Teaching and Learning in Project-Based World – #3 Seven techniques to get started with Project-Based Learning

In the previous installments of our new series, we discussed why educators should bring Project-Based Learning (PBL) to their classrooms and what differentiates this instructional approach from traditional student projects. In this third part of PBL, we present seven techniques a teacher should use to successfully manage a PBL instruction.

Project-Based Learning (PBL) is “a student-driven process, which is only facilitated but not controlled by teachers. By focusing on the solving of real-life problems, PBL helps learners become autonomous learners.” However, “the traditional approach prevails and teachers take center stage, controlling and directing the learning process. Learners are mostly motivated externally and are not required to carry out individual or collaborative work which fosters learner motivation and autonomy” (Habók & Nagy, 2016).

The above statements reflect the bitter truth. Many of us in the educational community recognize that PBL is a far more refined instructional strategy in comparison to the traditional lecture style. At the same time, we understand that applying PBL in our classrooms is easier said than done. It’s reasonable that we feel a bit lost starting this ambitious, yet game-changing, project.

Fortunately, that is not the case for all educators: there are some among us that have already mastered PBL, and they can share their victorious tips. Let’s see what are the building blocks for starting PBL on the right foot (Kokotsaki, Menzies, & Wiggins, 2016):

1. Time management: PBL requires different scheduling in comparison to a normal class. It’s a process that students shouldn’t be rushed into and can take unexpected turns during. It would be best if you blocked out two contact hours in a row while implementing PBL. Also, keep in mind that you might need 20% more time than originally planned.

2. Getting started: While introducing this new teaching and learning strategy to your students, make them feel safe by providing a rubric for them describing your expectations. This will help mitigate their confusion and create confidence in achievable goals along the way. You can also discuss and agree upon the assessment criteria, so they know what they are after, and be on board mutually for this task.

3. Establishing a culture of student self-management: Jointly deciding upon assessment criteria with your students is a head start towards shared responsibility. They realize from the very beginning that they are no extras, but the main characters in this process. Passing on the torch of knowledge construction to them is crucial for the successful implementation of PBL. It is this empowering feature that makes PBL so effective.

4. Managing student groups: In a PBL setting, you don’t get to lead: you have to monitor and manage projects’ launch and progress. For some teachers, it’s hard to give up this control. You can ease into it by starting with group formations and ask students to keep a project calendar to which you can have access. Your students will also feel comforted by the fact that their efforts will balance both oversight and independence.

5. Working with others outside the classroom: It’s important that students’ projects escape school walls. A key component of PBL is that students get involved with interrogating real-life questions. To address both the what and how of their projects, they need to reach out to their community and, ideally, consult with experts that can offer valuable insight.

6. Getting the most out of technological resources: Technology transforms the way projects are done, and we should indicate to our students the proper ways to use technology in every project step. They can explore ideas, communicate with teammates, establish connections with third parties, record their progress and create their end product. The project-technology connection list is endless.

💡 In the 21st century, working outside the classroom and getting the most out of technological resources are two interrelated practices in our students’ eyes. To facilitate them hitting these two birds with one stone, we can introduce them to 100mentors app.

The 100mentors app gives students the chance to explore issues related to their projects from different perspectives. Experts from all around the globe can respond to their wonderment questions and make their projects stand out.

7. Assessing students and evaluating projects: Project assessment should be looked at from several perspectives. There is individual work and there is teamwork; process and end product; self-assessment and peer-assessment. So don’t feel trapped into traditional assessment methods that don’t fit PBL – this is a time to explore new forms that work for you and your students. And most importantly: leave room for reflection. Students will put great effort into their projects; they deserve some time to consider what went well and what went wrong.

Still, this is only the beginning. Now that we have acknowledged our responsibilities and strengths about PBL, we are ready to break down the project as a process and get things rolling.

Let’s find out what ingredients we need and how we can make the PBL recipe, together.

Sources

Habók, A., & Nagy, J. (2016). In-service teachers’ perceptions of project-based learning. SpringerPlus, 5(1), 1–14.

Kokotsaki, D., Menzies, V., & Wiggins, A. (2016). Project-based learning: A review of the literature. Improving Schools, 19(3), 267–277.

Pepy is an IB Diploma Programme Physics and Mathematics teacher, with an MA and PhD in Education. She is currently a Post Doctoral Researcher in teachers' education and also teaches at the University of Patras. As the Educational Consultant at 100mentors she empowers educators to turn theory into practice with educational technology solutions.

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