Frustrated by persistent achievement gaps between groups of students within the school, six years ago we set out to fundamentally transform the way students learn and teachers teach. Inspired by compelling examples present in the educational research literature, we have been working to redesign both our coursework and our professional learning to a more learner-centered, problem-based learning approach.

(Click here for Sammamish’s Edutopia profile, including videos and teacher-created blog entries describing our journey)

Guiding that work are the Key Elements of Problem-Based Learning (PBL) Classrooms. Written over five years, through sustained collaboration between teachers, school leaders, and university researchers, the Key Elements document articulates our specific approach to PBL and anchors how we continue to design relevant and authentic learning experiences for students and teachers. In this document we name authentic problems, authentic assessment, expertise, culturally relevant instruction, collaboration, academic discourse, and student voice as key pedagogical components we strive to make universal in all our classrooms. By developing this document, we hoped to provide all our teachers, regardless of content area, with broad and deep research-based principles they could use to design highly engaging coursework for students.

One of the challenges we have faced as we worked to implement PBL in all content areas was finding ways to design PBL coursework while also tending to the Common Core Math and ELA standards, the Next Generation Science Standards, the demands with teaching myriad Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and aligning our work with district curriculum and assessments. Although a deeply complicated and complex process, we believe the resulting PBL curriculum presents practitioners with coursework that is both practical and transformative.

This website is our attempt to share our successes and failures with other school and districts who are looking for ways to fundamentally shift teaching and learning. Within this website we share our story through teacher and student artifacts, examples of PBL curriculum we have found to be especially powerful for students, narrative descriptions of how we approach the school renewal process, and various tools and materials practitioners can download and use to improve how their students learn.