Getting Started with Project-Based Learning

Think back to your most memorable educational experience. Chances are, it was an epic project. As teachers, we can design epic projects to make this happen! But what about the time constraints? What about the standards? What happens if students struggle to collaborate? Check out the articles and resources below that answer some of your big questions as you begin your PBL journey.

The Need for Project-Based Learning

If we say we want students to become critical thinking life-long learners, we need to provide projects that encourage them to engage in creative collaboration. This is the power of designing collaborative projects.

We often hear about the need for students to hit the 4 C’s in 21st-century learning:

Creativity
Critical Thinking
Collaboration
Communication

We are nearly a fifth of the way into the 21st century and yet we are still in a system where students passively consume content. However, I would argue that those four C’s aren’t “21st-century” skills. They’re timeless skills. They were relevant a century ago and they’ll be relevant 200 years from now. These are the ideas Dewey wrote about a century ago and the ideas Quintilian wrote about two thousand years ago.

I love this idea that students should be engaged in collaborative projects, where they are thinking critically, engaged in creativity, and learning how to communicate.

I recently asked teachers to list the benefits they see in collaborative projects. Here are some of the things they learn:

  • Perseverance: how to keep going even when a task is difficult
  • Project management: how to plan, monitor, and assess projects
  • Communication: they learn how to communicate, resolve conflict, and show empathy toward others
  • Maker mindset: they define themselves as problem-solvers, designers, creators, and builders
  • Systems thinking: how to navigate external systems
  • Ownership: they increase in their sense of agency and they develop their own voice
  • Critical thinking: they have an authentic context to engage in analysis, evaluation, and the generation of new ideas
  • Adaptability: they become flexible thinkers
  • Inquiry: they learn how to ask great questions

This doesn’t mean you have to use PBL 100% of the time. Sometimes you still need to use direct instruction, workshops, discussions, etc. But PBL can be a valuable way to empower your students with voice and choice!

Articles on P.B.L.

The following are the articles I’ve written on what it means to empower students with voice and choice. Note that I continue to update this and revise this, so be sure to bookmark this page an come back to revisit it periodically.

Collaboration in PBL

Making the Shift to PBL

Instructional Strategies for PBL

Assessment in PBL

Examples of Student-Centered Projects and Strategies

Video Playlist

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We’re all on a PBL journey, whether you’ve been using a PBL approach for decades or you just launched your first project this semester. As you reflect on your journey, you will always need to experiment and try new approaches. If you don’t, you grow stagnant. But you’ll also need to figure out what works for you. Repeating the same project year after year doesn’t make you lazy. It makes you smart. It doesn’t make you less innovative. It makes the learning timeless. Because every year is a fresh start with a new group, a new context, new tools, and new insights. In the end, there is no such thing as a “repeat” project from year to year because classrooms are dynamic and teaching is relational. What you get, instead, are new iterations and new insights that will help you refine your craft and improve your teaching. That’s the beautiful part of the journey. Sometimes you fail forward. Sometimes you experiment. But sometimes you walk into a project saying, “I got this.” And you do.

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