PBL? Am I Doing it Right?
…in collaboration with Brenda Sherry
This post was first published in Voices from the Learning Revolution of the Powerful Learning Practice. It was also published on Mind/Shift as What’s the Best Way to Practice Project Based Learning?
Do you want to engage your students in Project Based Learning (PBL)? Maybe you are asking yourself what is PBL really? Am I doing it right?
Well, first of all, the most important thing to understand is that PBL is a construct made up by human beings and so there are lots of variations! And you are entitled to construct your own version, too, within some parameters.
My suggestion is to study many of the great resources that are available to you and then create your own working definition and effective PBL practice. (I’ve included some of my favourite resources below.)
Some Parameters to Consider
I have created this diagram, enhanced by the critical eye of Brenda Sherry, which may be useful as you consider what is important to you and to your students.
We like to think with the frame of continua rather than dichotomies simply because things are rarely on or off, black or white, ones or zeroes! Flipping from one end to the other may not be the best solution for you! You may choose to slide more in one direction as suits your experience, the student’s experience, the purpose, type of project, and so on.
You could likely add other dimensions to consider as you build your own understandings and beliefs!
Who is in control? Who is initiating the project? Whose passion is being honoured with the project? Who is setting the goals, timelines, and motivation? Are you scaffolding the students’ success through templates, calendars, checklists, rubrics or are you unwittingly stealing their locus of control and micromanaging them. Been there. Done that! Thought I was helping them by giving them lots of assistance!
Who is asking the question to be investigated in the project? The student or the teacher? Is the question a ‘deep, driving question’? Is it a ‘fat’ question or a ‘skinny’ one?
If the projects are collaborative in nature, you may wish to consider the amount of interdependence that students have with one another. Are they merely gluing their parts together to make a whole or do their conversations and co-creations lead to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts?
Is the content a rich, deep problem space or is it a more narrowly focused content area? Are there natural links to other domains that provide a context or is the content deconstructed to remove seemingly distracting and disparate information?
Are the students involved in constructing new meanings and understandings or are they simply retelling in their own words information they have found during their research? Have you built in mechanisms (blogs, wiki, vokis, public journal writing, etc.) so that student thinking is made visible, transparent and discussable or is most student process hidden and unavailable to others?
How authentic is the problem under investigation? Are students ‘being’ scientists, historians or geographers and so on, or are they ‘studying’ science, history and geography? How much is the project based in the real world of the student? Is it purposeful for them?
Great Resources for Project Based Learning
Chart: Effective PBL Continua by Peter Skillen & Brenda Sherry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.