To some, starting PBL seems daunting and overwhelming. I can understand why. Amazing student work and teacher stories crowd the education Twitterverse. There is a perception that PBL is only reserved for a certain type of teacher. Perception does not always equal reality. Any teacher can start using PBL with their students. Here are 5 tips to get started with PBL. If you want some more information about project based learning check out some of my other posts.
1. Start Slow/Make a Slight Change
Rome wasn’t built in a day, or so they say. No one would expect you to run a marathon when you first step on a treadmill. All cliches aside, you have to start somewhere. There is no shame in jumping into the shallow end with floaties around your arms and a lifeguard on duty. Eventually, the love of swimming will push you to practice medley skills in the deep end. There is no possible way to become a PBL expert overnight, so start slow, and make slight changes.
Check out this Doing Projects vs Project-Based Learning chart and reflect on a project you’ve done year after year. Pick one or two ideas from the Project-Based Learning column and insert a new principle into your standard project.
Here’s an example – The yearly book report diorama project is coming up in a month. Perhaps you can give students time, in class, to brainstorm ideas and work with creative mediums. After they finish, you hold a “diorama remixed parent night”.
2. Create a Driving Question or Challenge Statement
A driving question or challenge statement helps frame a project to include more student choice and divergent thinking. A well conceived driving question or challange statement is relevant, provocative, and requires 21st century skills. It is the force compelling students to engage in the project. PBL expert Andrew Miller writes, “A DQ helps initiate and focus the inquiry.”
Many teachers find formulating driving questions to be very difficult. It need not be if you accept the notion that small changes can lead to big results. Use a Tubric or planning guide to formulate a driving question with a traditional project you have used. Take the book report diorama project. Here are some simple driving questions/challenge statements to open up the project.
- Can we re-imagine the diorama to include current technologies?
- How would a diorama made of sustainable and recyclable materials differ from a traditional diorama?
- Can we design, create, and build the diorama of the future?
- Propose an alternate project to the traditional diorama.
Start with the end in mind. What are some of the products students will create? What is the essential content students need to master while completing the project. Working backward helps you schedule check-ins, mini lessons, and formative assessment points. Planning will also help you collect materials and resources to aid the inquiry, research, and building process. It may be helpful to circle a date on the calendar and pencil in planned check points leading to the due date. You will see that the plan may shift throughout the project, but having a base will give you confidence.
Even though the front end work can be intimidating, it pays off. With all the planning out of the way, you are free to facilitate and guide students. It may also help to look at other projects to see time frames and organization. The Buck Institute provides a very handy project search. Why reinvent the wheel? See how other projects are planned and modify them to fit your own needs.
*CrowdSchool provides a nice template to plan, create, and share PBL. Sign up for private beta here 🙂
When I first heard about PBL it was a foreign concept. Like very foreign. I had zero exposure to the methodology as a student, and the pedagogical foundations were never mentioned in my teacher prep program. My PBL education primarily consists of online relationships, social media, trial and error, and books/articles. If you are on Twitter, there are two hashtags invaluable to learning about PBL- #pbl and #pblchat. I continue to learn so much about PBL from the amazing educators who post ideas, examples, and projects to these two hashtags. Following and communicating with educators who regularly post to the hashtags is a great way to increase knowledge of PBL. I also suggest regularly checking out thought leaders like Edutopia and Buck Institute.
5. Celebrate your Mistakes
Be kind to yourself. It’s not going to be perfect the first time. When something doesn’t go the way you hope – breath, smile, and make a note of it. Mistakes provide a wonderful opportunity to learn, improve, and iterate. Plus, you model the resilience and innovation you demand of your students.