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Chemistry teacher Ramsey Musallam (@ramusallam), known for bringing pyrotechnics into his classroom at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory School in San Francisco, Calif., ignited deep thinking about the essential role of curiosity in learning with his morning keynote for day four of PBL World.

Musallam had his audience leaning in to hear how the hero’s journey mirrors the learning cycle that happens in well-designed project-based learning. “The hero’s journey starts with a call to adventure. In PBL, we call that a challenging problem or question,” he said. The teacher’s challenge is to “curate” a mysterious or provocative entry event, sparking more curiosity by deliberately withholding information. “The key is to withhold just the right amount of information,” he said. Instead of delivering information, teachers should be delivering “an information gap.”

Musallam sprinkled his fast-paced talk with familiar video clips of learners and mentors in action. From Mr. Miagi in The Karate Kid to Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, wise mentors wait to offer lessons or insights until learners are fully engaged in the task or challenge at hand. That set up Musallam’s first prompt for rethinking what happens in the classroom: “Does lecture happen later?”

His second prompt—“Are products public?”—again fits naturally with PBL. (It’s also part of the hero’s journey—when the hero returns home, changed by experience.)

In an example from his own classroom, Musallam described what happened when he introduced student blogs, published publicly on the web, to capture learning. Their work went from lab reports that all looked alike (using a Google doc template that the teacher had created) to online spaces that students personalized and branded as their own. His students have also run their own TEDxyouth event, where their “product” (TED talks) happen on a very public stage.

Prompt #3: Is feedback anonymous? Musallam offered his own experience with feedback to make his point. By asking his AP Chem students to give him anonymous, honest feedback about the class, he realized that even students who said they did well, gradewise, didn’t have lasting understanding of the content. That feedback sent him on his own learning journey, inquiring deeply about curiosity, engagement, and cognition.

To hear more of Musallam’s insights and adventures, watch his hugely popular TED video, which is featured in the TED Talks Education series.

Inspired by Musallam’s words of wisdom, PBL World attendees shifted to a full day of workshops to inspire more good thinking. Choices included sessions hosted by partners in the Deeper Learning Network and a wide range of edtech developers.

Tomorrow, the final day of PBL World, conference focus shifts to Global Education with a full slate of presenters from organizations that promote global competency and connections. 

What are participants taking away from this event? Here’s a sampling from the tweets: Jason Johnson (@swprscjason) says, “Life is a series of PBL moments.”  Tony Atkins (@atkinst) tweeted that he’s “excited to share all of what I learned” with colleagues back in Missouri. Michael Armstrong (@Michael9D7) says he’ll remember this insight: “Reflection is where growth happens.”

Follow the conversations with the Twitter hashtag #pblworld. Watch for daily blog posts for keynote highlights and interviews, and catch more highlights in the PBL World community on Google+.

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