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If you’re new to project-based learning, or recently went through training, you may find yourself confused about what actually happens during a PBL. The answer is a lot of different things. As students begin to inquire about the things you’ve listed as “need to know” for the project, they will participate in a variety of activities.
What should the activities include?
It’s important that the activities your students are completing during project-based learning include the elements of PBL. They should have a clear purpose that aligns with the driving question. When you use the activities from my list in the next section, make sure to keep these elements in mind:
- 21st century competencies – problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity/innovation
- In-Depth Inquiry – extended, rigorous process of asking questions, using resources, and developing answers
- Need to Know – gain knowledge, understand concepts, and apply skills in order to answer the Driving Question and create final products
- Voice and Choice – students make some choices about the products to be created, how they work, and how they use their time
- Critique and Revision – students give and receive feedback on the quality of their work, leading them to make revisions
- Public Audience – final products are presented to other people, beyond their classmates and teacher.
What activities can students do during project-based learning?
Often people come out of PBL training thinking that their students are going to pick every activity, and that it will mostly be research and creating a final product. This is not the case. Project-based learning allows for voice and choice, but the teacher needs to scaffold and provide a framework for student inquiry.
It’s ok to have lecture/direct instruction during PBL. You can use mini-lessons to front load something students will see that is difficult, or to introduce new concepts. You can also use direct instruction individually and in small groups to help students who are struggling with something. This is a great example of how PBL allows for easy differentiation.
As you’re planning PBL for your class, choose a few activities above that will best fit with your topic and driving question. These activities can be happening simultaneously or during separate parts of the project.