Middle Grades Institute

Project-Based Learning for the Whole Child

July 23–24, 2020
Montreal, Quebec
Trafalgar School for Girls

Project-based learning can help students apply collaboration and creativity skills, problem solve, and develop a more in-depth understanding of content. It can also foster civic engagement and decision-making while empowering youth to effect change in their communities.

Join us as we take a deep-dive into project-based learning specifically for young adolescents and give you the tools and practices to employ project-based learning that encourages student reflection on intellectual growth and personal identity.

This institute will provide:

  • Engaging and personalized content with the opportunity for facilitated debriefs in a small-group setting
  • Opportunities to network and share best practices with other middle years colleagues


Register Online

Download Registration Form

Included in registration:

  • Two breakfasts and two lunches
  • In-depth training for middle grades educators
  • All presentations and course materials
  • Chance to win a free registration for #AMLE20, the 47th AMLE Annual Conference in National Harbor, MD, November 12–14, 2020.
Attendee Registration Rates
AMLE Professional Member $249 (U.S.)
Associate & Non-Member* $349 (U.S.)
*All non-members receive a one-year Complimentary Individual Professional Membership.

-cancellation policy-


Cancellations must be made in writing and received a week before the event date. AMLE cannot be responsible for cancellations that are made by phone. A $50 (U.S.) processing fee is assessed for all cancellations. No refunds will be issued after the registration deadline, a week before the event date.

Registration fees include all presentations, course materials, and lunch each day of the event. Attendees are responsible for accommodations, transportation. Registrations must be received a week before the event date.

Within 14 days of your registration, AMLE will send you a confirmation email. Registrations received after the registration deadline may be returned, and you may be asked to register on-site at the on-site registration rate.

Event Schedule

Thursday, July 23, 2020
Registration & Continental Breakfast (provided) 8:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m.
General Session 9:00 a.m.-9:45 a.m.
Home Base Meeting #1 10:00 a.m.-10:45 a.m.
Content Breakout Session #1 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
Lunch (provided) 12:15 p.m.-1:15 p.m.
Content Breakout Session #2 1:15 p.m.-2:30 p.m.
Content Breakout Session #3 2:45 p.m.-4:00 p.m.
Home Base Meeting #2 4:15 p.m.-5:00 p.m.
Reception 5:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.
Friday, July 24, 2020
Breakfast (provided) 8:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m.
Home Base Meeting #3 9:00 a.m.-9:30 a.m.
Content Breakout Session #4 9:45 a.m.-11:00 a.m.
Content Breakout Session #5 11:15 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Lunch (provided) 12:30 p.m.–1:30 p.m.
Content Breakout Session #6 1:30 p.m.–2:45 p.m.
Home Base Meeting #4 3:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m.
*subject to change


Penny Bishop

Kyle Chadburn

Matt Coleman

Katy Farber

Andrea Gratton

Lindsey Halman

Anna Kovaliv

Christianne Loupelle

Chris McCullough

Kristie McCullough

Anna Mildrum

Brett Reis

Jeff Rodman

Adriana Ruffini

Tom Stones

Penny Bishop is professor of middle level education and associate dean at the University of Vermont, where she teaches future middle grades educators and conducts research on schooling for young adolescents. Former chair of AMLE's Research Advisory Committee, her current research focuses on responsive teaching and learning in the middle grades. A former middle level English teacher, Penny is the author of six books on middle grades education and is a regular conference presenter both nationally and internationally.

Kyle Chadburn and Andrea Gratton co-teach middle level humanities at Orleans Elementary School, a small, rural K-8 school in northern Vermont. They teach two multi-age groups: a combined fifth and sixth grade class and a combined seventh and eighth grade class. In addition to building reading and writing skills, their course is heavily focused on better understanding and addressing issues of social justice in our local, national, and global communities. They explore these topics through personalized, project-based units of study.

Matt Coleman started teaching right before students began smuggling iPhones into bathrooms to text students they were just sitting next to in class. He has some initials after his name (M.S.Ed) and some initials in front of his name (MR. (pronounced, “Mister”). He teaches seventh grade global studies at the Middle School of the Kennebunks because his maturity level caps out at the eighth grade level. He is an innovative thinker, constantly tinkering with methods, strategies, and structures in his classroom to engage and empower his students in authentic and meaningful ways.

Katy Farber is professional development coordinator at the University of Vermont, Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education. She currently conducts research about adolescent education and partners with schools to help them personalize learning, engage students, and participate in action research. She is the author of four books about education: Why Great Teachers Quit and How We Can Stop the Exodus; Change the World with Service Learning, Real and Relevant: A Guide to Service and Project-based Learning, 2nd edition, Personalized Learning in the Middle Grades, and several chapters and articles. Dr. Farber was a classroom teacher for 17 years and regularly presents at state and national conferences.

Kyle Chadburn and Andrea Gratton co-teach middle level humanities at Orleans Elementary School, a small, rural K-8 school in northern Vermont. They teach two multi-age groups: a combined fifth and sixth grade class and a combined seventh and eighth grade class. In addition to building reading and writing skills, their course is heavily focused on better understanding and addressing issues of social justice in our local, national, and global communities. They explore these topics through personalized, project-based units of study.

Lindsey Halman is executive director at UP for Learning. Before coming to UP, Lindsey taught middle school in Vermont for 15 years. During that time, she co-created the innovative Edge Academy, a school-within-a-public school dedicated to applying the principles of personalized learning at the middle level. She believes that youth are the most valuable and transformative stakeholders in education. She works with schools across Vermont with the central goal of transforming school culture through youth-adult partnership that is grounded in the belief that youth and adults must be at the table in true partnership in order for the shift to one of equity and shared responsibility. Lindsey considers herself a facilitator and connector who makes more opportunities for youth to be at the center of the decision-making that impacts their educational experience. She is passionate about building strong relationships, helping youth feel empowered to make change, and creating a socially just climate and culture for all. During her time as a middle level educator, she spearheaded a school-wide shift to restorative practices, as well as co-facilitated a student-led peer leadership program and GSA. Lindsey is a nationally certified trainer of restorative practices, providing her with the opportunity to integrate this practice into her facilitation for youth and adults. Lindsey holds her National Board Certification as a middle level generalist. She is currently past-president and a board member of VAMLE (Vermont Association for Middle Level Education), a member of the Middle Grades Professional Development Collaborative, a common circle leader for Vermont Learning for the Future and a contributing member of PLP Pathways. In addition, she is adjunct faculty at Saint Michael’s College, Colchester, Vermont, where she has taught middle level education courses to pre- and in-service educators.

Anna Kovaliv teaches math and science to seventh and eighth grade learners at Camels Hump Middle School in Richmond, Vermont. She graduated with a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Vermont (UVM), and ultimately decided the best way to make an impact on the world was to inspire and empower others to do the same. With that, she opted to return to UVM to earn her Master of Middle Level Education. Eight years later, she continues to work with her teaching partner, Anna Stern, to look for opportunities to engage students in their communities through real-world and project-based learned opportunities. Outside of school, Anna enjoys spending time with her dog, Sander, as well as traveling, bird-nerding, baking, hiking, and skiing.

Christianne Loupelle has goals as an educator to engage her students in a way that allows for long-term learning to occur and to develop the necessary skills that students need to thrive anywhere. As Trafalgar School for Girls’ STEAM coordinator, she is working to incorporate more playful learning and critical making in all grades and subjects at the school. As a science teacher, she tries to get more students to love and want to pursue higher sciences, but she’ll settle for helping girls find their passion, regardless of where it may lead.

Kristie McCullough has more than 20 years of teaching experience and is not a fan of textbooks and worksheets. Over the years she has provided her students with a variety of authentic learning projects and experiences that not only engage her students but allow them to explore their interests and dive into their passions. Most recently, as an administrator, Kristie has encouraged her staff to think outside the traditional "classroom box" and create authentic and meaningful learning opportunities for all students.

Chris McCullough, with almost 20 years of experience as a teacher and administrator in elementary, middle, and high Schools, brings a broad understanding of teaching and learning to his classroom, his schools, and his presentations. As a teacher, Chris believes in fostering positive relationships with students and engaging their learning in any given topic and bringing out the best in kids. Currently, Chris works as a vice principal in a PreK-Grade 5 school in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada.

Anna Mildrum graduated with a B.A. in English and education from Boston University. She went on to teach high school English in Oregon and Connecticut before moving to Vermont to get her Master of Education from the University of Vermont where she continued to teach high school English. For the last four years, Anna has been a seventh and eighth grade teacher at Camels Hump Middle School in Richmond, Vermont. She teaches language arts, social studies, and project-based learning on a team of about 40 students with her teaching partner, Anna Kovaliv. When she’s not in the classroom, Anna loves reading, hiking, gardening, practicing yoga, and skiing.

Brett Reis has been teaching, learning, and leading “in the middle” for more than 15 years. Currently, Brett lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where he serves as principal of Colonsay School. Previously he has experience as both a vice principal and as a Grade 6 classroom teacher. In these roles, Brett has developed a firm belief in the power of teaching to the whole child. He observes that students thrive when we as educators take a holistic view of their needs and create safe, caring classroom spaces that challenge students’ learning, while also being responsive to their emotional, physical, and social well-being. Brett is an advocate for middle level education and has served on the executive board of the Saskatchewan Middle Years Association for 11 years in a variety of roles, including 5 years as president. This has allowed him one of the most rewarding experiences possible, the opportunity to meet and work alongside many passionate middle level educators. Brett is a lifelong learner who has presented at a number of conferences and professional development workshops. Brett holds a Master of Educational Technology degree from Boise State University, as well as a Bachelor of Education from the University of Saskatchewan.

Jeff Rodman is currently in his second year as the executive director of the New England League of Middle Schools (NELMS). He went to work for NELMS following a 41-year career in education, 40 of those years in the middle level. From 2008 until his retirement in 2018, Jeff was principal of the Middle School of the Kennebunks. He has also served as principal of two other Maine middle schools, Falmouth Middle School and Wells Junior High School. Prior to coming to Maine, Jeff was the assistant principal at Woodstock Union High School in Woodstock, Vermont, and taught math and coached a variety of sports at Old Rochester Regional Junior High School in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts. In 1977, Jeff received his undergraduate degree in elementary education from Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota. He earned his master’s degree in Education Leadership from Harvard University in 1993. Jeff served on the Maine Association for Middle Level Education Board of Directors from 2004 - 2019 and was president of the organization from 2012 to 2014. He is active in the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) where he sits on three AMLE committees; the Affiliate Advisory Committee, the Election Committee, and on AMLE’s conference session Selection Committee. Jeff lives in Kittery, Maine, with his wife, Ellen, who is a distinguished middle level health education teacher.

Adriana Ruffini does not just consider herself a math teacher at Trafalgar School for Girls. She is also a promoter of wellness and the use of technology for young girls. She is an advocate of hands-on and authentic learning, while implementing her values regarding technology and mindfulness. Her love of teaching coincides with her love of learning from her students, colleagues, and life. In addition to this, Adriana loves the arts and being creative. In her spare time, you will likely find her with a book or a paintbrush in her hand.

Tom Stones has been teaching grades 4-8 for more than 20 years in Innisfail, Alberta, and has taught all core subjects and too many option classes to count. He has been involved in student leadership programs for many years. He has a bachelor’s degree in education from University of Calgary and master’s degree from University of Alberta. He has been involved with the Middle Years Council of the Alberta Teachers’ Association for several years, including involvement as program director for the annual conference for several years.


Download Sessions List

General Session – Coming Soon
Penny Bishop and Katy Farber
Description coming soon

Getting Started with Project-Based Learning: Fueling Engagement and Purpose
Penny Bishop and Katy Farber
Are you new to project-based learning (PBL)? Join us to explore the foundations of this approach, including a quick review of how PBL can increase student engagement, heighten achievement, and foster personal, social, and emotional growth. We will learn the differences between projects and project-based learning, or as PBLWorks describes it, “dessert vs. the main course” learning. You’ll be introduced to multiple examples of PBL from nearby middle schools and have the opportunity to brainstorm and receive feedback on your own PBL planning, walking away with a user-friendly planning template!

Deepening Project-Based Learning: Service-Learning, Global Connections, and Beyond
Penny Bishop and Katy Farber
Join us to take your project-based learning (PBL) to the next level. In this workshop we will explore ways to deepen and extend your existing PBL practice by integrating service and critical service learning into students’ opportunities. We’ll learn how to respond to the social-emotional needs of students by engaging them in asset mapping as a powerful way to integrate more authentic audiences, community partners, and global connections. Consider how the U.N. Global Goals can serve as inspiration and a framework for this work. Come away with a planning template that helps you integrate service and social-emotional learning into PBL.

Playgrounds with Purpose: A Collaborative Design Thinking Project
Christianne Loupelle and Adriana Ruffini
Design thinking lends itself to interdisciplinary, project-based learning that can be adapted for all grade levels. We share the steps taken with our students to identify, design, and build prototypes for shared recreational spaces benefitting specific populations. Arising from conversations about opportunities for collaboration between math and science, this project gained STEAM when language arts and ethics jumped on board. Using different facets of design thinking, our Grade 7 students developed transferable skills, which are an integral part of girls’ education. Students showcased these skills during final pitches of their proposals to a panel of experts from a variety of fields.

Incorporating Meaningful Tasks in the Classroom through Project-Based Learning
Adriana Ruffini
A question often asked by students in several different subject areas is “What is the point of this?” My objective was to answer this question as often and as meaningfully as possible by creating a cross-curricular, year-long project that aligned with everything required in the years’ mathematics curriculum. This project began in October 2018 and is continually being iterated, improved upon, and adapted for learners in Grade 8 math. In this session, I explain and explore how I let students imagine their future lifestyles by choosing a career, exploring their educational options, considering apartment-living options, and discussing finances and budgeting, all the while creating choice and meaning. I’ll show how you can do this too!

Student-directed STEAM Inquiry Leads to Deeper Learning and Engagement in Girls
Christianne Loupelle
Research indicates inquiry-based approaches to science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) have many benefits for students, including better conceptual knowledge. Yet many teachers struggle to take this approach. In this session, we present results from two year-long collaborative projects in which we engaged deeply with student-directed STEAM inquiry. Outcomes of two year-long projects (including student and teacher experiences/learning) and challenges faced throughout the project will be shared. The presentation will conclude with suggestions for the kinds of supports and training teachers may require to successfully take these approaches in their classrooms.

Defining the Whole Child
Brett Reis
When education is mentioned in public, usually the conversation involves standardized test scores, curriculum, or funding. What is often forgotten in these conversations is the human element of the students we teach. This session seeks to find a common understanding of the statement “teaching to the whole child.” We will examine how educators can nurture learning by being responsive to the social, emotional, and physical well-being of students and how this holistic view can be supported in a safe, challenging, and supportive classroom environment.

The Whole Child for School Leaders
Brett Reis
Successfully teaching to the whole child takes more than a belief system of a classroom teacher; it requires strong school leadership to create the structure that allows staff and students to grow and thrive. In this session, we will use the experience of one school to show how school leaders can build a structure within their buildings to empower staff to teach to the whole child. We will examine how one school used holistic assessments to report on student learning and development, leveraged family and community engagement, and built staff efficacy.

Empowering Students as Community Leaders Using the U.N. Global Goals
Kyle Chadburn and Andrea Gratton
The first step in empowering students to be positive changemakers in their community is to help them recognize the issues that exist around them. Our fifth and sixth grade students recognized that their community’s greatest challenges were connected to poverty and hunger, and they set out to do their part in helping those who are experiencing need. Although our original intention was only to support our local community, the project had another unexpected accomplishment: it created a sense of pride and empowerment in our students that is improving the culture of our classroom and school. Join us to find out more about how projects like this one can improve students’ confidence and the culture of your school.

Exploring Identity to Build Empathy and Understanding
Kyle Chadburn and Andrea Gratton
For students to build strong, meaningful relationships with each other, they must first develop a deep understanding of who they are as individuals. In this session participants will engage in some of the activities that we used in our Exploring Identity unit to help students understand identity markers including race, gender identity, sexual orientation, belief systems, and more. We will also model the processes that helped us create the kind of safe and respectful classroom environment needed for this work to be successful, including “calling in/calling out,” acknowledging and responding to bias, and recognizing privilege. Finally, we will share examples of a culminating project that allowed students to use this knowledge to express and celebrate who they were in the past, who they are now, and who they hope to be in the future.

Keeping it Real: Authentic Learning That Inspires Thinking
Kristie McCullough, Chris McCullough, and Tom Stones
In this session you will learn from three different teachers as they take you into the authentic learning environment of their schools. In their experiences, students “learn by doing” as their teachers journey alongside their class to help students dive into real-world problems by using inquiry and thinking skills within a community of learners, while directing their own learning path. This session will challenge you to think outside the box and get you excited about planning authentic learning experiences for your students in the fall.

Making it Meaningful for Me... Authentic Learning in the Classroom
Kristie McCullough, Chris McCullough, and Tom Stones
Deeper Dive from Session 1. Planning tools and time will be given to attendees to work on an authentic learning idea for the upcoming school year. The presenters will guide the attendees through the planning process so teachers leave with a tangible plan.

Measuring Effectiveness within a Project-Based Learning Classroom: A School Leaders’ Roundtable
Jeff Rodman
Project-based learning creates a unique paradigm for learning, but does it improve student achievement? Does it increase teacher effectiveness? These will be the questions we will explore and hope to answer. This will be an interactive sharing session providing those in leadership roles the opportunity to share their knowledge and beliefs about project-based learning. During this session we will discuss what a project-based learning classroom looks-like, how to measure the effectiveness of project-based learning, how to ensure standards are being met, as well as how to supervise and evaluate teachers who are facilitating a PBL classroom.

Game On! Building Student Engagement and Empowerment through Classroom Gamification
Matt Coleman
Global Studies teacher Matt Coleman wanted to create a boardgame that would allow his students to experiment with and experience the concepts and themes from his class in a meaningful way. So, he did. See how he did it, see what happened, and get some ideas on how to take project-based learning to the next level of empowerment. Oh, dang. Game puns.

Project “Be the Change”
Anna Kovaliv and Anna Mildrum
How does project-based service-learning inspire middle school students to engage in affecting positive change? This session explores how students at Camels Hump Middle School in Richmond, Vermont, explored their identities, communities, values, and passions to design projects that would affect a positive change. We will discuss both the challenges student-led curriculum often poses (such as pacing, scheduling, and logistics) as well as the benefits it provides (such as increased engagement, creativity, and agency). After presenting our “Be the Change” model, attendees will have an opportunity to participate in an interactive activity, discuss their own projects, and engage with resources.

Cultivating Pathways to Sustainability Through Partnership
Lindsey Halman
Educators and students play a key role in learning and advancing community knowledge and competencies in justice-centered practices, climate education, and place-based innovations. While schools are a place for learning about the past to understand our present day issues, they are also important places for future thinking and building the skills and mindsets necessary to create more just and healthy communities. Using project-based learning (PBL) as the framework, students create year-long projects to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), while integrating required curriculum. Projects have focused on building a socially, economically, and ecologically just community at a variety of levels - school, town, region or globally. Projects have ranged across the state to include efforts to address mental health and gender equity through restorative justice/practices, to a student run business focused on sustainable products. Students have engaged a wide variety of community partners and school-based leaders to implement projects including local conservation groups for the development of a solar installation in one community. Engagement shifts to empowerment, when young people and educators work in partnership to positively impact their communities. In this session, participants will have hands-on experience engaging in the full cycle of project-based learning using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

UP for Learning: Youth-Adult Partnership for School and Community Change
Lindsey Halman
When schools decide to embrace student voice as a priority, they often initiate a pendulum swing from an entirely adult-driven model to an entirely youth-driven model. Neither end of this swing mobilizes the full potential of either adults or youth. The most powerful configuration is partnership: shared responsibility for learning and decision-making. We will explore the reasons why amplifying youth voice is the essential next step in making our schools more engaging and communities places where young people thrive. In the process, we will identify the partnership sweet spot: where all individuals feel known and valued, have a sense of purpose, and pursue that purpose with heartfelt intention. Authentic youth-adult partnership—a culture that supports all of us to be our best selves—develops along a continuum. We’ll provide benchmarks for this journey and time for reflection, aiming for deeper understanding and commitment to this partnership paradigm shift. We expect to inform and inspire you to set at least one goal to amplify student voice and partnership to build on and initiate upon your return home.

Create + Debate + Navigate = Innovate: The Process of Making a Project-Based Learning Environment a Reality
Jeff Rodman and Matt Coleman
The goal of the Project-Based classroom is to take students, as well as teachers, beyond compliance and engagement, to a place where students are empowered to be innovative learners. PBL allows students and their teachers to get out of their routines, take some risks and look to exceed expectations. In this session, learn, explore, and share how students, teachers, and administrators work together to avoid the pitfalls and to get over the hurdles in an effort to provide the supports and opportunities necessary in creating a successful Project-Based Learning environment.

Sessions/speakers subject to change. More sessions to be announced soon!

Session Formats

Learning your way! Participate in a variety of presentation formats including:

General Session: Start your confernece experience off with this engaging, whole-group session designed to get everyone thinking about Project-Based Learning for the whole child.

Content Breakout Sessions: You'll get a variety of content from middle school experts in these interactive, solution-rich sessions.

Home Base Meetings: Similar to Homeroom or Advisory/Advisement at school, these small-group meetings will give you the chance to more deeply discuss and examine Project-Based Learning. You will be assigned a PBL Institute Home Base facilitator before the event that will start your learning and sharing journey—one that will continue during and after the Institute. Be sure to bring your most challenging PBL middle grades issues, and then enjoy collaborating, networking, and learning toward successful solutions that you can use! Come with questions and leave with answers.

Job-Alike Sessions: You'll meet and collaborate with attendees that share your job or role to discuss similar triumphs, challenges, and solutions.

Professional Learning Contact Hours

Contact hours are offered with your attendance at the Middle Grades Institute! A certificate for 16 contact hours will be emailed to you a few weeks after the event.

What is a Professional Learning Contact Hour?
In order to remain a certified middle level educator, it is critical to continue learning and growing through outstanding professional development opportunities—and to receive credit for those learning experiences. By participating in the Institute, you can earn Contact Hours to maintain your teaching and administration certification. Please check with your school system and/or state certification agency to make sure they accept contact hours from AMLE.


All events will be held at:

Trafalgar School for Girls
3495 Simpson St.
Montreal, Quebec H3G 2J7


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Join us as we explore young adolescent development and project-based learning programs and practices at the Middle Grades Institute, July 23-24, 2020, in Montreal, QC. www.amle.org/MGinstitute

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Attend the Middle Grades Institute, July 23-24, 2020, in Montreal, QC, where you can explore young adolescent development and project-based learning programs and practices specifically designed for middle schools. www.amle.org/MGinstitute

Attend the Middle Grades Institute, July 23-24, 2020, in Montreal, QC, where you can explore young adolescent development and project-based learning programs and practices specifically designed for middle schools. The PBL Institute will provide engaging and personalized content with opportunities to access facilitated debriefs and network and share best practices with other middle school colleagues. More at www.amle.org/MGinstitute

The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) and Trafalgar School for Girls invites you to participate in a unique workshop as we explore young adolescent development and Project-based learning practices specifically designed for you to launch and sustain exceptional PBL programming in your school. The Middle Grades Institute is coming to Trafalgar School for Girls in Montreal, QC, July 23-24, 2020.

This event will provide engaging and personalized content with the opportunity for facilitated debriefs. Take advantage of these two days of opportunities to network and share best practices with other middle school colleagues.

Visit www.amle.org/MGinstitute for more workshop details.


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