How to Incorporate Project-Based Learning in Your Classroom

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Project based learning (PBL) is a new way to teach students key skills in critical thinking, communication, collaboration, time management and more. With the right tools and guidelines, you can implement your own PBL teaching style into your classroom.

Project Based Learning in the Classroom

Project based learning (PBL) is quickly becoming the new norm for classroom teaching and it's creating a lot of positive talk among students and teachers. If you are thinking about implementing PBL into your classroom, here are a few key tips and strategies to keep in mind.

Understanding PBL

Before incorporating Project based learning (PBL) into your classroom it's important to make sure you have a full understanding of the teaching method. Author and teacher Andrew Miller reminds teachers that PBL is not about projects. It's about the material and concepts learned through the projects. Some teachers may think they are teaching PBL by simply giving their students the course material and doing a group project afterwards. PBL; however, is using that project to teach the material.

For example, before beginning your lesson planning try starting backwards by developing the final exam first. This enables you to see the main materials that students are expected to know at the end of the course. Take that material and make it the center of your course by developing projects that will teach the material to the students while applying it in real world settings. The goal is to use the project as the teaching method along the way and not at the end.

Use the project to teach the students.

Building Around 5 Keys

Project Based Learning professor and author Peggy Ertmer suggests that there are five key building components to developing and implementing PBL in the classroom. Those include real world connection, core to learning, structure collaboration, student driven, and multi-faceted assessments. These five keys need to be the driving force behind your development of project-based lesson plans.

1. Real world Connection - Start by introducing your students to a real world problem that applies in their everyday life. For example, in a BIE.org example of PBL teaching, one teacher developed a project on micro-organisms by asking his students why they thought so many of their classmates were getting sick. Students responded with numerous answers and additional questions. These questions became the basis of a project all about micro-organisms in relation to the common cold.

2. Core to Learning - This is where the meat of the material needs to be presented and learned. Based on the answers and suggested theories given about a cold, the teacher in the example presented his students with the task of finding ways to help children learn how not to get sick. Students were asked to research their theories, collaborate with one another, and develop the best solutions to the problem. This is the part of the project where most of the learning took place.

3. Structure Collaboration - If you have your students divide into groups for a project based lesson make sure you provide them with guidelines on how to work together. Leave it up to the students to assign tasks to one another and launch into theory development, researching, and presentation of solutions.

4. Student Driven - In PBL the teacher becomes more of a facilitator and provides students with necessary structure and guidelines to operate within. The students become the driving force behind the project, which means it's in their control. They are responsible for taking the necessary steps to finding a solution to the problem and successfully presenting that solution to the rest of the class.

5. Multi-faceted Assessments - While the teacher is considered more of a facilitator, it is still the teacher's role to remain involved and to check in with students to ensure projects are moving along successfully. Throughout the project, spend time with each group of students observing and asking questions to ensure they understand their roles in the assignment. Question them about their research and findings to determine whether or not they understand the material. Encourage further exploration and creativity in the presentation of their findings. By doing this, you as the teacher will be able to assess students to ensure they are on task and keeping up with the material and the project.

Learning through group collaboration.

Start Small

When beginning PBL in the classroom, make sure you start small. If you give students a problem that is outside of their world or too big to solve within a set amount of time they may become discouraged and lose interest. That's why the BIE.org example of the teacher and students developing ways to keep younger children from getting sick worked so well. It was something students could grab a hold of, run with, and actually solve within a week or two of class time. They felt a sense of accomplishment on a variety of levels when they presented their findings to their teacher and classmates. Plus, they were actually able to put those findings into action by encouraging younger children to follow their suggestions to avoid getting sick.

Ready, Set, Go!

Now that you have a basic idea of what PBL is and how to go about building a program for your own class, it's time to put it into action. You'll be glad you did when you see your students growing in time management skills as well as developing their critical thinking, collaboration, and communication abilities.

Teachers facilitate group projects.

Presenting real-world problems that students face in their own life motivates students to take on a role of genuine interest and a desire to find solutions. As you and your students catch on to the PBL process together, grow with the material and take on even larger projects inside and outside the classroom.

By Amanda Johnson
January 2017
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