Project Based Learning In Your Classroom

Project based learning has been a part of teaching forever. It’s nothing new, but we’ve seen a resurgence within the past few years and it's a buzzword we all like to use. I get quite a few questions from teachers asking how they can start and what they can try. 

That’s why I’ve put together some of my favorite tips for getting started and what to expect when you decide to take the plunge…and I think you should.  Sure, some of these might be simple, but they're worth repeating and thinking about.

Pick a Topic You Like
If you’re excited about a topic, there’s a pretty good chance your students will be too. That’s why I suggest finding a topic you really like. Maybe you want to do something that involves animals or building/designing a city. Whatever it is, make sure you’re invested. Your students will follow your lead. 
Full article here.

Start Small To Find Your Comfort Zone
When it comes to PBL in your class—do what makes you most comfortable. This might mean beginning with a small project or just a sample with your students. No one knows your classroom better than you and no one knows your teaching better than you. Don’t worry about scale, length of time, and complexity. Just start small and find your comfort zone. Full article here.

Paper Projects Are Excellent Options
Sometimes the best PBL only includes paper. Sometimes all the problem solving, designing, and hard work is contained on a couple of sheets of paper.  It can be simple.  Many of the PBLs I create use this paper-based frame work because it works well in the classroom.  Ease-of-use is your friend. Full article here.

Students design a zoo using while focusing on area and perimeter. See It Here.
Use Materials You Already Have
Make it simple on yourself and focus on using classroom materials that are readily at your disposal. Do not go and buy the latest gadgets or drop a hundred bucks at Target. Most simple PBLs can be conquered with classroom items, a little ingenuity, and the recycle bin.

Let Go (of some control)
Ana and Elsa are correct—Let it go. You’ll have to give up some of the control. You can’t control every aspect of PBLs because each student (or group) will have different results. This doesn’t mean it’s classroom chaos—it just means we have to hand the reins over to the students. Let them learn how to learn.

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Be Open-Ended With The Students
Many times students will want definitive answers for EVERYTHING! I tell my students that if they ask me what they can do (within a project) I will always say “YES”. I don't like to limit options and thinking. Too many times kids are told to hide their imagination inside (sadly)—not with PBL. 
This can be difficult concept for kids (which make sad), but we're working on it.

Share Awesome Ideas With Your Class When You See Or Hear One
When I walk around the room checking in (and spying) I hear and see the coolest things and thinking taking place. Those ideas need to be shared with everyone. All the kids need to hear about them because it'll spark other students' imagination. It might seem simple—but it works. Kids need to use each other as jumping-off points, without always having to rely on teachers.

A third grade class created an entire city using only geometry skills, paper, glue, and scissors. See Geometrocity here.
Include All Levels Of Learners
Project Based Learning IS NOT just for talented and gifted students. It's for EVERYONE! In fact, I’d argue it’s just as important for lower leveled learners. Why is that, you ask? Well, many of our struggling learners have learned incredible strategies for staying afloat in the classroom. They apply these same strategies here and it works in an incredible way. These projects are incredible engagement tools for reluctant/hesitant learners.

Multimedia is the Best Hook
Videos, images, music, Netflix, YouTube--use them all. Show students the multiple avenues of ways to learn. These are all hooks for the students and they love them.

When my students build their ski resorts, I like to show them an 8 minute movie on ski resorts around the world. They are amazed and excited to start. When we learn about the rainforest I play an 11 hour loop of jungle sounds (found on Youtube). It’s filled with rain showers, buzzing bugs, monkeys playing the in trees.

Get Physically Comfortable When Working
Let students move wherever they need to in the classroom. Floor, tables, small groups. A quiet room means NO ONE is really learning/discussing/collaborating. I want my kids intermingling, sharing ideas, and stealing ideas to create better ones.

Those are some of my top tips for getting started. If you have questions, just let me know. Or if you’re a just a fan of PBLs, I’d love to hear what you do.  To see more just click the images below.

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