The Power of PBL

Project-based learning has been around for a while. Still, it’s one of the best ways to get your students (and teachers) doing things in their classrooms that actually matter.

I was lucky to be able to contribute to A.J. Juliani’s newest book The PBL Playbook released in early July.

In it, I shared the kind of qualitative data that PBL can bring. Here is a video touching on what I wrote…

Risk Resources

One of my recent podcasts featured college student Gopika Senthilkumar from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

We talked some about taking risks which got me thinking about sharing some influential pieces I’ve read about risk.

Here are a few of them from Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, Kayt Sukel of Carnegie Mellon, and high school student Andy Kumar.

Spoiler alert: You should take risks!

Seth Godin

Risk vs. Worry

Difference Between Comfort Zone & Safety Zone (Video)

Gary Vaynerchuk

How To Judge Taking Risks When You’re Under 30(Video)

Kayt Sukel (Carnegie Mellon)

A Little Neuroscience Behind Risk Taking

Andy Kumar

A High School Student’s Perspective and Experience With Taking Risks

Imperfections in Innovation

Being able to start an innovation class based in design thinking and entrepreneurship has been a blessing. It has not however, come without many forms of “bumps in the road.” From typical apathy to  battling borderline obsessions with Fortnite, there has always been bumps in the road. Still, we persevere. Like the greatest of all time Michael Jordan said:

“If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

I’m going to share six obstacles that I have faced this year and six mind shifts that we must possess if you really want a class like this to work for you. Those obstacles are:









The ego takes the biggest shock when you create a student-centered, “innovation” class, when your students are empowered, and they don’t need you. Your ego says “But wait a minute, I’m supposed to be the teacher. These students HAVE to have me to learn.” This notion hopefully sounds absurd as you read it, but the feeling exists.


Mind-shift Number One: Check your ego at the door!


The only way you will ever empower students to internalize their own learning and truly become empowered, is if you realize that the purpose of school is not about you; it’s about them.



Teachers and administrators pass by my classroom and it appears that we are more like circus or debate team than a “normal” classroom. We are constantly moving around, going in and out of the classroom, yelling, throwing supplies across the table, on our phones, listening to music, texting our friends, taking pictures, and (gasp) laughing. I even had another adult in the building come in my classroom and actually “shhhh” my kids one day (don’t even get me started on what I should have said to THEM).


Mind-shift Number Two: Learning is supposed to seem chaotic!


If you have your students sitting quietly, following your every command, and looking stone-faced, they are not learning. They are scared and unhappy.



Beep, beep! No that’s not the sound of the Road Runner passing Wile E. Coyote, that’s the sound of your student getting a text message in class. Hey! You! The adult reading this…You love your phone!!! Guess what? So do students. My students use their phone in class. Is it annoying? Yeah, sometimes it is. Just like it’s annoying to my wife sometimes when I’m on mine and she is trying to talk to me. Newsflash: phones are not going away.


Mind-shift Number 3: See phones as a friend, not a foe!



If phones didn’t get under your skin, I know games will. I cannot tell you how many times my innovation students are playing Fortnite or Slope when they should be working on a project. Another frustration for sure. Certainly appears that students are not gaining anything from doing this in class. However, think about what video games are all about: problem-solving and teamwork. So students take a 10 minute break out of a 90 minute class and play video games with each other. It could be worse. They could be forced to not move and yelled at for not doing their homework. Wait…that doesn’t sound right.


Mind-shift Number 4: Let your students play video games in class!



Students in my class are lazy sometimes. Sometimes they don’t want to be creative, innovative, changemakers. They want to be human instead. There are days when we all need a day to relax. Last week students told me they needed a day to chill. So chill we did. And do you know what happened? We laughed and decompressed. Guess what happened next class? We got back to work!


Mind-shift Number 5: Giver your students a day to relax IN SCHOOL!



Here I’m talking about my frustration and the students’ frustration. I get frustrated because of any of the previously mentioned reasons. They get frustrated because sometimes I revert back to my authoritarian ways and push them to do more than they are willing to be or capable of. I get frustrated when an outcome isn’t reached. They get frustrated when they have work to do for another class. After checking your own ego, frustration will be the hardest to overcome. But frustration exists no matter what type of class you have. That’s the real question though right: What type of class do you want to have?


Mind-shift Number 6: You are going to be frustrated when working with students. Be frustrated with a type of class that truly matters!


Over the year, I’ve posted a lot of great examples of why this type of class/learning should be in every school across the country (and world). If you’ve followed along, you can clearly see the evidence of students becoming self-aware, self-confident, more creative, and better people. I want you to know though that all that glitters is not gold. That’s why I wrote this post. I wanted to share with you some of the obstacles that you WILL DEFINITELY FACE when you implement a new class like this or in general, shift to a more student-centered classroom.


When in doubt, remember what Sir Ken Robinson said:

“The gardener does not make a plant grow. The job of a gardener is to create optimal conditions.”