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Education's next big thing - really!

Education history is littered with solutions that never quite live up to their hype. Consider open-concept schools or site-based school management. But project-based learning shows signs of promise the others never did because the instructional method takes into account the way students have changed. They expect to be challenged. They expect to participate, not just listen. They want to know why the lesson should matter to them. They do better when they are responsible for their learning.

It turns out that Indiana is sprinting ahead of all others in training teachers in project-based instruction. I had the chance recently to spend several hours in a training session for northeast Indiana teachers conducted by the Buck Institute for Education, a leader in promoting PBL.

I wasn't unfamiliar with project-based learning, having spent a day visiting Rochester High School's Zebra New Tech program, but the workshop made clear that while technology is helpful, it's not a requirement. It also became clear that PBL can work in any subject and at any grade level. Kindergarteners can learn to work together, believe it or not.

What was also clear was that the new instructional method means additional work for teachers. When I visited Rochester two years ago, a teacher told me her first year in New Tech was like starting over as a new teacher. But the reward was seeing how her students responded, she said.

I can't help but believe that teachers will be encouraged and inspired by the positive response they see from students when they begin introducing projects into their lessons. It's not the cure for all that ails education, but it might be the strongest medicine yet.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at