I have been on Twitter since just a few months after they announced who they were at SXSW in 2007. And I have been following the #pblchat on Twitter since, well, I was one of the folks who talked about creating it. So I’ve been there since the beginning.
As pbl (project based learning) becomes the “cool” thing to do in education, I see more and more references to “great projects,” and “awesome student presentations,” in #pblchat. But are these projects really pbl? Do they meet the 8 “Essential Elements of PBL” that most practitioners require in their projects? Sometimes the answer is yes. But more and more the answer is no.
I do see a lot of projects with evidence of student-led deeper learning. But I also see cute project presentations that make me wonder if there was any learning going on during the course of the project.
Twitter isn’t the only place this is happening. At the last 2 edcamps I attended there were several people talking about the great things they were doing in their classrooms with pbl. At ISTE, last Summer, and at TCEA last month, there were people talking about the great things they were doing in their classrooms with pbl. At SXSWedu there were not many sessions with pbl in the title but the term was used by presenters in many sessions that I attended.
It seems that everyone gets excited about doing pbl and a lot of people want to share what they are doing in their classrooms. All I ask is that we hold these people to high standards. If they are just doing projects and NOT doing pbl, then they need to hear that from people who know a thing or two about the process – because it is a process.
The other side of this argument are the independent schools and schools that have unique circumstances that allow teachers and students to have access to community members and academicians who create opportunities for exceptional projects. I worry that too many of the “regular” teachers in small town America will say that they could “never do that in our town.” These projects and their products not only meet all of the 8 Essential Elements but their student “voice and choice,” is seen as being something “my students” would never be able to obtain.
If you are in this last category, all I can say is get over it! You have to make connections in YOUR community. There are people out there who would love to be part of your students’ learning experience. Take the time, now, for next year making connections. Start right now and look back at projects you have done this year. Where could you have given your students more choice in how they attacked the driving question? What projects didn’t start with enough student inquiry? How might you change that for next time.
Most importantly, what project wasn’t a PBL project at all? Look at each of your projects and examine them next to the 8 elements:
- Did you have enough (or too much) content?
- (and 3) Did you have a great driving question, and, did it create enough need to knows?
- What voice and choice did you give your students?
- Did you teach and assess 21st century skills?
- Did you give your students a chance to be innovative?
- Did you allow for revision and reflection?
- Were the products shown/demonstrated to a public audience?