular contributor to Edutopia, member of the PBLWorks National Faculty and frequent conference presenter, she consults with schools and nonprofit organizations worldwide that are interested in shifting to a more student-centered, innovative approach to teaching and learning. Her work has taken her to nearly every continent, reflecting the increasing global interest in real-world learning enabled by digital tools.

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