A Look Back at PBL World 2016


It’s hard to believe almost five months have gone by since PBL World 2016 took place. Since then we’ve been hearing reports from participants, seeing tweets at #pblworld, and providing services to some of the schools and districts that attended – so the energy and learning from the event carries on.

For those who were there, those who wished they could be, and those who might be there in the future, here’s a recap of the action back in June, and two reflections from attendees. You can also check out this video about PBL World with highlights from the event.

Bigger, with a new location & program
This year PBL World moved from Napa New Technology High School, where it had been held since its inception in 2012, to the larger American Canyon High School just south in the Napa Valley. Over 800 people gathered from June 13-16 (up from just over 500 the year before). About 500 were teachers, 80 were instructional coaches, and 160 were principals and assistant principals, and another 80 were other school leaders and educators. We had representation from 38 states and 13 countries.

The heart of the program was the BIE workshops: the three-day PBL 101, PBL Coaching Academy, and PBL Leadership Academy, plus half-day PBL 201 sessions, which went deeper into specific topics around BIE’s Gold Standard Project Based Teaching Practices.

We also heard from some especially inspiring keynote speakers, all of whose talks were live-streamed to the outside world. To hear more about the keynotes, read about them and see the videos in my blog posts with Day One, Two, Three, and Four highlights.


Reflections from Two Long-Time Attendees
In the evaluations they completed immediately after PBL World and in reports we received via social media in the weeks and months later, the folks who came to Napa were enthusiastic about what they gained. I received two reflections that were especially worth sharing. Both came from educators who work at the Onondaga - Cortland - Madison Counties Board of Cooperative Educational Services, better known as OCM-BOCES, in upstate New York. They provide support to K-12 schools in their region, including PBL coaching and training. Both have been to PBL World several times.

Patrick Shaw, who you’ll also see interviewed in the video linked above, had this to say:

"I have been lucky enough to be able to attend PBL World since it started. Every year I attend I feel that I learn so much. I am inspired by the Buck Institute's National Faculty as they foster my growth mindset. As a trainer and coach in Project Based Learning, PBL World allows me to interact and learn deeply with like-minded people from all over the world who truly believe that PBL is an instructional practice that will best prepare children for their future, and not our past!"

Randi Downs sent the following in-depth reflection. Her comments about what she gained at PBL World are a wonderful example of the spirit of it:

“In June, my team and I attended PBL World and while I came away with new knowledge around many of the PBL teaching practices, what stuck with me after those four days was the necessity for instilling culture before deep learning can commence. And I don’t mean rolling out a couple “ice-breaker” games the first day of school; I mean putting culture building on par with unit design. While games and interactive activities have a place in every classroom, it takes so much more. That’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.

“After experiencing Ashanti Branch at PBL World, I was left thinking that the thing that is often missing when teachers are engaged in exploration around teaching and learning is a discussion about the culture we support in our classroom. When Ashanti led us through an activity that had us drawing masks on one side of the paper and highlighting what is behind our mask on the back, I was stopped in my tracks.  I’ve always prided myself in actively supporting a safe culture and laying the groundwork for deep learning, but I never spent time really thinking about what lies behind the façades of my learners, whether children or adults. 

“I entered the next week of training (that I facilitated) with this idea at the forefront of my thinking. I listened to teachers as they noted the why behind every interaction the group shared. They too realized that if kids are safe to take risks, then management moves away from behavior and more towards the business of completing the tasks at hand. As I facilitated, I asked them how they felt after completing a protocol or framed reflection.  We discussed the idea of honoring those times when kids talk to each other and even better, listen to each other!

“I told them a story that haunts me, about a certain high school class where, as the school year ended, one of my students referred to another classmate as “that kid over there.” I shared the shame I felt, when in that brief statement, I realized that I had failed to set a stage of togetherness, of community. I told them that I vowed to have that never happen again, that my students would know each other, would collaborate and grapple with difficult content together. I vowed that they would work together to make meaning and to create products to show what they know. And I privately thanked my experience at PBL World 2016 for reminding me of what matters.

“So, as this next school year continues, think about the moves you will make to ensure that you have a true culture of collaboration and inquiry. Think about how you might engage students as they reflect in community.  And remember to honor what lies beyond the mask.”


PBL World 2017 will be June 20-22, with a preconference institute on Monday, July 19.