Digital Age Teaching and Learning

My Best Experience With PBL

My Best Experience With PBL

Project-based learning is great for the students, but what about you as a teacher?  Is this something you are really going to love?  In my opinion, yes!  Read below to learn about my best PBL experience.

PBL Is a Learning Process

And this is true for both you and the students.

I want to start with this, because I think that many teachers start with PBL, encounter a problem, and then feel discouraged.  Mistakes will be made—hopefully just a few, but maybe a lot.  I worked to perfect my PBL units with two generations of kids before I could say that I was truly elated with the result.

If things are rough at first, don’t worry.  Never be afraid to adjust things once you get started.  In fact, by doing so, you are modeling the behaviors you want your children to exhibit.

For Me, it Came Together in Year Three

With my first two generations of kids, PBL was effective.  We worked on individual projects during each term (we have five per year in Mexico, where I teach) and the kids really excelled at the skills these projects were designed to teach.  We had a personal narrative anthology, a propaganda campaign, a research project, an argumentative letter, and a children’s play.

But what I got wrong during those two years was working on the sense of purpose.  They were writing about themselves, but why?  They were creating campaigns, but what would they achieve?  And so on, and so forth.  As I reflected on this during the summer between year two and year three, I came up with an idea to connect all the projects with a singular goal in mind.

The Persuasive Portfolio

As you might have noticed, three of the projects revolved around informing or persuading, so this direction seemed natural to me.  The narrative anthology became an author profile and the fifth unit has since been dedicated to in-depth revision and presenting the portfolios to their target audience.  The goal of the portfolios is to convince their target audience to make a change the student would like to see implemented.

When I presented this massive, year-long project to the kids at the start of the year, I was worried that they would feel intimidated—because I felt intimidated.  But they didn’t.  Instead, they thought it was the coolest thing they had ever heard.  They as 7th grade students were going to convince someone to make an important change; it was the most power anyone had ever told them they could have.

What I Loved

As teacher, we all have those perfect years where everything just seems to go right.  For me, year three was one of those years.  What did I love about my PBL experience that year?  Honestly, too much to remember.

I loved that my students grew in their confidence, that they began to believe in their ideas so strongly.  And that this power they discovered in themselves translated into a greater sense of fairness and activism.

I loved how the students who wanted the same change came together to support each other, even when they were not friends before the project began.  I saw them begin to break away from the circles they had been part of for so long and begin to form bonds based on their ideas.

I loved the pride that they took in the portfolio.  They weren’t willing to settle for anything less than their best because they knew that only their best could possibly make a difference.  Everything from spelling to grammar to the design elements of their propaganda posters had to be spot on—not for me or for their grade, but for their own sense of satisfaction.

I loved how accomplished they felt at the end, after they had presented their portfolios.  Even if their changes never happened, they still felt as though they had really done something by trying.  And for 12 and 13-year-old kids to feel like they have done something even without seeing a difference is truly incredible.

And I Love PBL

PBL is great for students, and because it is great for students, it is great for you as a teacher.  Their success and their joy translates into an incredible experience for you.  Give it a try, and approach it as a process.  Within time, you will love it as much as I do.


 photo credit: <a href=”″>second grade writing class</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>