PBL + me = why?

Haha – do you like my catchy title? Does it make you think that I’m not liking PBL, that I’m questioning this pedagogy? Hmmm … maybe I am – but then, shouldn’t I be? After all I am a budding researcher who is being trained to look critically and find ‘gaps’ in research/practice that I may be able to ‘fill’.

But really I’m just preparing myself to present on PBL to a small group of enthusiastic teachers at Riverside Girls High School. I was asked by my friend Paul Jones to assist his staff in preparing for a ‘possible’ wider-school PBL adoption on 2012. A small group of interested teachers will be the ‘pilot’ team to plan and implement subject-specific and cross-faculty PBL. I am so excited to have been asked to help fellow teachers tackle the challenge of shifting from a teacher-centred to a student-centred pedagogy. Who knows, maybe this time next year these teachers will be part of my research into PBL and its relationship with digital technology usage, assessment for learning and the teaching of multiliteracies. Maybe I won’t put that pressure on them at our first meeting though, huh?

This post is essentially a means for me to do a mini-reflection on where I started with PBL and where I find myself now. I know that the road to here has been bumpy and confusing and I’m confident that it will be a similarly mind and body-jolting experience for the Riverside Girls teachers. But want I want to stress is the extreme benefits of this journey. The benefits are not just for the students – but for the teacher as well. Like what, you ask? Like being engaged with your learning as a professional, being challenged on a daily basis to respond to shifting student needs, by getting to know your students more personally as individuals and as learners and by feeling that what you’re doing is meaningful beyond the four walls of your classroom.

Dean Groom: I first started PBL because of this guy, Dean Groom. To be honest, I can’t even remember why I took interest in him and his ideas about education. I’m glad I did though. If you wanna have your ideas about education smashed to pieces every day or two then I suggest you read his blog here. Dean helped me to design my first PBL project. You can read about it here.

Suzie Boss: That project wasn’t what I would have called a success, and I wrote about that here. This post was found by Suzie Boss who used it as the basis for her own blog post here. It wasn’t until a little bit later I learnt that Suzie is a PBL guru working for Eduptopia.

Wider PBL community: This experience gave me insight into the amazingly supportive PBL community that is always accessible online. You can get great resources from BIE, read inspiring stories at Edutopia, watch useful ‘How-to’ videos on the BIE and Edutopia YouTube channels, join the PBL BIE community in edmodo, find amazing shared links at the PBL Diigo page, learn to craft a driving question thanks to this insane post (scroll towards the bottom) or follow the #pbl hashtag on twitter.

Trial and Error: The very best things in life take time – like understanding a really complex poem. I have written a series of blog posts questioning the effectiveness of PBL in my classroom and reflecting on the impact PBL is having on my students. You can read about this experience in the posts below:

Year 10 Project Based Learning: teething problems

Project Based Learning: The need for a determined attitude

Project Based Learning: Struggling

Is my PBL faux student-centred learning?

Fearless fun: A big part of PBL is risk-taking. Too often teaching is ‘safe’ and uninspired. Teachers feel comfortable standing at the front of the room referring to a textbook or handout. Teaching out the front can be effective if the teacher uses a whole class interactive method, but often teacher-centred lessons see teachers being didactic and students being passive. Teachers wanna have fun too, and sometimes fun involves throwing yourself off a cliff with the knowledge that at some point (preferably not too close to the ground) you’ll pull the shoot and land exhilarated at your success. I love those classes – they never cease to make me smile. I’ve blogged about a few of those lessons and included one below:

A priest, a prostitute and a thief: the hilarity of my Macbeth PBL ‘hook’ lesson

Meaningful assessment: One of the coolest parts about PBL is the assessments. They never suck and they’re never boring. If they do suck and they are boring than you’re not doing PBL right in my opinion. Assessment in PBL is both formative and summative. Check out my whinges – sorry, I mean ‘posts’ – about assessment below:

Assessment: out with the old and in with the new

Authentic assessment: sharing what we know

Authentic assessment and the HSC – a challenge?

Assessment and Project Based Learning

PBL and DER: changing the assessment landscape

I hope these posts come in handy to some of the teachers tomorrow!!

What tips do you have for teachers just starting out with PBL?


6 thoughts on “PBL + me = why?

  1. thanks Bianca the day was inspiring. My tip for starting PBL in your class is to design a PBL for two to three lessons to start and test a few to get students used to idea. It is qutie challenging to students and teachers alike! As you said – start with outcomes then assessment then get the hook right! Paul

    • Thanks Paul – I really enjoyed spending time with you and your staff! I was inspired by the enthusiasm of the teachers!
      You’re right – best thing is to introduce a very small project so students and teachers learn how very different this type of learning is.

  2. Thanks for collecting all of your materials here Bianca – very handy!

    I am still looking at Project Based Learning as something that sits alongside Inquiry Learning and Challenge Based Learning as key pedagogies in the Constructivist paradigm. If students learn best by ‘doing’, then ‘doing a project’ is one awesome way to learn. So is undertaking a study (Inquiry), and meeting a challenge (introducing elements such as time restraints or minimum requirements to ‘pass’).

    I do think that Project Based Learning is more supportive of formative than summative assessment though. Because of the emphasis on the learning process, and on the collaboration within the team, it is important to consider how much emphasis is going to be put on the process versus the product of the learning. Setting up clear expectations around this, and integrating self- and peer-assessment/reflection tools can help draw students’ attention to the formative learning taking place.

    • No worries … realised I have become an evangelist of PBL accidentally when looking through the posts … but many ‘oh dear what am I doing?’ posts included in the mix, lol.
      Yeah, I think that referring to them as student-centred, cooperative learning or inquiry based pedagogies is probably the way to go … even GBL is a student-centred pedagogy (obviously different again to those you listed).
      I agree with the process/product thing and I’m trying really hard to build both into school assessments because really that is the formative and summative part … it’s just like drafting, research and planning that is the formative stuff. Well, that’s how I look at it.
      I’m well and truly sold on Petty’s ‘Goals, Medals, Missions’ framework for assessment and feedback. Next research task methinks – mebbe will be an action research one so I can just do it using the sorta crap skills I have now in research and blog my ‘findings’ šŸ˜‰

  3. Pingback: Project-Learning (aka PBL) for beginners #plsm13 |

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