Elements of Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning (PBL) is great for developing a tinkering mindset. This mindset is an engaging way for students to approach problem-solving through direct experience, experimentation and discovery. Tinkering combines social and creative forces to provide a truly meaningful learning experience for students. By developing this tinkering mindset in students, we give them permission to trust themselves. They begin to see themselves as learners who have good ideas that can be transformed into reality. They no longer always look to the teacher for validation. They no longer just seek the right answer or what they think the teacher wants to hear.

Good projects have common elements:

1) Purpose and Relevance – give students projects that are personally meaningful so that they can invest their time, effort and creativity into it. Give them something to care about and ignite their passions.

2) Time – decide on the time frame for the project. Some projects could take just a few periods, while some could run for a whole term. Regardless, give students enough time to think about, plan, execute, change course, edit etc. Build in time out of school as well.

3) Complexity – incorporate multiple subjects (if possible) into the project design. The best projects are cross-curricular and draw on prior knowledge and expertise from many diverse subjects. Don’t just limit students to the traditional school content knowledge. Making connections to big ideas across disciplines is where the real learning takes place.

4) Intensity – students have alot of intensity for their hobbies and interests. Too often, the curriculum doesn’t tap into their passions. Take the time to really get to know your students and what they love to do when they’re not “doing” school. Bring this to the projects that you design and offer to them.

5) Connection – with PBL, every opportunity should be made to connect students to each other, outside experts, mutiple subject areas and powerful ideas. Collaboration should not be forced on students but should develop naturally and organically. The connections made through meaningful projects have a real impact on student learning.

6) Access – ideally students will have access to digital resources both in school and at home. BYOD policies in your class are a great first step to ensuring equal access. Concrete materials and manipulatives should be provided and shared equally among all students. Planning ahead and ordering enough of eveything needed to complete the projects is important.

7) Shareability – this is a key aspect of PBL. Students need to make something that is shareable with others. This builds motivation and relevelance. Presenting it to their classmates should just be a starting point. There are many social media outlets now for students to reach a wider, authentic audience.

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