Day one at PBL World, the educators I’m working with explored designing Project Based Learning units. A major detail, and concern, is identifying a real world audience, and then getting in touch with them.

Engineers, mechanics, university professors, authors, or __________________ –Where do you find them, and enough of them, to work with students? Most people are familiar with Six degrees of separation, the idea that everyone is connected to each other by a chain of people we know. For example, one teacher in VA shared how her best friend is good friends with Oprah Winfrey. My grandmother (101 years old) knows someone who is friends with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who works with U.S. President Barak Obama.

3 desks

These examples illustrate a new theory of mine, which is 3 Degrees of Connection. In today’s technology integrated world, with pervasive social media networks, we are all within three people of connecting with anyone in the world. Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and other tools reduces the barriers for reaching out to people who were otherwise difficult, if not impossible, to reach. I’ve been fortunate enough to make contact with authors and major names in Education by Twitter communications. It’s amazing what networks we can tap into just by who we know, who knows someone, who knows someone else we want to talk to.

Classroom teachers are often concerned with having a real world audience because they imagine that they need to recruit the entire panel who will listen to the students’ presentation, talk about their expertise, and coach students as they develop, reflect, and revise their work. The truth is that teachers do not need to recruit everyone they need. They only need to find one to two people who have access to networks of an abundance of experts. In this video about the Wing Project, the teachers worked with an engineer who recruited about 20 other engineers to support the students’ work. The teachers found 1 engineer.

Staff Activities to Find Experts

Option 1: Survey parents and guardians about the skills and expertise they could share with students. Put the list into a database or spreadsheet. Use this wealth of information to create and support PBL and lessons that are authentic learning experiences for students enhanced by the experts available.

Option 2: At a staff meeting:

  1. Have each person generate a list of 5-7 people they either know or knows people who knows others in various occupations.
  2. Share and discuss at each table the list of people.
  3. Report to the rest of the staff 2-3 people that the table team shared as possible contacts.
  4. Collect the lists and record them into a school-wide database or spreadsheet. Participants should cross out anyone on their list that they do not feel comfortable contacting, i.e. Oprah Winfrey and President Barack Obama were not available…at this time.
  5. Use the list to assist staff with needs for experts to support the students’ PBL experience.

Good luck! You’re only three people away from connecting to valuable expertise and real world student learning experiences.