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Sunday, January 26

What is Project Based Learning?


Close your eyes (yes really do it) and imagine an ordinary classroom. When you open the classroom door, you take a double look. What is happening in this room? Students are totally engaged; working on computers, posters, and taking charge. Where is the teacher? Their teacher is coaching students and pushing their thinking. This is a fake example right? Nope, this is what a classroom looks like when students dive into a Project Based Learning Unit. What is Project Based Learning? Why is Project Based Learning important? How could I possibly fit in one more thing when my day is already so jam-packed? I want to tell you that Project Based Learning is not only the bom-dot-com, but the thing that single-handedly reignited my flame for teaching. Read this post to learn what Project Based Learning is, and why it saves time and my teacher sanity.

What is Project Based Learning?

PBL Works says that, “Project Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects.” Project Based Learning is an instructional style that is inquiry based and student lead. Project based learning allows students to hop in the driver's seat, while the teacher takes the co-pilot role. Throughout a Project Based Learning unit, students will use driving questions to research, collaborate, and produce a way to show their learning.


How to Get Started with Project Based Learning

Ready to ramp up the student engagement in your classroom? Try out Project Based Learning.

Benefits: increased instructional time, increased student engagement, giving students the opportunity to take charge of their own learning, and more. Sounds pretty sweet doesn’t it? But the real question is how the heck do I fit an extra thing into my day? There is not enough time as it is, how could I possibly add in something else? I know it sounds odd, but when you implement P.B.L. units, you actually save instructional time.

Project Based Learning Step 1: align your units across subject areas

One of the best ways to get the most bang for your buck out of a Project Based Learning Unit is to teach it in an interdisciplinary style. This means rearranging your units (across all subject areas) so they align in the most cohesive way. For example, if you normally teach animal traits for science in October and informational writing in February, switch it around so you teach these units at the same time. Why? It is more cohesive for students and it saves you instructional time. Now you are totally focused on researching, learning, and writing about animal traits. This saves you time across subject areas and allows you to dive deeper into projects and higher order thinking skills you otherwise wouldn’t have time for. Go get a scrap piece of paper and write out all your units for the year in the order you typically teach them. Can you rearrange any for better pairings? Are there any common themes jumping out at you? You might have the start to a great Project Based Learning Unit on your hands!


Project Based Learning Step 2: write driving questions

Now that your units are aligned, you need to start planning. Step one is to find your driving question. I like to think of this as your non-Google-able question. For example in my Will You Survive the Island? project based learning unit, my driving question says, “is survival possible on a deserted island?” This is a question that cannot be answered with a quick 2 second Google search. This is a meaty question that my students will have to research and prove through the course of our P.B.L. unit.

Project Based Learning Step 3: student voice and choice 

Now that you’ve asked the big question, how will your students demonstrate their knowledge throughout the course of the project based learning unit? In my project based learning units, I give my kiddos a presentation menu. This allows my students to choose how they will share their new learning and discoveries with the class. Some options I like to use include a poster, speech, multimedia project, demonstration, and more. Whatever your options are, the key is just to allow students with voice and choice. (Make sure they have clear expectations for each option).

 Project Based Learning Step 4: inquiry based learning

This step is probably the most difficult for teachers. In this step we must take the role of a coach instead of the sole instructor. Help your kiddos by asking probing questions that lead their inquiry and learning. You are not the sole provider of answers, but instead the guiding force as they research and solve for themselves.

Project Based Learning Step 5: public presentation

This step is such an important one. The final step in a project based learning unit is presentation. This step promotes students to take accountability and pride in their learning. Students will work on a presentation method of their choice throughout this project based learning unit and then present it to an audience. The more meaningful the audience the more effort students will put into their projects, and the more pride they will feel. For example, if your students are studying the best way to promote community involvement and they present to a town selectman, it makes the project feel so real and meaningful.

Now that you know the steps, I hope you take the jump and try a project based learning unit in you classroom this year!


Want to get started with Project Based Learning now? Check out my Project Based Learning Growing Bundle HERE!

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