Project Based Learning: Six Hours of Professional Development (a free mini-course)

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Last spring, as part of a professional development series organized by Tom Marshall (an Elementary Principal in Paramus, New Jersey), I facilitated three two-hour sessions on project based learning (PBL).

Below is an outline of the five activities that were spread out across the three sessions. In six hours total, the goal was to start with an introduction to PBL and then finish with participants feeling at least somewhat comfortable in designing their own projects. (Yes, we packed in a lot.)

There’s enough here for individuals or groups to work through these activities (or versions of them) on their own, as if it’s a self-paced PBL mini-course. Also, keep in mind, about 10-15 educators took part in the professional development. So, if you plan on using these activities to facilitate learning in your own school or district, some adaptations could be necessary.

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Session 1 of 3: What Is Project Based Learning?

 Activity 1: What’s the difference between projects and project based learning?

Directions

  1. In small groups, claim a column on this spreadsheet (which you’ll need to copy in order to use) and ask as many questions as you can related to the above graphic and the differences between projects and PBL. Your questions should be recorded in the blue. (10 minutes)
  2. Transfer your three most important questions from your blue to your red. (5 minutes)
  3. Group discussion based on everyone’s red questions 

Resources

Activity 2: What are the essential elements of project based learning?

Directions

  1. Read, Buck Institute’s Gold Standard PBL: Essential Design Elements.
  2. In different small groups, using this spreadsheet (which you’ll need to copy in order to use), rank the seven essential design elements from most important to least important (column B). For each ranking, provide justification (column C).
  3. Group discussion based on everyone’s rankings

Resources

What are your next steps?

Session 2 of 3: What does project based learning (with a focus on student choice) look like?

Recap of Session 1

Activity 3: How can the essential elements of project based learning work together to form a learning experience?

Directions

  1. On your own, and/or in small groups, review the Hacking PBL – Project Planning Template.
  2. Group discussion

Resources

Activity 4: How can the idea of student choice be made more concrete? 

Directions

  1. As a group, watch 10 Ways to Empower Students With Choice – by John Spencer.
  2. Group discussion
  3. Take a look at the two graphics featured below, and discuss how they could help you to rethink how you incorporate student choice into your projects and/or classroom instruction. (For the first graphic, each participant chooses a past project he/she has facilitated. All decisions made throughout the course of the project are categorized under teacher choice or student choice. Then, participants are asked to consider how their projects could be modified to promote more student choice.)

Resources

What are your next steps?

Session 3 of 3: How can I redesign a project as a project based learning experience?

Recap of Session 1 and Session 2

Activity 5: How can I redesign a busted project?

Directions

  1. Read, Fly Me to the Moon – by Jeff Zoul. Then read Conversations.
  2. Group discussion
  3. You have been charged with revising the project in Fly Me to the Moon, and you need to make sure there isn’t a repeat incident of what happened to Jeff and Scott. Apply the three stages of Understanding by Design (and everything else you have learned) to redesign the project with the use of the Hacking PBL – Project Planning Template (which you’ll need to copy in order to use). As you fill out the template, feel free to also write out directions for your project.
  4. Share out

Resources

What are your next steps?

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For more on PBL, check out Hacking Project Based Learning, which I coauthored with Erin Murphy. (We also enjoy presenting and consulting on PBL.)

Connect with Ross on Twitter.