21st Century Schools eNews

September 11, 2023

Image created by Jerry Self, 21st Century Schools, using AI.

Do You Want These Results?

  • Highly motivated and happy students (and teachers)
  • And principals
  • Students achieving much more than you thought possible
  • Higher grades
  • Higher standardized test scores
  • Virtually no discipline problems, and
  • Parents wondering about the changes in their children who are suddenly excited about school!
  • A positive campus culture

You can have those results! By the way, it will not happen if the students' experience of school is not relevant to their lives, and education is nothing more than worksheets, boring lectures, and drilling for the tests. It will not happen if teachers are required to utilize generic lesson plans instead of having the freedom to design their own, for their students, based upon who they are.

The answer lies in the approach to teaching and learning. A very successful approach that delivers the results you desire is PBL21 meets AI - the next step in the evolution of project-based learning.

There is a significant body of research supporting project-based learning. And it is happening, has been happening for years, in many schools across the USA.

We can provide the strategies, professional development, and support you need to make those desired results a reality! Where to begin? Read on.

PBL21 meets AI

🚀 Reminder - Early Bird prices are available until September 20, 2023.

Register Here or via email!

Gamified Online Courses for Educators

Image created by Jerry Self, 21st Century Schools with AI. Click the image to learn more about the course.

PBL21 meets AI - the evolution of project-based learning!

This course is an online, personalized, self-paced course that includes ongoing support!

AND it is truly gamified!

Watch your PBL21 curriculum, and your students, come alive with AI tools!

We provide ongoing support!

Register Now to start designing amazing curriculum!

Then see the Syllabi for Online Courses. This professional development can also be brought to your school or district in person.

Countdown to the beautiful days of Autumn . . . !

First Day of Fall

September 23, 2023

All of us are ready for the scorching, sweltering, apocalyptic heat of the summer to be over! (Those of us in the northern hemisphere, that is.)

What does Autumn signify to you? . . . Crisp, Rustic, Vibrant, Harvest, Cozy, "Sweater Weather", Fall Foliage, Haystacks, Soup Season, Pumpkin Patch, Apples, Bountiful, Mulled Cider, Earthy, Campfire, Woodsy, . . . Are you ready? Oh, YES!!!

For many years I have enjoyed planning interdisciplinary, project-based learning experiences for students! Now and then, an idea pops into my head: "That would be a great theme for a curriculum!" I either start a section on my curriculum resources website and begin brainstorming or if time doesn't allow, I at least add a page to my site so that I can add to it later. Mostly I create multiple resources and possibilities related to the theme. I love to share these ideas with educators, and they get really excited when they begin brainstorming themes.

I always try to choose interesting themes - my 3 Rs are Rigorous, Relevant, and Real-World - and develop a project-based, preferably interdisciplinary, curriculum. Find exciting ideas and resources for these possible themes at our Autumn Themes page:

Autumn themes for PBL21 -

  • Earth and Space sciences
  • Nishimura Comet - hasn't been seen since Galileo, zooming by now!
  • Harvest
  • Johnny Appleseed Festival
  • Weather and Disaster Preparedness
  • Sukkot - a Jewish festival
  • Halloween
  • Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

In addition, this Autumn page includes resources for Literature -

  • Poetry
  • Children's books
  • Native American Indian Harvest legends
  • Astronomy myths and legends, and
  • Demeter, the Greek goddess of the Bountiful Harvest

There are also many fantastic resources based upon a theme I developed, Food and Culture, designed to be (but not required to be) a global collaborative classrooms project! This website has a huge number of themes related to Food and Culture. Choose one or more for your PBL21 project.

Last, but not least, both of these themes offer rich possibilities for -

Note - these are not off-the-shelf pre-packaged units or lesson plans They are Idea Sparkers to inspire you.

We believe that prepackaging a curriculum would limit the possibilities for you and your students. Pre-packaging the unit would cause you to miss out on many ideas. It is like a pair of blinders. Blinders are for horses, not explorers.

To allow for your and your students' needs, schedule, interests, and most of all, talent, and creativity, we will guide and support you through the process of creating your own PBL21 unit designed for your students!

All of the themes are easily adaptable for PK-16!

The Goldilocks Strategy

After creating the list of possible themes (above) for an exciting PBL21 project, I got to thinking about something.

That list could very well be overwhelming to some teachers. So I decided to create the Goldilocks Strategy. (Not to be confused with the Goldilocks Principle!)

It is not an exact metaphor, but I believe it will suffice. Goldilocks ventured into the home of the three bears where she helped herself to sampling porridge, chairs, and finally, beds. And then she fell asleep.

Things were too soft, too hard, too hot, too cold, etc. She found things that were "just right". In other words, she found the best items that worked for her.

The same thing is critical to teachers - what works for you?

When we are working with teachers on designing PBL21 units, there is a wide range of readiness to design and implement the project. Just as you would encounter variation among students in any classroom, the same holds true for teachers.

Some teachers are ready to run and jump into the pool! Others just want to test the water with their toe. Both are totally OK!

🐘 I may ask them, "How do you eat an elephant?" The answer - "One bite at a time!"

Becoming a PBL21 teacher is a developmental process. Every teacher is somewhere on the continuum from novice to expert. They just need to start with where they are. And proceed at the rate that is best for them. Their learning is personalized and differentiated!

We apply Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development. ZPD represents the difference between what a learner can do without help and what a learner can do with support of an expert or through collaboration with peers. We facilite learning by scaffolding.

Consider where your teachers/colleagues are on this continuum. Provide each with the appropriate support. Even after years of designing and implementing PBL21 in classrooms, I still have to start at the beginning by providing students with the tools and skills they need to succeed in the project. More than likely, they will not come to you with these dispositions and skills..

I usually do a mini-PBL21 unit for the first two or three weeks. The students will be learning many skills, but you cannot analyze, critique, create, etc. unless you have some topic or theme within which to develop these abilities.

By the end of the first mini-PBL21 unit, the students will have learned to be self-directed, collaborative, learning independently as well as interdependently - and so much more! They will have learned how to use many thinking tools. They will have learned to self-assess and how to provide feedback to their peers.

You will be delighted and amazed at the changes in your students. You can see it in their eyes; it's like a revelation has come to them. Sometimes I felt as though I was going to actually see a light bulb appear over their head! Some students, who came to you thinking they were not good learners, having trouble in every class/discipline, will soon realize that they are smart and can succeed.

With each step of success, your students will be more confident and eager to move forward!

The fear of failure will be replaced with self-confidence, hope, and the determination to embrace new challenges!

It really is a total upward spiral of success!

Teacher Overwhelm? What's the Cure?

Image kindly offered by Michelle Claire at Teach Smart With Me!

Do not worry! We've got you covered!

From student discipline problems to the pandemic to extreme stress for students, parents, and educators, to desperate (some of which are quite inane) measures being taken in the form of mandates at federal, state, and district levels, and pressure from publishers of textbooks and testing materials, budget cuts, taking control of teachers' lesson plans and so much more - it's no wonder that teachers are feeling overwhelmed.

"The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple." Albert Einstein

Apparently, a lot of people did not receive that memo!

Some of you may think, at first glance of the recommended PBL21 themes for Autumn, that it appears to be extremely complex as well as time-consuming. PBL21 is not an add-on, it's an "instead of".

Your students will learn all the required standards and skills at very high levels. A common misconception is that project-based learning means that the students are involved all day, every day, in hands-on activities. Not true. They will actually be involved in a number of various learning modes.

The solution is in the entire approach. Not only is it easier and less time-consuming, but it is also FUN and interesting for you and your students.

As William Glasser, MD said, "Learning is serious, but that doesn't mean it has to be grim!" That goes for your students as well as the rest of us!

Be on the lookout . . . .

. . for more newsletters featuring a variety of topics in education. Very soon you will receive a newsletter with some excellent curriculum ideas and resources focusing on Halloween and Dia de Muertos! Some will require planning ahead.

. . . have no fear!

We will show you how to not only cover the standards and skills but go far beyond them - while having fun at the same time! Excellence is painless!

Register today for PBL21 - Meets AI! You will have ongoing support!

Anne Shaw


[email protected]

What Sets Us Apart

Advisory Board

We would love to work with your school, district, or conference! Whether you are looking for practical workshops (goodbye "sit and get"), inspiring keynotes, or developing and implementing a district- or campus-level strategic plan, we can work together to create a customized design.

My most frequent topics are PBL21 meets AI (project-based learning infused with AI), authentic assessment, "greening" the classroom and the curriculum, service learning, media literacy, designing the learning environment - from classrooms to facilities and schoolyards!

Is your school district planning to build a new school or remodeling an existing facility? Our architects are world-renowned and LEED Certified. Need an architect? Contact us first!

Happy Autumn!


Anne Shaw, Director

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