PBL is a teaching methodology that makes learning authentic, learner-centred and a process of discovery.
It is cross-curricular, not it's own subject. If you find yourself saying 'It's PBL time' or you only use PBL as a teaching method for 'topic' work, then read on to find out how to make changes in your classroom practice which will impact on engagement and achievement of all learners.
Features of effective PBL:
Challenging Problem or Question
A question drives the project. The question facilitates student voice and an authentic outcome. The learning is developed through answering the question or solving the problem.
Learners conduct cycles of inquiry while working towards the main goal. Learners are investigators, thinking both creatively and critically as they ask and answer a range of smaller questions in order to develop an outcome around the main challenging question or problem.
Authenticity & Relevance
Is this something that happens in the real world? The real world is inside of your school as well as beyond the school boundaries but connecting students to their community and the roles within it creates an extra meaningful experience. This is about the 'so what'. It needs to have meaning and relevance to the learners so that it is something they care about the outcome of.
Learner Voice and Choice
The role of the teacher is to frame the learning for the learners and to guide them through the process of discovery. Learners need to feel that they play a role in the decision making and can steer their own learning.
Reflection, flexible thinking, repositioning
PBL is not a linear process. As learners make their discoveries, they need to reflect and think about how this will impact on their project. They need to be prepared to adapt and reposition themselves as they learn new information and skills.
Research shows that when learners have a purpose for their learning and a public audience, both engagement and the quality of the outcome improve. What is the real world impact of this learning? How can we be the change we want to see in the world?
The teacher's role...
Build the Culture
Learners need to be able to self manage as well as collaborate with others. They need to be creative and critical thinkers who feel comfortable at the edge of their comfort zone. They need to embrace failure as a learning opportunity. This is not something that gets taught before PBL. It is something learners develop as they are guided through PBL. The teacher's role is to encourage reflection and goal setting in this area and to create a space which facilitates these outcomes.
Design & Plan
Teachers play a critical role in effective PBL. It is not about throwing learners in the deep end to discover whatever they like. That is abandonment. Learners (and teachers) need to not feel overwhelmed. The role of the teacher is to frame the learning with rigour and purpose so that the learners have choice within it. "It seems contradictory, but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom" Austin Kleon - Steal Like an Artist
Make Curriculum Connections
This is where the rigour comes in. Learning with purpose rather than learning by luck.
Allow for Messy Learning
Learners get to experience independent and collaborative learning. Project management skills are taught. Time management and goal setting keep structure to the learning. But...within that...the learning is messy, flexible and non-linear....which is ok!
Assessment is ongoing and purposeful. It is focused on skills and attributes that can be developed across a range of curriculum areas and PBL experiences. Create an environment which facilitates self and peer assessment.
Scaffold Learning for Success
Barriers are reduced or eliminated so that all students will experience success. The project rich and deep enough for students to contribute their own stories, cultures and strengths.
Be the coach
This is the classic 'Be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.' Help students to keep their focus. Question them, challenge them, motivate them, learn alongside them and share in the excitement as goals are achieved or challenges met.