Project-based learning (PBL) is a powerful way to give students the opportunity to master 21st Century Skills like creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication, helping them apply what they’ve learned to their daily lives, today and in the future. This strategy isn’t a standardized model of schooling, which can seem daunting, but launching a PBL pilot program in any school district is achievable and worthwhile. PBL leads to improved engagement and can be combined with a standards-based curriculum, empowering students to solve real world challenges. Establishing a PBL pilot program requires thinking differently—not just for students, but administrators and teachers, too. Here are five things to keep in mind when getting started.
1 - Prepare for changing roles.
In a PBL classroom, teachers spend less time at the front of the classroom delivering information and move into mentoring students while providing more personalized education experiences. Administrators will have to lead the way, taking on a facilitator role from the very early stages of a PBL pilot program and supporting teachers, from planning to implementation and beyond. Embracing innovation is a core element of PBL, so administrators should make a long-term commitment to professional development.
2 - Focus on planning and partnering.
Developing a PBL plan for one class or one school is more straightforward than making that plan work for an entire school district. That’s why planning and partnering are key rather than jumping in with a do-it-yourself approach. Workbench works directly with your school district to develop a PBL content library and professional development strategy that teaches how to get the most out of PBL in the classroom. The online community and library that Workbench creates for each school district allows users to browse, build, and assign content while also ensuring that content used in your classrooms is standards-aligned.
3 - Rethink PBL and testing.
21st Century Skills are difficult to standardize and some may wonder how it can help students perform when it comes to grade-level assessments. Thoughtfully designed PBL helps students meet skills goals and allows them to engage with standards-based lessons at a deeper level. The intent of PBL is to have students think critically and make connections between in-school learning and the real world. Administrators and teachers should consider test preparation while developing plans for a PBL program because making it work for each specific school district is key.
4 - Be flexible to strike the right balance.
Transitioning to a project-based curriculum doesn’t require a complete upending of traditional educational methods, but it does require flexibility. Starting PBL is a learning process for everyone and changes will be necessary. This applies to both curriculum and the physical environment—students won’t be primarily learning at their desks and the freedom to move around, work in groups, and time outside of the classroom or trips off campus are essential. Since PBL is comprehensive, it isn’t necessarily compatible with compartmentalizing subjects because students are expected to tackle a problem from multiple angles to develop skills. Over time the areas where students are reaping the greatest benefits will be clear.
5 - Establish and engage in a PBL community.
Administrators need to help teachers visualize successful, day-to-day PBL in their schools. This is where the community and professional development opportunities come in. Support is critical when asking teachers to use PBL in their classrooms. Encourage sharing best practices in your own school district by building a network and providing access to training sessions. Access to resources like Workbench’s project library is a great way to provide the support and resources teachers need. Stepping into something new is always easier with a partner and a roadmap!