Digital Age Teaching and Learning

Project-Based Learning: FAQs for Beginners

Project-Based Learning: FAQs for Beginners

Feeling a bit lost as you try to get started with PBL?  These FAQs are sure to point you in the right direction.  Read below to get the answers to some of the most common PBL questions.

What is project-based learning?

PBL is a method teacher can use to facilitate learning in their classroom.  With this method, students gain knowledge and skills by working on projects over an extended period of time to answer a complex problem or question or to complete a challenge.  You can design these projects or combine PBL with self-directed learning, allowing the students to determine their own path to learning.

What makes it different from just doing projects?

Most of us completed projects when we were in school.  Most of us did not engage in PBL.  The difference between PBL and just doing projects is actually fairly extensive.

First of all, the project in PBL is a long, sustained project.  It is not something that can be completed in just a few classes or over the weekend as homework.  This is true for two reasons.  First, the process is as important as the product, and should be given intense focus.  Second, you want to project to be ongoing whenever possible.  A PBL project can last anywhere from a week to an entire school year.

PBL projects focus on key knowledge and skills that can be applied across the curriculum and throughout life.  You know all those memes people share about the useless facts they memorized in school?  PBL is designed to avoid this, building transferable skills and knowledge.

PBL projects should have a clear goal.  Students should be working to complete a challenge, solve a problem, or answer a big question.  They should engage in sustained inquiry to meet this goal.

These projects should also include revision and reflection.  Rather than just saying they are done, the students should engage in a process of changing and modifying their product.  And once it is in its final format, it should be shared publically, somewhere beyond the classroom.

How do I differentiate with PBL?

PBL is very easy to differentiate.  In many ways, it handles differentiation for you.  Your students will do what they can, and you simply need to recognize what would be the next step further, pushing them to grow within their zone of proximal development.  You can do this during your conferencing, when setting goals, or by creating individualized rubrics.

How can I assess my students individually with PBL?

PBL is big on group work, but you do not need to strictly use group work.  You can work on each skill in a gradual release format, starting with a whole class mini-project (big we do), then a group project (small we do), and then a project on their own (you do).  If you want to stick with group work, break the work up into parts or assign roles and assess them based on their performance with this.

How does PBL work with under-motivated students?

The fact that students must be self-motivated for PBL can prove to be a challenge.  However, when combined with self-directed learning, it can be a quick and easy way for getting them motivated.  Students are more engaged when they have voice and choice in their projects, so self-motivation tends to naturally follow PBL and self-directed learning.

What must I do to stop PBL from becoming chaos?

Prepare, rehearse, and stick to it.  Before jumping into it, your procedures and transitions need to be picture perfect.  Plan them in advance and practice them with the kids until they are second nature.  Then, once you get into PBL, just stick to it.

Do you have any other questions about PBL?  Leave them in the comments and we will work to solve them with you.