Thursday, October 30, 2014

Applying the PBL Process

We are using a lot of project based learning (PBL) strategies with Lights Academy students at Lutheran High School this year. I quickly found that it was not enough to just say "use your time well" at the start of a class period. Even with the best students there was often the tendency to allow time to slip away without more specific direction. Here are some ideas/strategies that I have found effective in encouraging and guiding students in the project based learning environment:
  • Guiding work involves thousands of little conversations. A teacher engaged in project based learning cannot sit aside, work on other things during class, and just let the learning happen. I need to help students by constantly moving around the room and asking questions like: What are your goals for today? What is something new you have learned today? What is a current challenge of yours? These conversations both help me better know my students and their strengths and weaknesses. They also help me hold them accountable by assuring that I want to partner with them in their learning.
  • Project based approaches are much more challenging and time consuming than working in the traditional classroom. To do this well, an instructor needs to be even MORE active in the classroom than under other models. This type of education is NOT for educators who simply want to cruise on toward retirement.
  • Ask students to identify one to three specific things they would like to accomplish during class time, and then check on those accomplishments at the end of the class. Most of the students will not complete exactly what they originally intended to accomplish. This is typically not a problem since it opens the door for a conversation about the process taken by the student.
  • Surprise students with something fun, whimsical, and even nonsensical from time to time. When they are focused on working hard on their individual tasks, they appreciate the break.
  • With longer blocks of time, encourage learners to work on 2-3 different things during that time, with, when possible, one of these activities involving movement or work with other students. If a student works on the same angle to a project for more than a half hour their productivity often wanes.
I will be documenting other best practices throughout the year, but this is a summary of what I am discovering in guiding project based learning. I welcome you to continue to learn with me through this blog or for you to share your experiences for the benefit of others.


  1. I agree that this type of classroom takes a considerable more time than the traditional way of teaching lessons. Although I would not say I am using PBL in my classroom, I am trying in different ways to empower my students to learn more independently. I teach 4th grade so they are still very young and need a lot of support in gaining their independence. I spend a great deal of time working on keeping my students organized and focused on the question. I am finding I am exhausted at the end of the day, physically and mentally. Thank you for your reflections

  2. This is totally "growth mindset" stuff. Awesome.

  3. This is the kind of stuff that you learn about in college and think, "Man that's awesome! I'm totally doing that in my classroom!" But then you hit your first year and its all survival mode. I am in my 6th year now and the challenge becomes how do I keep pushing myself as a teacher and do these kinds of things instead of just sticking with the survival mode worksheets. Great stuff!