How it Started
It was during the 2013-14 school year that the Hutto ISD Instructional Technology Department developed a strong vision to see technology being used more effectively in the classroom. We wanted to see technology being used to transform student learning, not just to assist teachers in presenting material to their students. Instructional Technology knew there had to be a way to get students more engaged in their learning and developing the 21st century skills that are an intrical part of the K-12 Technology Application TEKS.
Instructional Technology was a team of 3 servicing a district of approximately 5400 students (at the time) and we needed to be strategic in our plan by leverage existing research and practices. That is how we came upon Project Based Learning (PBL).
The Buck Institute for Education (BIE), describes Project Based Learning “as a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge.” BIE’s 8 Essential Elements of PBL include: significant content, 21st century content, in-depth inquiry, driving question, need to know, voice and choice, critique and revision, public audience.
Hutto Instructional Technology started with a very small trial, in May of 2014. Two teachers at Hutto High School did a PBL project with their classes. We learned some valuable lessons, mostly that there needed to be more purposeful upfront communication with parents and students about the expectation and the structure of PBL. Overall the trial was a success and motivated the Hutto Instructional Technology Department to expand PBL into more classrooms.
We did a lot of reading and research and borrowed lessons learned by other districts to present a Project Based Learning Academy for 4 intensive days in June of 2014 to a group of 18 teacher volunteers. Everyone came away with a wealth of knowledge and those teachers successfully incorporated the strategies in their classrooms.
At the same time Hutto ISD was working on their District Strategic Plan and also saw the value in PBL. One of the six strategic objectives in the final plan includes actions that directly line up with PBL. It is a large undertaking to move to this type of teaching and learning, but one that is well worth it. Hutto ISD knew they wanted to do it right and so they entered a 3 year partnership with the Buck Institute for Education to help the district achieve the goal of infusing PBL into Hutto classrooms.
Project Based Learning continues to be a tool used to help bring authentic learning into Hutto ISD classrooms, engage students in their learning and to help students cultivate collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity.