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“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”
- Albert Einstein


This simple, yet powerful quote makes us ask, “How can understanding be achieved?” Students Rebuild and the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) recently partnered together to help create an opportunity to build understanding about an important world issue. This past July, we attended a two-day design camp in Anaheim, California, hosted by BIE and supported by Students Rebuild. Our group of seven elementary and secondary teachers from across the United States, plus BIE’s National Faculty members and staff, collaborated to answer the driving question: How do we create a Gold Standard PBL unit for this year’s Students Rebuild Challenge? If you are unfamiliar with Students Rebuild, each year they help educators worldwide empower young people to learn, reflect and take action on critical global issues. Through the Facing Difference Challenge, young people will create a meaningful self-portrait that reflects their sense of identity. Each portrait submitted gets matched with funding to support programs helping youth on different sides of conflict build empathy, understanding and peace. Together, we worked to ideate and design a PBL unit based on the themes of peacebuilding which is the focus of this year’s Facing Difference Challenge.

While our mission and driving question was clear, before we could walk the PBL walk as a newly formed design team, we all needed to talk the PBL talk.  Throughout our introductions, every teacher shared that they did “projects” in their classrooms. A “project”, however, can mean something different to each person. To develop a Gold Standard PBL unit, we needed to create a “Main Course, not Dessert” project and gain a clear understanding of the design elements of Gold Standard PBL.

Collaborative Campers: Intentional Success Skills
Our two-day camp launched with a team-builder activity involving a balloon with pieces of paper inside on which interesting, personal trivia was written. As each balloon was popped, we tried to match individuals with the trivia and with each guess, there was laughter, stories, and surprises. This all seemed silly at first but with each sharing, we found connections to each other’s pasts and personal lives. We were building relationships. By the end of the first day, we knew each other's names and began to have honest conversations about peace and conflict. Being intentional about building a culture of collaboration by investing time to get to know each other made a difference in how we worked during the most challenging parts of the design process. In a PBL unit, it’s so easy to immerse your students in the content of a project, but design camp also showed us the importance of being purposeful with success skills such as collaboration.

Know Thy Audience: Public Product
Another important lesson was thinking in multiple perspectives as we designed the unit. Who would be our audience? The teacher? The students? In this case, we determined that the teacher would be the audience in terms of instructional practices and the student would be in terms of the age appropriate content. Peace and conflict are such powerful and relevant concepts to teach children. What does peace mean to a kindergarten child? What does it mean to a fourth grader? A senior in high school? First graders can understand that policemen are peacemakers in their community or kindness in the classroom builds peace, but fifth graders can assess and compare different historical figures of peace and how they can teach us to be peacemakers. Critically thinking about the audience helped us intentionally design the scope, sequence, and resources for the unit. Providing access to a wide range of materials helped address the span from preschool to 6th grade. Just like students in a PBL project, knowing that our work would be made public to real audience increased our motivation to create a high-quality product.

Powerful Protocols: Critique and Revision 
After the design camp, we fine-tuned our project in online critique sessions with our team. The product was  important but the journey was priceless. What we gained from the meaningful discussions during each of those critique sessions not only helped the project move forward but deepened our individual understanding of the learning that would result from this PBL unit. For each session, we followed a set of protocols to allow for reflection and feedback time. With each revision, the product improved. So often during a project, for the sake of “fitting everything in”, we neglect critique, revision, and reflection. If we want quality, can we afford to not dedicate time to that?

Students Rebuild and BIE launched the “Peace by Piece” Project Based Learning Unit this month. The journey was filled with lessons learned for all involved. As for the final product, our wish is that teachers adapt or adopt the unit lessons to fit their teaching styles, meeting the needs of students, and enhancing their curriculum. Our greatest hope is that the driving question is one that goes beyond the unit and becomes a purposeful mantra and mindset for each student’s life: How can I, as a student leader, advocate peace?

You can find more information on the “Peace by Piece” Project Based Learning Unit and the Facing Difference Challenge here.