A questioning mind is essential for teachers as well as
students as you set off on your project-based
learning journey. ISTE readers recently asked
their PBL questions on social media. Below are the answers to some of them.
How can you effectively assess not only the end result of a project,
but also soft skills along the way?
When you’re designing a project, think about what you want students to know
and be able to do by the end of the learning experience. What’s the important
academic content they need to understand? And, just as important, which life and
career skills — such as collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and
effective communication — will this project help them to develop?
With specific learning goals in mind, you’re ready to start planning for
assessment. Think about how you will check in and provide feedback on students’
progress throughout the project — not only in a summative way at the end, and
not only with regard to academic content. Skills like collaboration and critical
thinking are too important to take for granted. Students who are new at PBL may
need your help figuring out how to be an effective member of a team or when to
take a creative risk. Plan specific activities to help them develop and
strengthen these important capabilities.
Based on what you’re hearing and observing, with help from formative
tools such as exit tickets, quizzes, journals and more, you can make
just-in-time adjustments in your teaching plan. By the end of the project,
students should be able to apply what they have learned on the content side to
produce quality work. They also should have mastered important life skills that
will stick with them long after the project is over.
What skills does the teacher need to maintain order in the chaos of
30 minds learning and questioning all at the same time at different paces with
During the “messy middle” of projects, students may indeed be researching
different topics, developing diverse products and progressing toward
understanding at varying speeds. This should be a time for active, student-driven
learning. But students who are new to PBL may need your help figuring out
how to direct their own learning, especially if they’re used to
For example, instead of relying on the teacher for answers, encourage
students to seek out information from multiple sources, including library or
media specialists and content experts from outside the classroom. Don’t assume
students will know how to budget their time effectively, either. Break a big
project into manageable chunks, with milestone assignments along the way. Before
sending teams off to work independently, hold a quick all-class meeting to
review the work at hand and then rotate among teams to listen in on their
conversations. Use a range of check-ins to find out who’s doing what and how
team members are getting along. Plan mini-lessons for small groups that need
more time or scaffolding to understand particular concepts.
Don’t be afraid to set parameters for the project. As the teacher, you decide
how open-ended or narrowly focused the project will be. For example, in a STEM
project with real-world
applications, is everyone designing a solar oven? Or are teams given room to
investigate and design a variety of alternative energy products? For a language
arts project, is everyone producing a digital story? Or can students choose the
product or publishing format that will best appeal to their desired
Even a tightly focused project should allow enough room for student choice so
you foster engagement and encourage creative problem solving.
How do we convince other teachers to give PBL a try? And how do we
get resistant colleagues on board?
Project-based learning requires significant shifts from traditional teaching.
It’s seldom successful as a top-down mandate. Instead, teachers tend to become
advocates when they have the professional development, time and collegial
support they need to get comfortable with PBL. In schools that are experiencing
widespread adoption of PBL, the energy to expand often comes from early adopters
who give projects a try. Their examples — and positive results — show what’s
possible and can help pave the way for others.
Project-Based Learning, we encourage teachers to share their stories.
Talk up PBL moments (successes as well as challenges), and share photos of your
engaged learners via Twitter and other social media. Use the hashtag #pblchat to connect with fellow
PBL advocates. Blog about your projects and the technology tools that take PBL
in new directions. Create a school library of project plans that others can
borrow and adapt. Invite colleagues to watch your PBL classroom in action. And
invite the whole community to end-of-project showcase events.
When colleagues hear your students describing and reflecting on their
learning experiences, they may be convinced to try PBL with their students. Be
ready to offer your own strategies and insights to support their learning
journey. That’s how the PBL community gets better with practice.
Have more questions or suggestions about PBL? Please respond in the comments,
and let’s keep learning together.
Suzie Boss is the co-author
Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital
Age. Check out the new expanded second edition of this popular PBL