How to get Started with Project Based Learning by David Andrade

10/21/2011 1:18:16 PM

Project Based Learning (PBL) is a great way to teach students content, 21st century skills, and engage them in something fun and educational. I spoke more about PBL in an earlier blog (http://www.techlearning.com/blogs_ektid17052.aspx ) and we had some great reader comments (Tech&Learning, May 2009, page 14). Today I'd like to give some tips and ideas on how to get started with PBL in your classroom.

First of all, PBL can be used in any classroom, in any subject, at any grade level. Projects can be one class period, or take weeks to complete. Projects can address one curriculum item, or many. It all depends on how you want to implement it and how comfortable it is for you.

PBL does take planning. You need to look at your curriculum and the objectives you want to accomplish and then plan a project that will lead your students to reach these objectives.

For instance, I teach physics and developed a project for my classes on structures and stress and strain. The project started with a very short lecture on the topics of stress and strain and the physics behind it. Then the students completed a webQuest about stress and strain that lead them to information about bridges and bridge design. From here, they used bridge design software from West Point to design a bridge that would meet certain requirements I set up. The final step was to build a model of their bridge and see if it would hold the weight. Each group was competing to see who's bridge would hold the most weight. During this project, students learned about stress and strain, structures, applications of physics to real life, web searching, team work, communications, design, and model building.

Another example of PBL is having the students research a topic and present it to the rest of the class through a multimedia presentation, website, or poster. Each topic should be an extension of something you just did in class. In this way, the students teach each other. They will also learn their topic more in depth when they have to be able to explain it to others.

Start small. Think of a lesson you teach and think of a way that the students could do a project to learn that topic instead of sitting in class listening to you talk about it. Try out a one class period project before moving on to a large scale project. Search the internet for examples of projects and adapt them for your class. An internet search of "Project Based Learning" will get a huge list of results for you. I also suggest searching for "WebQuests", "Problem based learning" and "Projects" with your classes subject and grade.

Another idea for projects is to look at your school or community and see what they need. Art students could research the history of the school and create a wall mural. English students could write a history of the school, or help other groups write letters to lawmakers to get an issue addressed. Music students could write an updated version of the school song, or even a new one. Tech Ed students could build wheelchair ramps, furniture, or other items needed in the community. Biology students could study water quality in a stream nearby or research animal or plant life.

An idea I got from my wife (a Biology Education student) is to have students create a lesson for other students about a topic. I am planning on using this with my AP Physics students after AP testing this month. They are going to create a physics help guide for the honors physics class. Next year, I'm going to have the honors physics class create a help guide for the general physics class. The students will learn their content better and provide a great resource for fellow students.

PBL offers teachers a new way to have their students learn content as well as 21st century skills. The students can have fun while learning, and even provide a service for others as part of the project. Be creative and have fun with PBL.
Some web resources to get you started:
Project Based Learning online - http://pbl-online.org/

Please share your project ideas with everyone!


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