I have the best job in the world. On a regular basis, I’m given the extraordinary fortune to talk with teachers who are embarking on a PBL journey with their students. To dig into the smaller, everyday details of how to make this type of learning environment work. To answer the tough questions about sustainability, rigor, behavior management and then take the questioner further…that’s like chocolate to me! I can’t get enough.
Over the years of starting my own PBL school and learning in a baptismal fire, I’ve been able to find a way to talk with new or reluctant teachers about their concerns. Additionally, there are things that excited, energetic teachers might want to consider as they take their first steps into the PBL fire as well.
Over the next month or so, I’ll be publishing a regular series to include 15 common mistakes that educators make and some solutions they might consider.
Believe that Project/Problem Based Learning is simply about setting kids free to do and learn whatever they want.
Problem: PBL is about helping students learn how to make their own choices and forge their own paths in life. And learning is a huge part of life. However, we’ve spent a great deal of time teaching kids how to wait to be told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Have you ever asked a kid, “What do you want to learn?” only to have him or her stare blankly back at you? Yep. In those situations, schools find their students falling short, while parents get very frustrated in the process and PBL gets blamed as the “failed strategy,” when it was simply the implementation. In order for PBL to work, we’ve got to help students re-develop the curiosity and the drive to want to learn…to want to get better…to be better. And we must ensure they are still learning the information and skills they need for the next step of their lives.
Solution: If we just say, “Go learn,” many students will have no idea how to start. There is a middle ground. A high-quality PBL school recognizes students’ incoming self-starter skills and engagement levels. We then carefully scaffold the levels of support, allowing students to unlearn past behaviors while re-learning how to engage and become self-starters. This is not a skill that is magically bestowed overnight. We provide the support they need now, and over time, gradually lessen our involvement, while ensuring students are still learning the required information and developing the skills they need to thrive later in life.
Want to learn more about Project/Problem Based Learning?
- Check out Edutopia’s annotated bibliography for PBL research
- The Buck Institute for Education has also collected a terrific bank of PBL research
In 2006 with 12 years of traditional classroom experience and 2 days of formal PBL training in her pocket, Ginger Lewman started a middle school, grades 5-8, that was a 1:1 laptop and Project Based Learning environment. Five years later, the middle school had doubled in population twice and had expanded to include PBL in grades K-8. They were also in the process of opening a PBL high school the next fall. Ginger now works with school leaders in helping them learn how to support the PBL shift, and inspires their teachers to take the leap. Meanwhile, she also continues to co-teach with K-12 teachers in the training process, keeping her own teaching chops sharp and ready.