Project Based Learning: 5 Tips for Getting Started

For many educators, the practice of project based learning (PBL) is new. Many educators have long thought that PBL was focused on the project. However, attention should be focused as much on the process, as the content-related products.

Beginning PBL in a school, small steps should be encouraged for both teachers and students. Often, the misconception is that teachers and students can “jump in” and have a deep, meaningful experience. Students need to learn and practice the process as much as the teachers.

Here are five ideas to help you get started with PBL:

Choose One Product – Having students complete multiple products provides the opportunity to give students multiple opportunities to demonstrate understanding. It also allows for creativity and the ability to practice real world applications. With that said, in the beginning, it may be best to start by assigning all students one product and preferably the same product. This will allow the teacher to practice PBL strategies in a much more controlled classroom environment. It will allow the student to focus on one product and start to develop the skills necessary for authentic learning and the process of product development.

Frequently Review Rubric – Students need to become accustomed to using the rubric to guide their work. They will need to understand what matters and how the traits within the rubric can help guide their work. Taking the time to review the rubric with the students is important, as is frequently reminding students of the rubric and its purpose to guide their work. Many teachers also like to share anchor products of what potential products may look like. This can be valuable but remember to share the scored rubric and explain how the scores were determined.

Provide Structured Inquiry – This process may be new for the teachers and it is probably new for the students. In the beginning, it will be valuable to provide students with a structured process to follow. Over time this process can become more inquiry-based and less structured. We must remember that we need to learn how to do things before we can be expected to do them without direction. Often, a checklist can be provided for the student so as they work through the process they can see what has been completed and what is next. This also helps the teacher follow the work and formatively assess students and student groups. Often, this checklist is accompanied by a student or group journal to keep all the work in one place.

Provide Research Resources – Research is a critical part of the real world and is an important part of authentic, project-based learning. Teaching students the research process is important for every school system. Depending on your role and your purpose it may be easier in the beginning to provide students with the research resources they may need. These may be in the form on online multimedia or articles, library-related resources, or from online platforms such as Defined STEM. Students can focus their research on the context of the scenario, as well as why the audience cares and what they need to know. Often, teachers will identify and provide 2-4 research resources based upon the students' age and ability.

Reflection – Reflection is a powerful tool to encourage learning and a growth mindset. Students need to learn how to reflect and understand the value of the reflection on the finished product(s). Within PBL many opportunities exist for self-reflection, peer reflection, and teacher reflection. In the beginning, it is good practice to ask student questions about their work and their process as an individual and as part of a group. This should happen periodically through the PBL process. Encouraging peer feedback in a positive way during the process and as part of a product presentation is powerful. In the beginning, the teacher will need to model positive reflection and peer conversation. As students learn how to do this they can begin to grow and support each other in meaningful ways. It is important that they do not see comments as punitive in any way. Using the rubric can also provide the ability for teachers to reflect on the presented product and encourage refinement based upon all the reflective comments provided.

Starting small can lead to big wins over time. PBL is a very engaging practice but much of the process needs to be learned by both the teachers and the students.


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