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Should You Jump on the PBL Bandwagon?

August 28, 2015

BandwagonIt’s the end of August, the last gasp of summer. The days are getting just a little bit shorter, Labor Day is around the corner, and try as you might, you can’t escape the ubiquity of back to school advertising.

Whether you’re a first-year teacher or a seasoned veteran, there’s nothing quite like the surge of nervous, yet excited anticipation that sets in this time of year. The school year is about to start! The kids are coming back!

For teachers, standing at the threshold of a new year can bring about feelings of promise and possibility…This year is going to be something special! These magical moments between the dog days of summer and the chaos of the first day are the perfect time to make plans about the new and exciting things you’ll try in your classroom.

Over the last few weeks, we at BetterLesson have outlined some ideas to inspire your New (School) Year Resolutions: revamping your technology toolbox, adding blended elements to your class, or even participating in a new form of PD! There’s one more suggestion we have as we kick of the 15-16 school year: Project Based Learning.

The Project Based Learning Bandwagon has been barreling across the country, attracting teachers from far and wide. But fear not, it still has room for you! Before you jump aboard, however, you’ll want to consider a path that makes the most sense for you and your students.

First, a brief introduction: Project Based Learning (PBL) is a student-centered teaching method wherein students develop skills and knowledge by working through and solving open-ended and complex problems, questions, or challenges.

PBL transforms the traditional notion of top down, teacher-directed instruction, into a richer, deeper, student-directed form of authentic inquiry and learning. The benefits to using PBL are well documented:

  • It makes school more engaging for students.
  • It promotes deeper, more authentic learning.
  • It builds 21st century skills of collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.
  • It provides students an opportunity to connect with communities outside the confines of the classroom.

And it’s not just the students who benefit! Countless teachers have seen dramatic improvements in their own enjoyment, motivation, and job satisfaction.

A full conversion to PBL is quite a commitment and takes time and deliberate planning. Rather than resolve to transform your entire class for the start of school, why not start small with just one unit?  You could even get your feet wet by using a Project Based Assessment to see how it feels before taking the full leap to PBL. A project early in the fall could also help set the tone for classroom collaboration throughout the year.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “There is no way I could have my students do projects AND get through all the standards I need to this year,” don’t worry! PBL and CCSS go hand in hand! What’s more, the BetterLesson Master Teachers have your back! These inspiring educators have woven Common Core Standards into beautifully crafted projects, providing you with everything you need to get started with PBL.

What are you waiting for? Jump on the bandwagon!

Here are some highlights from the BetterLesson Master Teachers. As always, access to these resources is free and open to all teachers:

Lori Knasiak, an 8th grade science teacher from Illinois loves using PBL units in her classroom because they push the students far beyond just memorizing facts, challenging them to apply their knowledge in unique ways. Check out Lori’s first PBL unit about the End of Humanity, or this one about Designing a Cyborg Eye.

Mariana Garcia Serrato is a science teacher who uses projects to great success in her 7th grade class. Check out her projects on Controversies in Genetics, Evolution, and Geologic Time.

8th grade math teacher, Christa Lemily blends art into two of her unit projects (scale models and dilations), giving students a chance to practice with math concepts in an engaging way. She also offers ideas for using projects throughout the year, and has several mini-projects, which would be a great start for the PBL neophyt.

Andrea Palmer has her 6th graders work on a College Project throughout a unit about decimals.  This is a great example of how PBL can run in the background of a unit, without being the minute-to-minute focus for 3 weeks.

In cases like Andrea’s (above), projects are the basis of learning.  In other cases, performance tasks or short projects, can be a method of assessment, like Michelle Schade’s Pizza Performance Task for 6th grade math, or Marisa LaksTransformational Geometry Task, which also incorporates reading Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.

Dr. Elizabeth Watts Bromery summarizes her passion for PBL in this great reflection video. You can also access all her amazing resources for her 12th grade ELA First Semester Project: From BEOWULF to CANTERBURY TALES.

In this multi day project, Kristal Doolin has her 7th grade ELA students complete a Best Book Project to culminate the year and provide a resource for next year’s incoming students. This could be transformed into a great opening year project by having students report on their best summer reading.

For more great project-based ideas and lessons, head to

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