Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of a 2-part blog series. For the first blog post, click here.
By Kelsey Bednar
As you think about how you can enhance your curriculum with project-based learning (PBL), there are four important elements you should consider:
- Content Selection
- Student Mindset
- Classroom Organization
In last week’s blog, I discussed the first two elements you should consider when planning for PBL: 1.) strong, purposeful content selection and 2.) how to maximize student mindset. In this post, I will discuss the elements of inquiry and classroom organization and highlight the role they play in successful implementation of PBL.
I have worked with teachers who were very excited about the possibilities of PBL in their classroom, but were hesitant to implement because their students “don’t know how to research”. They were understandably concerned about the amount of time it might take students to engage in the inquiry process– an important facet of PBL. To plan for a positive PBL experience, it is imperative to think through the inquiry process and how it might look with your students.
- Reflect on your students’ prior inquiry experiences. Will they know how to develop research questions, gather information from credible sources or synthesize and interpret information? What will you need to do to scaffold that process?
- Work collaboratively. Is it possible to team up with a colleague, perhaps from the English, Library or Technology departments? Doing this can help alleviate concerns over time and resources. It’s possible that students may be doing a task in science, but receive mini-lessons on research during their ELA time. Or, perhaps students’ library media or technology curriculum addresses how to use digital search tools responsibly so it would be natural to complete the necessary task research during that time instead of science time.
- Consider available resources. What do you have access to in your building that can facilitate the inquiry process? Do your students have their own laptops or tablets? Can you reserve a technology cart for your class? Is there a computer lab available? If you do not have access to technology, think about how you will supplement with print resources or set specific parameters for the inquiry process that will allow students to successfully research within their means.
- Classroom Organization
The last element you should consider when planning for PBL this year is the physical organization of your classroom. There are some space configurations that lend themselves to student collaboration, communication, and creativity more than others. While it is likely that there are constraints on the way you are able to design your classroom, aiming to incorporate one or more of these changes can enhance students’ PBL experiences:
- Have materials available and within reach. Consider what materials you have available for students to work with and where they are located in the room. Are the materials organized and labeled? Are they within students’ reach? If your classroom has available technology, how can students access it? As PBL presents students with opportunities to apply their academic content in new ways, it will be critical that students understand what materials are available to aid this work and where to obtain them. Thinking about and preparing for this ahead of time will allow your students to problem solve and communicate more effectively during the year.
- Ditch the desk. In a PBL classroom, students will be working on engaging, rigorous challenges and will need plenty of space that is designed for them to work together. Ask your principal if it would be possible to switch from desks to tables to encourage collaboration and communication. If this is not feasible, organize individual desks into groups so that they feel like tables. Get ideas on how to set up a learning space that supports PBL in this inspiring video by Apple Distinguished Educator and TED Innovative Educator, Anthony Johnson.
- Create other spaces for collaboration. Regardless of if you have desks or tables, it is important to incorporate other spaces in the room where students can work in comfort. This might mean using carpet, bringing in bean bag chairs or perhaps cushions for the seats. While students may have to learn how to engage responsibly in these spaces, these setups can benefit creative and innovative thinking. If you do not have room to create inviting, comfortable spaces for students to work on the floor, consider if there is another space in your building where there is room to do so.
Project-Based Learning represents a shift in teaching and learning that helps our students develop a deep understanding and application of the 21st-century skills that can better prepare them for the demands of their futures. But this type of shift is one that must be carefully planned. When teachers consider the four elements of content selection, student mindset, inquiry, and classroom organization, they enhance the success of Project-Based Learning in their classrooms.