Project Based Learning (PBL): A Teacher Tutorial

8 Easy Steps to Engaging Learning

Traditional Learning; What is this and how would you define it? Is "traditional learning" when students work independently at their desks with a text book and a worksheet? Or is it when a teacher presents a topic to the entire class while students dutifully take notes on paper? Maybe, a better, more concise, definition is that students learn from the teacher and take a test to prove how much learning occurred? Truly, I submit, to me Traditional Learning is all of the above. Furthermore, just to be clear, in my opinion, these approaches to education are fine. Here's where the traditional methodology of learning, as well as ALL methodologies in education, falter and go wrong: not varying or changing up the teaching techniques or pedagogical styles. Project Based Learning is a tremendous form of teaching…

In the world of education students can't get enough: individual attention from the teacher; support for their learning; care for their well being; support from home, school and community; LOVE! But like some other things in life too much of something isn't always a good thing. I submit that this is where differing styles of pedagogy rest. Project Based Learning, as already indicated, is a phenomenal method of instruction but it can be overused. Students need various modes of learning to allow them to be able to adapt to an ever changing world. Now that I have provided my thesis on Project Based Learning (PBL) allow me to now assist in creating such a lesson plan structure.

PBL is student outcome positioned education. The work of the educator is more on the planning end. As the teacher your role is to set the students on a path at the start and then be willing to "let-go" until the end. Honestly, this can be difficult for an educator because, let's face it, a teachers' effectiveness these days is tied to the students success on a standardized test. Educators you must put this fear behind you and be confident in implementing this form of learning. Students will learn just as much as in the PBL manner as in the traditional but may retain it better because they were more empowered.

  1. Create a goal. The goal should be very specific and directed to the outcome of the PBL. After making a main goal add several subsidiary goals depending on the length or size of the PBL Activity.
  2. PBL Activity(s) must provide a pyramid structure of expectation. Set students up for success not failure. The difference between a PBL Activity working versus bombing-out is in how you develop the directions. Here's an example, and bare this in mind as you develop the project: if the educator has to answer ANY questions from students after the initial directions are provided it is NOT up to par. A pyramid structure of expectations provides students with all the basics while allowing them to soar to unimaginable heights; there's no ceiling on a great PBL Activity. Don't be specific; be broad.
  3. Provide students with daily goals to meet. This provides structure but ensures that the goals allow for individual creativity. These means developing goals that can be accomplished within the class period for all levels of learners. In my experience, the high level learners are the ones that struggle with time because their depth of content will be greater.
  4. Make the PBL Activity adaptable. Students should be allowed to work in groups or alone. Students should be able to accomplish the task using technology but maybe without it; students should be able to complete the work in school but also be able to complete it outside of the school day if they choose too. Allow students to interact, work together, collaborate. Create an atmosphere that is conducive to students helping each other, even if they're not working in the same group for the PBL Activity.
  5. Clearly define how students earn a grade. Utilize a rubric to show students how they'll be held accountable for the work they do. Another important attribute is to itemize the grading structure. Break down the PBL Activity into several pieces like a: daily grade for individual work, performance, conduct, etc.; grade for the final written portion; grade for a presentation to classmates at the end; grade earned on a assessment or test. Using several different evaluatory methods allows for less opportunity for student failure.
  6. Show students an example when you introduce the PBL Activity and have examples available throughout. It's one thing to describe what it is you want students to accomplish it's even better to be able to show them. This will allow you, as students work on the "project," to refer them to the example/s if they have a question; it eliminates spoon feeding answers and directs them to problem solve.
  7. Imbed throughout the PBL Activity benchmarks or goals of ALL the varying curriculums that you as an educator need to meet. Familiarize yourself with your local and State curriculum, as well as, the National Core Standards. It is amazing how many of these items you can cover in one PBL Activity.
  8. Develop the guideline packet or instructions in such a manner that it is accessible in and out of the classroom. Technology today allows for this to occur with relative ease. Post information on a class web site; use Twitter to disseminate material; and use email as a mode of further communication.

Here are two examples of some PBL Activities I utilize in my 8th Grade United States History classes:

Selling the 13 Colonies Project - This is a short, 2 class period, PBL Activity. Students choose groups or may work individually. Each group is randomly provided one of the 13 original colonies. The activity is based around the cable TV programs titled Selling LA and Selling NY. The main objective is for the students to familiarize themselves with the colony they are assigned to create a sales pitch. Then present the pitch to thier classmates. The PBL Activity is left very open-ended. Students spend the first class period preparing their sales pitch for next class period. Limit the sales pitch presentation(s) to a minute or two. Here's how the activity can be made into something far more agressive without using up any more class time (which is invaluable these days): Assign the activity at the end of the week so that the weekend can be used for students that really want to "go for it." What I mean by this is that I provide a competitive component to the activity; there is a minimum criteria but extra credit can be earned by the best sales pitch in each class. Students vote on the best sales pitch using PollEverywhere, an online poll developing program that is free in its basic formatting. This may inspire some students, over the weekend, to video tape themselves, make power point presentations, develop a TV commercial, etc. The results will be ridiculously incredible.

Create A Government Project - This is a more in depth, 5 class period, PBL Activity. Students choose groups or may work individually. Group positions are selected (president, secretary or recorder, sergeant at arms, representatives, etc.) Students create, from scratch, their own nation or country. They develop the land (geographic items like rivers, lakes, oceans, mountains, etc.); establish the nations borders; develop states (one state per group member minimum); and populate the nation by developing pie charts and/or graphs for the demographics. After completing these tasks students then hold a convention to create a government for their fictitious nation. They'll first be prompted from the directions to create a preamble. The Activity Packet then persuades student discussion to occur by providing open ended questions in which the responses need to be developed and then recorded in an answer booklet (or on a computer or other technological device). The entire project culminates with a five minute presentation to their classmates. If possible do not limit students to pencil and paper; encourage students to bring in their technology devices (smart phones; iPads, laptop computers, etc). Briefly demonstrate the apps available to assist them in this endeavor such as Whiteboard, educreations, Evernote, Jing, Aww, etc. Allow students to record their presentations, put it on YouTube, etc. Make the project even more aggressive by having students vote on the country they would most want to live in by voting on line using the PollEverywhere program and whatever group gets the most votes earns extra credit. Education is so much fun and PBL Activities can take this enjoyment to an entirely new level. Please contact us at AskteacherZ if you need any help with PBL Activities, to make a comment or gain access to the lessons described in more detail. We welcome any and all interaction.

Here is a tremendous resource to help you on your PBL journey. We're big fans of the "Hacking Education Series."

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