By Kelsey Bednar,
By Kelsey Bednar
One of the many initiatives that districts across the U.S. are working toward is the successful implementation of project based learning (PBL). If you are looking to incorporate this strategy for the first time or enhance your current PBL curriculum, this article will review four important elements you should consider.
4 Tips for Planning PBL:
This is the most important consideration in the planning process. The challenge is to create and/or find projects or performance tasks that are authentic, connected to the real-world, interesting to your students and most importantly, tied to your curriculum. If you are interested in designing your own PBLs or performance tasks, there are many resources that can help you in this undertaking. Jay McTighe’s paper on Designing Authentic and Engaging Performance Tasks is one I would recommend that helps explain what a well-designed performance task looks like and provides a template for designing your own. Also, be sure to look around your community for inspiration on meaningful projects to engage your students that require the application of content knowledge and skills.
While designing your own tasks can be an exciting challenge, there can be pitfalls. One thing to watch out for is that sometimes, what seems like a very cool project or performance does not actually require students to deepen their learning related to academic content and skills. To help avoid this issue (and save tons of time!), consider using pre-made resources. There are multiple organizations which have created authentic PBLs/performance tasks that are tightly aligned to standards and provide a variety of support material as well. Two notable examples are the Buck Institute for Education’s Project Search where you can search for PBL projects by source, content area, and grade band. Defined STEM is another great PBL resource with an online library of over 300 authentic performance and literacy tasks ranging across grades PK - 12.
A roadblock that often appears when students experience PBL for the first time is the “Give us the right answer.” mentality. Your students may not have had opportunities to be creative and innovative without worrying about grades. Or, they may not have been previously able to cultivate grit or perseverance in an academic setting due to a variety of factors, like time.
Here are tips for how you can ease students into PBL or performance task scenarios over time:
By carefully selecting projects/performance tasks and planning for the reality of what your students’ mindsets may be, you will have already addressed half of the planning elements necessary to implement PBL.
I have worked with teachers who were very excited about the possibilities of PBL in their classroom, but were hesitant to implement because their students “don’t know how to research”. They were understandably concerned about the amount of time it might take students to engage in the inquiry process– an important facet of PBL. To plan for a positive PBL experience, it is imperative to think through the inquiry process and how it might look with your students.
The last element you should consider when planning for PBL this year is the physical organization of your classroom. There are some space configurations that lend themselves to student collaboration, communication, and creativity more than others. While it is likely that there are constraints on the way you are able to design your classroom, aiming to incorporate one or more of these changes can enhance students’ PBL experiences:
Project-Based Learning represents a shift in teaching and learning that helps our students develop a deep understanding and application of the 21st-century skills that can better prepare them for the demands of their futures. But this type of shift is one that must be carefully planned. When teachers consider the four elements of content selection, student mindset, inquiry, and classroom organization, they enhance the success of project-based learning in their classrooms.
Subscribe to the #1 PBL Blog!
Receive new articles in the world of Project Based Learning, STEM/STEAM, and College & Career Readiness.