How to Convince Parents to Support Project-Based Learning at Home

Schooling has changed dramatically in the past 20 years and it can be difficult to communicate those changes to families who are now facilitating their children’s learning from home.  Complex strategies like project-based learning (PBL) can be especially hard to explain, but using clear rationale and guiding principles will help you convince families to support learning that looks more engaging and meaningful than what they may have experienced.

One way to provide high-quality instruction remotely is to communicate clearly why students will be learning a certain way. We’re often clear on what and how students will learn, but the why sometimes goes unsaid.

The Essential Project Design Elements for Gold Standard PBL is a great place to start, even if a project or activity is not a full-blown PBL experience. The use of one or more of these elements can elevate a task from mundane to engaging and worthy. 


Here’s why each element of Gold Standard PBL is important and how it can be explained to parents and students learning from home:

  • Element #1: Challenging Problem or Question  

Teachers can create lessons or activities that focus on a single challenging problem or question to help students understand the purpose of what they are learning. It also helps them consolidate their understanding in a way that makes sense to them and adds relevance to the content and skills they are learning. General questions like “How are these things related?” can get students started, with questions increasing in sophistication and specificity over time. PBL Works Driving Question Tubric is a great resource for creating questions that lead to deeper learning.


  • Element #2: Sustained Inquiry

Activities that lead to sustained inquiry engage students’ interest beyond a grade or success on a single assignment. When they are engaged in meaningful activities, they are interested in learning more for its own sake and often choose to learn more outside of the parameters of the assignment. Evidence of sustained inquiry might mean the student chooses a show on Netflix or looks up information on Youtube after a class lesson because they are still interested in learning more.


  • Element #3: Authenticity

Tasks that seem real or are real to the student help demonstrate that an assignment is not requiring students to jump through hoops for the sake of “proving” their learning. Rather, authentic assignments show students their work is meaningful and important, not just for a class, but because their ideas are important for the community and the world. Students are completing many activities for many classes, but when their work looks like what people are doing in the “real world”, it may be more familiar and worthy for parents to assist with and provide meaningful skill development and purpose for the students.


  • Element #4: Student Voice and Choice

Allowing students to choose their own pathways in assignments gives them an opportunity to take ownership of their learning and adapt to the circumstances unique to their family. Providing online and offline options, synchronous and asynchronous options, choice of medium or even deadline can help students become more independent and provide much-needed relief for families with specific circumstantial needs.


  • Element #5: Reflection

Reflection is one of the most powerful (and easy to implement!) tools for teaching and learning. It helps the teacher understand what the student is thinking, but also helps the student clarify their own understanding and growth. Reflection can be written, drawn, oral (in real time or recorded) or demonstrated through a variety of multimedia tools. In person, teachers rely on student feedback through many verbal and nonverbal cues as well as informal checks for understanding. Thoughtful reflection, however, is even more essential in a remote environment when a teacher may not be able to use visual cues to know what a student needs. Learn more about student reflection 


  • Element #6: Critique and Revision

It can be tempting to assign a new assignment for every standard and there is a sense of urgency right now as students are making up for lost learning time. However, critique and revision are necessary skills for anyone who is interested in learning deeply and creating high quality work. Critique and revision can become a sort of conversation between teacher and learner, showing students that learning does not happen all at once, but can be developed, layer by layer, over time.


  • Element #7: Public Product

Nearly every assignment students turn in during traditional instruction has an audience of one: the classroom teacher. It is even less likely that assignments in a remote learning situation will be seen by anyone other than the assigned teacher. When students know their work has an authentic audience, they are not only more likely to engage in thoughtful completion of the product, but they are also likely to be more responsive to feedback from the teacher. Rather than acting as the final arbiter of quality, the teacher acts as a coach, helping the student reach their goals for a high quality public product.


Teachers do not need to use all 7 elements all the time or even across a semester or course, but including some of these elements will benefit students over time. They will be more prepared to thoughtfully engage in PBL experiences when they return to school and families will have a clear sense of the purpose for the work students are completing.


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