Alumna Gita Krishnaswamy is bringing IMSA’s brand of Problem-Based Learning (PBL) to Kent, Washington in a big way after being awarded about $400,000 in Race to the Top (RTTT) federal grant money to implement PBL in her district. RTTT, a $4.35 billion Department of Education contest to encourage innovation in K-12, is giving $40 million to the consortium of seven Road Map Districts of South King County, Washington, which includes Krishnaswamy’s Kent School District. The Kent School District will partner with IMSA’s Problem-Based Learning Network to, as the grant proposal states, “provide ongoing, structured professional development to an Academy of 128 teachers from both elementary and secondary levels.”
"11 months ago, I started a new job as the Curriculum Coordinator overseeing Science and Health/Fitness for the Kent School District,” said Krishnaswamy of IMSA’s class of 1996. “On day one, the very first thing I wrote down on the whiteboard in my office was, "bring problem-based learning to KSD!" Krishnaswamy then applied for the funding as a project-specific proposal under the category of Teaching and Leading Investment, specifically in the areas of math, science, and ELL instruction.
“The focus of our project is to have four cohorts of teachers – two elementary, two secondary – participate in PBL Design Institutes, facilitated by IMSA’s PBL Network.” Krishnaswamy explained. “The overall goal is for teachers to utilize PBL as one additional tool in their repertoire to improve student engagement and performance, particularly for those populations of students who have found the subject inaccessible or irrelevant and thus disengaged from learning.”
The proposal calls for an ambitious application of PBL to gain interest and boost performance of students that suffer in the achievement gap: “by increasing teachers’ capacity to use constructivist instructional methods like problem-based learning, Kent can make a broad impact on teacher leadership and student learning. If students in science classrooms are engaged in ways that activate their prior knowledge and immerse them in authentic scientific practices, then they will be better equipped to demonstrate knowledge on next-generation assessments that measure deep content learning and to pursue higher education or careers that depend on excellent K-12 science prep.”
Krishnaswamy reflected back on how this project stems from her time at IMSA: "My motivation to do this work has been in no small way inspired by excellent teachers I’ve had throughout my life, including former IMSA teachers Ed Goebel (Microbiology) and Jackie White (English). They both used a wide range of teaching methods that brought the subject matter to life in ways I hadn’t experienced before. Those new experiences also taught me to be persistent and tenacious in seeking deep, long-term understanding of a topic. I feel like I remember those classes like they happened yesterday.”
“The longer I am in education, the more I come to appreciate what [IMSA] is doing – not only for its own students but for educators in Illinois and nationwide. I am constantly promoting the PBL Network to anyone and everyone who will listen, and I’m excited to be working with them over the next two years.”