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Empowering Students Through PBL: Scaffolding and Building Creativity

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Listen and learn : Lecture

Antavious Baker  
Shawn Canney  
Leslie Schaffer  

Learn how to scaffold student-centered, creative, open-ended assignments through project-based learning. Discover how to plan and build a series of assessments. Each project allows the student to take ownership of their work. Ultimately, the students design and assess their final project.

Audience: Coaches, Curriculum/district specialists, Teachers
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Participant accounts, software and other materials: Participants will receive a URL in the chat during our session to access materials.
Topic: Project-, problem- & challenge-based learning
Grade level: 6-12
Subject area: Language arts, Performing/visual arts
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Establish a learning culture that promotes curiosity and critical examination of online resources and fosters digital literacy and media fluency.
  • Dedicate planning time to collaborate with colleagues to create authentic learning experiences that leverage technology.
  • Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

Participants will learn different levels of creative freedom and how to advance and apply it to their students. Student voice and choice is key to a successful creative class, but if students have not been in a creative environment, it requires time to build skills and confidence for them to be successful and authentic. Participants will learn simple steps during the process to foster creativity as well as how we move our students from teacher created projects to student designed assessments. We utilize technology and the arts in all of our projects, and we train our students on how to use them for each project as well.


We will begin with an introduction as well as a brief discussion of the creativity crisis (5 minutes). We will then move into discussing simple things that teachers can do to foster a positive, creative environment (5 minutes). Our first PBL project is a creative assignment, but it is one that we create the topics as well as create specific and detailed rubrics. The second PBL project is less structured (our robot puppet show), but it also allows for more creativity. Students determine their plot, story line, and characters. We simply create the rubric for the robots (10-15 minutes). The third project is our large one that takes the majority of the second semester. Students create their own play and determine what role they will take in the play. Within teams students chose, they become the playwrights, directors, costume designers, performers, set builders, set and wardrobe designers, marketing team, etc. all while implementing the literature content in a new context (i.e. 'Supacalafragilisticespalidocious' is looked at through an English lens, turning the classic song into a narrative poem filled with hyperbolas and symbols) (15 minutes). We end the year with a student film festival. The students create every aspect of the assignment. We simply monitor their progress. Time permitting, we will share stories of successes as well as PBL failures, and what we did differently the second time to ensure success.

Supporting research

Rebecca Hare's presentation at ISTE last year as well as her book, The Space: A Guide for Educators, played a large role in the creation of this presentation. The push towards STEAM certification for many schools as well as Apple's new curriculum, Everyone Can Create, demonstrate a growing need and concern for creativity in the classroom as well. We will also rely heavily on our experience teaching PBl as well as past presentations and articles like my article in Edutopia, "Learning by Doing: A Teacher Transitions Into PBL."

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Antavious Baker, David T. Howard Middle School
Shawn Canney, Drew Charter School
Leslie Schaffer, Drew Charter School

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