192: PBL Tips on Beginning on the End in Mind



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Ways to start the year:
  • Seniors paired with juniors on a mini-project that has seniors teaching juniors how to work effectively within projects
  • Start with mini-units that teach students collaboration and self-monitoring skills prior to launching first project with students unfamiliar with PBL
  • Don’t expect the world out of first project.  Treat it like an ice breaker.
Pre-assess students’ skills and knowledge so you can tailor projects to their needs:
  • Pre-assess students’ abilities and interests prior to project launch
  • Prepare activities for students who are bound to move faster than other students
  • Use knowledge of students to bridge project relevance to their prior knowledge and interests
  • Be open to multiple formats of products for students to express their content knowledge, especially for students who struggle
Getting started? Either teachers or students:
  • Start small. Don’t try to tackle everything at once.
  • Start with small projects and analyze how they work in order to learn lessons that can be applied to future projects
  • Aim to design and implement one project really well
  • Don’t integrate projects on first project – get experience with logistics first before expanding scope and complexity of logistics by integrating in another teacher / content
  • Start by tweaking a student-centered assignment you’ve already done.  For more entry points, read this article: Project design: multiple entry points
Plan projects that take place outside the classroom:
  • Look for opportunities to tie curriculum to current events and sites outside the classroom
Get kids excited about a new project:
  • Prior to launch, leak details of project to get students to start thinking about it
  • Make project launches into “events” – example: for a school-wide project had a school-wide assembly where staff members put on a funny project-related skits
Establish a culture that stresses students self-management and self-direction
  • Maintain a dialogue with students about learning goals – what kind of person do you want to be? what’s required for college? what curriculum is needed to prepare for desired careers / college majors/
  • Teach research and learning skills
  • Teach students how to manage their time
  • Make the focus about the thinking, not just about the content
  • Reframe teacher role from stage on the stage to guide on the side
    • bring problems to students to solve instead of brining solutions
    • make project design part of the curriculum
    • create opportunities for students to make decisions about their learning
  • Transition from teacher-directed to student-directed
    • start with students depending on students at the start of the year
    • end year with teachers depending on students
  • Learn how to answer questions with more questions, not answers
Create a physical environment that will facilitate project work:
  • Create spaces for materials and project storage
  • Create spaces for group work and workshop work
Craft the driving question:
  • Use driving questions as a launchpad to related student-created specific project questions.  Vet these questions before students commit a lot of work time to them.
  • Do NOT answer the essential question for the students.
  • Design driving questions that elicit multiple responses, can be viewed from multiple perspectives, and engage diverse group of students
  • Refer to driving question often during the project
Following these tips can help teachers design projects that prepare students new to project-based learning (PBL) for the challenges unique to PBL.  Pre-assessing students can lead to project designs that account for a broad range of student interests, learning modes, and readiness levels.  Developing projects and scaffolding activities that scaffold students’ self management and project management skills can help students be more successful.  Creating spaces that accommodate PBL work can help students store products in a way that is orderly and inviting.  Crafting and implement activities focused around engaging and provocative driving questions can stimulate higher-order thinking throughout the project.


Preparation Steps
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement projects framed by driving questions
  • Refer to driving questions throughout the project
  • Fill briefcases with resources that provide learning opportunities for students at a broad range of readiness levels
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Be open to changing rubrics and product formats in response to student feedback as long as their suggestions do not steer too far from learning targets
  • After you and your students are experienced with PBL logistics, collaborate with other teachers to design and implement projects that integrate courses or school-wide courses
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