PBL Baby-Stepping: The Birth of a Project

During a lunchtime chat last week, the Engaging Educators were having a brainstorming session. The topic…what should our year-end social studies project look like? We try our best to think in terms of “projects” whenever we can, as opposed to lessons or activities. We want to help teachers have more conversations like this one.

This is the first in a series of posts designed to help teachers more effectively plan projects and implement Project Based Learning (PBL) in their classrooms. It’s our belief that PBL is a model that dramatically increases student engagement and leads to gains in student achievement.

I wonder sometimes why more teachers aren’t using Project Based Learning (PBL) in their classrooms. I think it’s because they don’t have a project design template in place. When I say “project design template” what I mean is a structured, step-by-step process for planning a good project. In other words, when it comes to project planning…they don’t know how! If you don’t know how to plan one, you’ll never try. I was lucky enough to attend a 3-day seminar featuring a speaker from one of the leading proponents of PBL, The Buck Institute. Since then, I see teaching and learning through a completely different lens.

An effective project not only has to be engaging and meaningful, it has to be extremely well planned. And, yes, it does take a lot more time than just teaching from your textbook. But once you get into the swing of things, your whole approach to planning will change. We’d like to help you with that.

So, today, let’s start at the beginning. Or in the case of PBL, at the end. Huh? Let me explain…in the beginning of planning your project, you have to start by asking “what do we want them to learn/do?” In other words, what outcomes are you looking for? It’s that whole “Backwards Design” idea that if you’re like me and went to college in the 20th century, no one ever taught you about. You’ve got to begin with what you want them to learn in the end.

This probably will require a perusal of your district’s curriculum and/or your state standards. But once you’ve identified what your students need to learn from this project, you’ll be off and running.