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For traditional teachers, moving to a project-based learning model can be a challenge. Have any of you faced such challenges learning a new way of teaching? If so, do you have any advice for overcoming those challenges or adjusting to this different model? I truly believe in it and think it is worth the challenges, but I do recognize that there is definitely an adjustment period. Share your thoughts, tips, stories here!

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I've managed many projects in my work at Parsons School of Design. The students were sophomores but I think many of the learnings should be applicable in K -12. I know that they are applicable in my professional practice as a project manager. I'll be glad to weigh in with what I've think I've learned as this discussion develops.

The single most important thing for a successful project is a clearly defined goal. Best if it is arrived at by consensus of all participants. Most important is a clear deadline. A presentation usually works fine as the deadline. as in " 2 weeks from today, we will be presenting to parents, admins, other students.."

The most important element missing for amateurs is a clearly articulated sense of time. One way I've worked through this is to have clear milestones every week. After a couple of weeks, the kids get the point that time matters. Until that's strongly embedded everything else is much harder. Once it becomes the norm of the group, things flow much more smoothly.

The other issues are about unequal effort - inevitable . There are a number of ways to deal with that, but I'll leave that to a post if someone is interested in pursuing that.
The biggest challenge in making the switch from traditional teaching to project-based learning is the acceptance that you, the teacher, is now the facilitator of the students who have become self-directed learners. PBL is a valuable teaching method for incorporating 21st Century skills and authentic instruction. However, all too many teachers believe they can created "just another project" and have it be a true PBL experience. This is certainly not the case. I conduct many training sessions on PBL and stress that it is not PBL unless there is an outside audience. Students must use critical thinking skills and apply them to real world situations in preparation for interaction with that outside audience. This raises the level of student engagement and stresses the need to create truly professional work.

For anyone who is considering integrating PBL into their classroom, it is important to begin "with the end in mind". What do you want your students to accomplish and how will you get them there? What is the essential question for the unit and what type of final product and tools for creating that final product are appropriate? These are all questions that must be answered before jumping into a PBL unit.

Finally, one must realize that memorization of content is not the true meaning behind PBL. The authentic nature of the unit that connects to the real world is key. We must ask ourselves, is it more important to recall specific facts and dates or is it necessary to use that information to apply it in new and meaningful ways?


I love your notion about becoming a facilitator of learning....  it seems to me that you really have to be able to embrace a few things for this to happen:

- clear targets are important for BOTH the teacher and student to know

- workshop model

- a focus on activities and materials as your basis for planning

How do you encourage others to get to the place where they are ready to take the leap?

I think Dayna makes just the right point when she says "it is not PBL unless there is an outside audience. " I've always found that the successful projects have some 'publishing" aspect. Either in print, on the web, in video or a presentation. The focus of making a presentation works for students, just as it works for anyone else.

Consider how procrastination ends when that report is due.
I agree with the importance of an outside audience too. In our network we call this "externalizing the enemy". When my studnts present in front of panels, I try not to attend for more than a few moments. I find that when the panels consist of outsiders the students do a much better job of explaning all the details in the projects. Once an insider appears on panel - they tend to omit those details because they tend to consciously or unconsiously assume that the audience knows as much about the project as the insider on the panel.
Esme Capp from Princes Hill School Australia (Formerly Woorana Park School) has done a lot of work around Negotiated Learning and Project Based learning check out this interview with her by NCSL
it's a great story. I wonder if other people share the feeling that the real question is how to get from here to there.

I was particularly struck with the fact that even though she had the administrative authority it still took "Nine months on, she reckons in the most difficult aspect of transforming a school – getting people on your side." For a teacher in a classroom who is trying to be a project based learning evangelist it's a daunting task
Here is a link to a similar discussion question posed on Edutopia regarding PBL:

I posted a link to this PLN Ning and PBL group!
For me, PBL is the only way to go. I teach Architecture and Engineering Drafting at Wheeler High School. I tire of having to teach the basics in a step by step manner, but it is a necessary evil. Once the students get on to the advanced levels, it's projects all the way. For the last two years, the students have done Katrina Cottage style houses. This year they are doing Jekyll Island State Park Cabins. You can see the projects here

I agree with several of the other comments. A clearly defined goal and timeline is crucial. You need resources that you can direct the students to when they have questions. You've got to be prepared for messiness, noise and the possibility of failure.
I learned the hard way, don't give just one grade at the end of the project. You've got to grade the milestones.
All-in-all, it's great fun. The students come up with some interesting questions and solutions. One of my groups want's to put a spiral staircase in their cabin. They had to find a manufacturer and incorporate the manf.'s specifications into thier cabin. Another group was dead set to include a sunken den in their cabin. Their project mentor and I both warned them against this but they just had to have it. Now that its time to build the model, they have come to see the light of day. No more sunken floor.
I encourage everyone to try PBL. As with most things, start small. Incorporate it into what you are doing already. It may take a couple of years to get comfortable enough with PBL in order to do 6-8 week projects like I do now.
I totally agree. Grading the milestones are crucial. I learned a quick way to do grade projects at milestones from another PBL teacher and documented it here:
Is your rubric chart for the entire semester or just for 1 project?
The rubric chart is for 1 project. My projects tend to run for 3 to 6 weeks. Sometimes the rubric poster grows during the project if we add twists to the project.



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