PBL: A Success Story


In the fall of 2017 I began my journey towards seeking my administrative credential. One of the assignments for the program was to find an issue of vital importance to take on from a leader’s point of view. Our school district hosted a data retreat, featuring Judy SargenUpon analyzing the data, I was shocked to find that my high performing school was down 13.9 pts from the previous year in math!  After further research, I noticed it wasn’t just a particular race or socioeconomic status-but every category! This led me to the conclusion that this was a real problem that needed to be addressed NOW!

I knew these students were not finding success with traditional approaches to teaching math through isolated book work or worksheets.

That summer I had remodeled my kitchen and realized how much REAL math goes into measuring and calculating! And then it hit me like a Tyson-Holyfield fight night. Why can’t teachers bring real life into the classroom!? What if kids could learn the math in the work books along with applying their skills to real life experiences!?

I started looking up everything I could on real world lessons- and then it happened! Like a hammer hitting my thumb- I landed on this page

Buck Institute for Education has literally changed me and educators around me. I reached out to my PTA to ask for funding to attend their PBL 101 workshop in Palm Springs, CA.  The PTA was amazing for allocating half of the funds needed for the trip,  I, determined, paid the other half on my own, because I believed in the potential of PBL for kids!


Back to the project.

So I got permission from my district to run an after school math club for struggling students featuring woodworking as the lens to teach real world math skills. One thing I must mention here: I had an amazing administrator, Mrs. Grossi, that believed in me and allowed me to run with my ideas to help students get access to the curriculum in a new innovative way.

Of course, like any other huge task you take on in education, there were some obstacles along the way. I had teachers not interested in PBL, getting funding for material was a challenge, the district naturally had concerns for the safety of the class. As Mr Adam Welcome, would say:

“Everyone is not going to like you. They’re not going to like your ideas. They’re not going to think you have what it takes. And that’s totally ok. Move forward, push, innovate, get your crew and Don’t. Give. Up”. – Adam Welcome

I used my course work  from my admin program to weed my way into the school site by seeking out what Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Switch, call “bright spots”.  These educators are the kind that are willing to try new things and are eager to help out.

Not only was I able to reach a particular group of 5th grade students in a pilot after school math group, but now with my bright spots, I was able to spread PBL pilot classes throughout the grade levels Kinder through 6th.  I had one pilot class at each grade level trying out a PBL lesson that I helped put together for each teacher.  We then had both the traditional approach classes and the pilot class from each grade level take the exact same chapter test.  At first I thought we might have a percent or two increase because the lessons, although engaging, were not 100% a true PBL unit, as Buck Institute would say.

Let the drum roll begin!

We had a an increase of 7% all the way up to 23% comparing pilot groups to traditional!!!  Not to mention the individual performance increases and math attitudes of my 5th grade after school pilot group.  Some kids gained 3.2 years grade equivalency on their STAR Math score!  I had parents coming up to me thanking me because their child finally understood fractions!  I had one students that started the year with a 23% score on a benchmark assessment and then turn around and take it again in the spring and scored a 90%!!!  That’s a 67% increase because of what PBL did for this young man!

If you’re not convinced at this point then don’t take it from me- go out there and implement your own pilot groups and compare your results.  But be sure you know the difference between TRUE PBL vs projects.  There is a huge difference folks!

This journey is only at the beginning.  I have recently been hired as the math coach for my district.  I now have the potential to spread my passion and my results to a broader audience within my district!  I can’t wait for 2018-19 school year begin!  Why am I so excited you ask?  Because I am On Fire For Kids!



Published by scotthollandwilson

I am an educator in California for the past 10 years. Currently I am working on my Masters in Administration. I believe in giving students real life application to assignments. Follow me on twitter @mrwilson218

7 thoughts on “PBL: A Success Story

  1. Thanks for sharing your story. Love the grassroots passion and emphasis on the real world application. If kids are empowered and engaged, you’ve got something great going. Switch was a book I read early in my journey as well. Decisive is another good Heath Bros read. Enjoy your PBL journey! Thanks for advocating for kids!


    1. Thanks so much, Ryan for stopping by! I really enjoyed Switch as it has so many applications in educational leadership. If I had more capitol, I would be doing what you’re doing by providing PD for educators. I believe that much in PBL’s ability to not only engage students but giving teachers more time to design cross curricular activities!


  2. How is it that in all the PASC Saturdays and Sundays we never got to chat PBL? And math? 2 of my favorite subjects??? Love the blog!


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