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The Quick Start Guide to Project-Based Learning

The Quick Start Guide to Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning (PBL) can seem like a tremendous undertaking, requiring hours of planning and creativity well beyond the bounds of a standard lesson. For some teachers, that may be true. But, it is possible to dip a toe into PBL without upending your entire curriculum and pacing guide, as long as you stay realistic and systematic. Here’s how.

Don’t be afraid to steal

PBL can be a fountain of creativity for both you and the students, but for your first unit, you would benefit from someone else’s experience. The popularity of PBL has given rise to hundreds of potential projects that other educators have been nice enough to share with you. A Google search can be your first step, or you can visit one of the vast online PBL repositories like the Buck Institute for Education. Don’t forget that just because a prospective project calls for a certain grade level doesn’t mean that it can’t be adapted for your students.

Start with only as much as you can foresee

It’s still early in the school year. You’re still getting to know your students, their capabilities, and their attention spans. PBL can produce some unexpected effects that, without experience, could possibly frustrate and demoralize both you and the students.

Therefore, for your first effort, only block off as much time as you can comfortably predict and control. That may be a day, a week, or a month. Although one of the desired outcomes of PBL is the ability to allow the curiosity of students to take them in new directions, you should still be able to plan what will happen every day in your room.

Plan backwards

Experienced PBL practitioners often plan their units starting with the desired result and working backward from there. This trick could be even more effective with your early attempts. What do you want students to learn during this time (after all, you still have standards to address)? What should their final classwork products look like? From there, it’s easier to figure out your assessment methods, rubrics, and pacing.

Provide a menu

One of the joys of PBL, once you have some experience under your belt, is the great project ideas students will come up with for themselves. But, again, the first unit is not the time for creativity. Once you have a general plan in place, consider providing your students with a menu of possible project ideas from which to choose. It will make everything much easier. Also, don’t be afraid to remind students that their performance during the first unit will help them earn more flexibility the next time around.

Reflect often

Commit to reflecting on your PBL process early and often during that first unit. Keep a journal and student artifacts along the way (don’t wait until the end of the unit) so that you can figure out what worked, what didn’t, and what you need more help with from the ever-growing online PBL community.

Looking for more tips, tricks, and suggestions from other educators? Check out the Edmentum Educator Network on Twitter, where you can find a community of educators to connect with!

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Scott Sterling

Scott Sterling is a former English teacher who worked in Title I middle and high schools in St. Petersburg, Florida who is now a freelance writer who focuses on education. He is also a stay-at-home dad to his 4-year-old daughter Lily, who will soon be starting her own educational journey.