194: PBL Tips on Mapping the Project





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Use a mix of instructional strategies based on outcomes you want to achieve:
  • Need to provide instructional resources, kids can’t research everything on their own and shouldn’t have to
  • Decide type of instructional strategy based on learning goals.  For tips on what strategies go with learning outcome types, see this article: Three teacher roles
  • Use direct instruction for basic supportive information
  • Scaffold supporting skills students need to developing products (example: how to research efficiently)
  • PBL is good at teaching habits of mind and central concepts; not as good at teaching algorithms and basic facts
  • Start with the project so that instruction answers project need-to-wknos
Leave wiggle room in project calendars:
  • Set aside a couple days to push back final presentations just in case project expands beyond original intended time frame
Take time and use project templates to design projects:
  • The more people involved in project design, the more time it takes to design the project
  • Record thinking that goes into project design in notebooks and templates
  • Don’t preplan everything, leave room for students to influence the plan
  • Allow enough room for students to struggle and fail forward
  • Design learning experiences that allow students to take on more responsibility for learning the content and applying content outside school
  • For more information on templates, see these articles: Backwards design template & standards and Understanding by design planning forms
Think carefully about when to schedule projects
  • Project should not replace end of grading period exams
  • Teachers should communicate and try not to schedule too many project deadlines on the same day
Use multiple means to communicate the nature and goals of project to parents
  • Can invite parents into school-year project planning meetings to ask for their input and to explain learning goals
  • Hold parent kickoff meetings for parents that introduce project and ask parents for specific resources and support
  • Post projects on school website
  • Invite parents to school Open Houses and present upcoming projects
  • Send project calendars home with major deadlines
  • Share projects on school-wide blog posts and newsletters
  • Invite parents to serve as panelists and resident experts
  • Show evidence of student learning in projects to parents
  • Explain to parents how you design projects to meet standards and to achieve both breadth and depth over time
Use parents and students to find business and community resources for projects
  • Involve parents in serving as community liaisons for possible field sites and experts
  • Parents and students can communicate what school is like to businesses
  • Potential partners need to visit the school and learn more about its vision and strategies
  • Leverage different strengths that different people have to offer
  • Meet expert partners face-to-face to prepare them to make the most of their time with the students.
  • Train students to interact well with community members.
  • Train students how to secure funding for future projects.
  • For more ideas related to this, see this article: Mapping your community
Don’t bring in experts in until students need their expertise to progress.
  • Let students be frustrated before expert comes in to play hero
Cross-curricular projects involved multiple teacher require extensive communication and coordination:
  • Supports for cross-curricular planning: common planning time, structure reflection on project design and student work, teacher research groups, summer planning time, shared office space
  • Helps to share the same students with collaborative teacher
  • Hold meetings to plan schedules, end products, standards, checkpoints, and assessment strategy
  • Use student work to start conversations about future projects
Project will take longer – or be over sooner – than you expect.
  • Use observations of students to make adjustments to deadlines
  • Plan project calendar and prepare for 20% overrun due to unexpected contingencies


Skillful mapping of project prior to launch is key to successfully implement strong projects.  Involving students and parents in recruiting partner experts and organizations can lead to more authentic projects and project activities.  Building in flexibility into project calendars can allow teachers to make adjustments to scaffolding that better support student learning and development of projects.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze standards and create academic learning targets
  • Plan products and determine supporting 21st century skills and habits of mind that support product development.  Create character learning targets
  • Develop systems for sharing projects with parents – newsletter? blog? etc
  • Plan a rough project calendar – allow up to 20% wiggle room in extending the project just in case
Early Implementation Steps
  • Follow project calendar when it makes sense; make revisions to project calendar that improve student learning
  • Use learning modes that match different types of learning targets.  For tips on that, read Three teacher roles
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Invite and prep industry experts to teach lessons that match student need-to-knows
  • Time expert visits and field trips to fit just-in-time teaching moments
  • Recruit parents and students to secure community partner organizations and experts



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