Tips for encouraging teachers to implement project-based lessons. Try PBL days!
By Kelsey Bednar
As both teachers and students come back to school in January rested and re-charged, it is the perfect time to implement a new, engaging strategy like Project-Based Learning (PBL). If you want to try this out but your school has not developed a plan for the how or what of PBL, consider engaging in school-wide PBL days.
Here’s how PBL days work:
Administrators and teachers agree to earmark a specific amount of time for students to engage in an interdisciplinary projected connected to grade level curricula and centered around a problem or challenge. The length of time in which students engage in this experience can vary. In some schools, this is done in one period at the end of the day, over multiple days. In other schools, the staff has chosen to adjust the schedule for 1-2 days, creating concentrated, flexible time in which the project can be undertaken. The decision of how to structure PBL Days should be based on the specific needs of your school and student population.
To plan for these days, teachers should begin by selecting a cross-curricular project (this is especially pertinent for middle school teams). Keep in mind that the selected task does not need to involve content that each subject area is currently addressing. The experience is still valuable for students if it reviews content previously learned and/or mastered in any one of the subject areas.
From there, teachers should plan backward. Determine what product(s)/performance students will be expected to create by the end of the project and delineate the important content/skill connections. Next, think about the process that students will go through, including but not limited to: a hook activity, the development of questions about the problem or challenge, inquiry, group brainstorming of solutions, creation of a final product(s)/performance, presentation, and reflection.
As grade level teams plan for each phase of the process, they can divide the facilitation responsibilities, create a timeline for each day, and determine the materials and technology needed for the project. Teachers should also think about student groups ahead of time. Consider whether students will be grouped together according to the classroom, or if perhaps they will be grouped with students from other classrooms in their grade.
With the plans in place, the whole school can embark on their PBL journey together at the designated times.
Some of the benefits of PBL Days include:
- Teacher collaboration allows for greater exchange of creative ideas, which ultimately benefits the students who will engage in the PBL experience.
- Teachers who may feel hesitant about attempting PBL on their own receive support from their team. This reduces the feeling of being “out on a limb” if the project doesn’t quite go according to plan.
- This collaborative effort amongst teachers provides a common understanding and approach that each educator can continue utilizing in their individual classroom after the school-wide experience.
- Students won’t feel overwhelmed if they are only asked to focus on one project as opposed to engaging in separate PBLs in individual subjects.
- Having teacher teams work together to plan and execute the experience on the same days ensures that all students receive the same exposure to PBL, regardless of grade level or classroom.
- After this collaborative effort, staff can reflect on and debrief the experiences together, establishing common processes and practices to guide each teacher’s subsequent use of PBL.
PBL Days is an opportunity for teachers, students and administrators to get their feet wet and experience all the advantages of a project-based learning approach in a supportive, collaborative environment. If you are an educator or administrator who wants to propose this idea at your school, there are resources that can support you in this effort. Defined STEM offers an online library of over 300 cross-curricular projects for grades PreK-12. ASCD.org offers some good resources including this information on the PBL process from the book Teachers as Classroom Coaches.