The Need for Project-Based Learning
If we say we want students to become critical thinking life-long learners, we need to provide projects that encourage them to engage in creative collaboration. This is the power of designing collaborative projects.
We often hear about the need for students to hit the 4 C’s in 21st-century learning:
We are nearly a fifth of the way into the 21st century and yet we are still in a system where students passively consume content. However, I would argue that those four C’s aren’t “21st-century” skills. They’re timeless skills. They were relevant a century ago and they’ll be relevant 200 years from now. These are the ideas Dewey wrote about a century ago and the ideas Quintilian wrote about two thousand years ago.
I love this idea that students should be engaged in collaborative projects, where they are thinking critically, engaged in creativity, and learning how to communicate.
I recently asked teachers to list the benefits they see in collaborative projects. Here are some of the things they learn:
- Perseverance: how to keep going even when a task is difficult
- Project management: how to plan, monitor, and assess projects
- Communication: they learn how to communicate, resolve conflict, and show empathy toward others
- Maker mindset: they define themselves as problem-solvers, designers, creators, and builders
- Systems thinking: how to navigate external systems
- Ownership: they increase in their sense of agency and they develop their own voice
- Critical thinking: they have an authentic context to engage in analysis, evaluation, and the generation of new ideas
- Adaptability: they become flexible thinkers
- Inquiry: they learn how to ask great questions
This doesn’t mean you have to use PBL 100% of the time. Sometimes you still need to use direct instruction, workshops, discussions, etc. But PBL can be a valuable way to empower your students with voice and choice!
Articles on P.B.L.
The following are the articles I’ve written on what it means to empower students with voice and choice. Note that I continue to update this and revise this, so be sure to bookmark this page an come back to revisit it periodically.
Collaboration in PBL
- The Roadmap for Collaborative Projects
- Three Ways to Boost Collaboration in Student Projects
- Seven Ways to Boost Collaboration in PBL
- Designing Group Projects So Everyone Participates
- Helping Introverts Thrive in Collaborative Projects
- Collaborative Projects Can Work in Any Subject
- Taking Collaboration to the Next Level
- Collaboration versus Cooperation
Making the Shift to PBL
- It’s Okay to Do the Same Epic Project Next Year
- Making Time for PBL
- Five Myths About Classroom Management in PBL
- What Can Food Trucks Teach Us About PBL?
- Students Need to Solve Real Problems
- 10 Things that Happen When Students Engage in PBL
- The Seven Biggest Lies that Keep Teachers from Implementing PBL
Instructional Strategies for PBL
- Research Is Critical in PBL
- The Surprising Science of Project Fatigue (And How to Prevent It)
- Five Structures for Project Management
- Aligning PBL to the Standards
- How to Brainstorm in PBL and Design Thinking
Assessment in PBL
- How Does Assessment Work in a PBL Unit?
- Alternative Assessments
- Student Portfolios
- Peer Assessment (Coming Soon)
- 20-Minute Peer Feedback System
- Self-Assessment Strategies (Coming Soon)
- Student-Teacher Conferencing
- 7 Strategies for Improving Student Feedback
Examples of Student-Centered Projects and Strategies
- Six Student-Centered Projects for the First Week of School
- Genius Hour Projects (Students Choose Topics and Strategies)
- Geek Out Projects (Students Choose the Topics)
- Divergent Thinking Projects (Students Choose the Creative Process)
- Wonder Day and Wonder Week (Students Ask the Questions)
- Podcast Projects (Students Share Their Voice)
- Podcast Project Ideas
Although I work full-time as a university professor, I often conduct PBL workshops. My style is hands-on, engaging, practical, and fun. I infuse each workshop with storytelling, humor, and movement. While I tailor each the learning to the needs of your staff, here is a sampling of what type of workshops I lead.
Getting Started with PBL
Teacher Expertise: Novice
Description: PBL can seem daunting when you have time constraints, standards, and a curriculum map. What does it look like? How do you even get started? In this workshop, we begin with the “why” and move into the “how.” As a group, we will do a mini-project and plan out an initial PBL unit.
Making the Shift to PBL
Teacher Expertise: Emerging
Description: So, you’ve tried PBL but you’ve had mixed results. In this workshop, we focus on how to improve student collaboration through specific structures. We also explore ways to build additional student ownership into the inquiry, research, and project management processes. Finally, we examine specific assessment processes to improve self-reflection and metacognition. In the end, we do a project revision to take PBL to the next level.
Taking PBL to the Next Level
Teacher Expertise: Expert
Description: In this workshop, we focus on how to increase student voice and choice within our PBL units. We explore specific structures to build interdependency and boost collaboration within student projects. We also focus on taking student self-assessment and peer assessment to the next level to maximize metacognition. In addition, we get into ideas like personalization and compacting to take differentiation and choice to the next level. The goal here is to share the collective wisdom of the teachers in the room so that we can all learn from one another.
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We’re all on a PBL journey, whether you’ve been using a PBL approach for decades or you just launched your first project this semester. As you reflect on your journey, you will always need to experiment and try new approaches. If you don’t, you grow stagnant. But you’ll also need to figure out what works for you. Repeating the same project year after year doesn’t make you lazy. It makes you smart. It doesn’t make you less innovative. It makes the learning timeless. Because every year is a fresh start with a new group, a new context, new tools, and new insights. In the end, there is no such thing as a “repeat” project from year to year because classrooms are dynamic and teaching is relational. What you get, instead, are new iterations and new insights that will help you refine your craft and improve your teaching. That’s the beautiful part of the journey. Sometimes you fail forward. Sometimes you experiment. But sometimes you walk into a project saying, “I got this.” And you do.
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