There are plenty of ways to integrate Project Based Learning (PBL) to your classroom, but sometimes you just want to get started without have to sort through pages and pages of information. I think I can help cut through the noise and offer 5 steps to get rolling with PBL in your classroom. This is not an exhaustive list; just more of a quick set-up guide for the teacher looking to give PBL a chance in their classroom.
1. Identify the topic – The very first step is to figure out what you want the students to learn. This might seem very basic, but sometimes we forget the focus of our work and the students are just being kept busy. The topic could be a real-world problem that students need to explore. This is a common approach used in PBL, but it doesn’t have to be the only way to focus a PBL assignment. These could be engineering problems, other STEAM associated problems, or something that is specific to your classroom. No matter what you choose, it needs to be something that allows students to explore in detail and be able to create something to address the issue.
2. Create the structure of the project – Once the topic has been clearly defined, a structure needs to be in place for the students. How detailed this structure is usually depends on the age of the students. The younger the students, the more rigid the structure tends to be to provide the students with important guidance. Older students tend to have more freedom to explore the topics and create their project. The project can also be in a group format or it can be a solo one. How much time are you going to give the students, how are they going to be assessed (I suggest rubrics), how will students present their work at the end, and any other details the students are going to need to best complete the project. These are the important structural issues for PBL that are not fun to talk about or showcase, but they are fundamental in supporting the success of the work.
3. Be present – Many people think that teachers that are using PBL in their classroom just sit at their desk grading papers or reading the paper. This could not be further from the truth. I have found that I have always been more active in my classroom when students are working on a project. I am moving from group to group and checking in on their work. Some students will need more support than others, but that is true for any assignment in class. It is important not to answer all of the questions student pose because the research part of PBL is important and it is a skill students need to work on as they go through school. Pointing students in the best direction as they research and explore is helpful to these groups when they start to get stuck. Being present with the students as they go through the process of exploring their topic and create potential solutions is very fun. I diverse class will come up with a wide variety of projects and that makes things much more interesting in the classroom and being there guiding the students is key in getting them to their final steps with the project.
4. Utilize technology – One of the ways that PBL really shines is the way that it can all for the incorporation of technology. Students should be encouraged to take notes digitally if possible and share with the group. Their are many different tools that can be used to create a final presentation that are not a slideshow. Creating videos, animation, graphic novels, and more are now accessible to students thanks to a wide variety of tools. Creating a list of tools that students can use can help make the process a little easier for students and that list will grow over time as students find their own they share with class. Having students use different tech tools also helps them grow their skill set while working on their PBL in class.
5. Be ok not calling all of the shots – The toughest part of PBL is that it allows freedom to students to fully explore ideas and showcase what they learned and how the problem the researched could be addressed. Teachers are accustomed to dictating all aspects of any work that a student needs to complete that PBL can really cause teachers to feel helpless at times. Students need to be given the space to try something new, make mistakes, and try again. Students will attempt things as part of their PBL that you might be sure is going to fail, only to prove you wrong. On the other hand, the students will try and fail and your job is to help them through the reflective process that is important after failures in the classroom. Giving up some aspects of control is tough for teachers, but it is what is best, and needed, for successful PBL in class.
These 5 parts of Project Based Learning are great at getting the ball rolling in your classroom. You are going to stumble along the way and find different approaches that will be perfect for your students that might not work for students in another class and that is the beauty of PBL. It is perfect for differentiation. Help students get the most out of their classroom experience in a way that meets them where they are on their learning journey by bring PBL to your classroom.