Project Based Learning: share your story …

I have been overwhelmed by the response to my last blog post, Trend Alert – Project Based Learning! Who knew? Not everyone posted a comment with their experiences: I received emails, tweets and direct messages full of excited words by eager and adventurous teachers.

The response has blown my mind!

In the middle of last year I made the decision to embark on a Master of Education (Research) at Sydney University so I could research into PBL and the impact it has on assessment, multiliteracies and the use of technology in Australian classrooms. You can read my rather ambitious research proposal here. I wanted to do that research because I felt so passionately that PBL could make a difference to the way young people learn in Australian. Heck, it can change how old people learn in Australia! And it can change a lot more beyond ‘school’ too. I thought if I had some hard data people would listen and start changing how they teach, even if it was just once a year or just incorporating some aspects of PBL like scaffolding, inquiry questions, formative assessment or team-work. But it wasn’t until this weekend that I’ve realised that I don’t need that data. I need stories!

I need you and your story!

Please, if you have used PBL in your classroom ever (you may have been doing it for ages as a TAS teacher or a cutting edge constructivist guru who’s been teaching since the 70s, you might have only tried one project and failed, you might only use some bits of PBL, you might have transformed your whole approach to teaching because of PBL, you might be crafting your very first project now, you might be a preservice teacher planning on using PBL in your class when you finally get one!) I wanna hear your story.

Here’s some thinking questions to warm you up … tell as little or as much as you want:

How have you used PBL?

Why do you use PBL?

What works? What doesn’t?

What are your strengths as a PBLer? Your weaknesses?

How have your students responded to PBL?

Do you wanna try PBL? Why?

Have you done cross-curricula or single-subject PBL?

Is there are team in your school dedicated to PBL?

Is your whole school a PBL school full of massive cross-curricula projects all year long?

Please be bold, and add a comment below. You’re a risk-taker – I know you are because you’re reading an edu blog post and you’ve thought about using (or already have used) a project-learning approach. So take a bigger risk and tell us your story.

We need to hear it.


Because narratives are more powerful than numbers.

Sorry Maths teacher friends. I don’t want numerical data anymore. I want emotion and heart and experience. Tell a story and you can change a person’s way of thinking.

Stories inspire.

Will you share your PBL adventure with us?

PS: Use a pseudonym if you wanna be a secret agent educator, lol.


9 thoughts on “Project Based Learning: share your story …

  1. How have you used PBL?
    In Social Sciences (Hist, Eng and Geog) in years 9 and 10. Combining Eng and Hist for one project and Eng and Geog for the next project. Some projects were also stand alone English projets.

    Why do you use PBL?
    Student engagement. Critical thinking skill development, 21th Century skill (soft skill) development. Developing teamwork skills.

    What works?
    A structured approach. Staff development. Resourcing and time being provided for project development. A strong model, constantly revisited. Motivation and passion. Team teacher partnership development.

    What doesn’t?
    Haphazard project development. Doing it for the wrong reasons. Poor combinations of team teachings. Lack of technology (generally). trying to maintain ‘traditional’ norms in a PBL classroom.

    What are your strengths as a PBLer? Your weaknesses?
    Strengths: Experience, patience, willingness to let go of meeting all the dotpoints if it means students are developing skills and analytical knowledge they will need.
    Weaknesses: Always need to improve.

    How have your students responded to PBL?
    Some will always not be keen at first. Weaker students don’t like being held accountable by their peers, stronger students always feel they will do better on their own. Over time, we see their attitudes change and they appreciate the skills they have learned. When they reach year 12 and move back into more ‘traditional’ classrooms, they tend to want more teamwork based activities and work much better collaboratively.

    Do you wanna try PBL? Why?

    Have you done cross-curricula or single-subject PBL?
    Cross curricular in Scoail studies. Also teach Catholic Studies and Computing as cross-curricular. This is by far the most successful integration we have tried.

    Is there are team in your school dedicated to PBL?
    Yes, but all staff are expected be involved in some capacity.

    Is your whole school a PBL school full of massive cross-curricula projects all year long?
    To an extent. Most subjects in yrs 9-10 are PBL. Some subjects in 7-8 are PBL. Yr 11 is a different pedagogical model (Problem based) and yr 12 is more traditional.

  2. I ran a PBL with 9IST. It was a movie-making task and students had to create an ad. They could choose their own “topic” as well as their movie-making tool (mostly either Windows MovieMaker or Adobe PremierePro). Video footage was groupwork but the ads were done individually. They had a full term to do this. The set rubric reflected the components of the task from research through to evaluation.

    This task was shared with another 9IST class, different teacher. There was not much room to personalise content. No matter, I could “change” the process; and when you really look at the IST syllabus, it is about the process – the options are there to contextualise the process (many fail to see this and think it’s all just about technology).

    This is my story.

    I ran this as I would have run my IT projects in the past, and everything I asked them to do was based on real life experience.

    When we started, I told them that I would have multiple deadlines, one to correspond for each rubric component – really a stage in the project. They whinged because they thought it wasn’t fair to submit something before the end of the term/ final deadline. They were also concerned for if they changed their mind or designs. They said the ‘bright girl in the other class’ will have the best product and theirs would just be so-so.

    I told them that projects happen in stages to check for viability; some projects do get canned in real life. But, each time we hit a milestone (end of stage), we celebrate. So celebrate we did in class. Nothing major, mostly just a couple of packets of lollies. This helped me keep track of their progress. I taught them that task and time management were essential parts of good project management.

    I also said that projects change over time, all the time. Part of good management is documenting why changes have to happen and this was what I expected them to include in their reflections (evaluation). I taught them about Risk/Issue Management as well as Change Management. This helped us keep track of the quality of their work.

    While confident in using MovieMaker, I was absolutely clueless in Adobe PremierePro. And, I told them so. When technical questions arose, I was there trouble-shooting with them. They thought it was cool when they could find the answer before I did. I encouraged them to teach each other and learn from each other. I taught them that in projects, we identify missing skills and either hire experts or learn it ourselves, as part of resource management in projects.

    I was always walking around, asking questions, giving comments, reminding, challenging, praising, giving ideas, guiding, promoting cross-team teaching/learning. Mostly, I was celebrating their learning, team work, engagement.

    Everyone was looking forward to a party at the end of the term and the end of the project. I made my super-duper brownies and they insisted to bring some party food as well (they really liked the milestone celebration idea). We watched all their ads. They were really pleased with the quality of their work. They were surprised that theirs were as good as (too modest to say better) than the one by the ‘bright girl in the other class’; I think my class did better than the other over all, though I may be biased here.

    And their evaluation rocked! The rubric asked for reflection on the product. I made them reflect on the process as well and notably, they appreciated the milestone-approach not just for the lollies but particularly for keeping them on-track. Some of them even said, this was the first time they did not cram, i.e. they felt that they were really managing/in control, so they could really focus on the quality of their work. Some reflected on their choice of tool and how Adobe PremierePro, though with a steep learning curve, would have provided more options in terms of editing. They wrote about the technical skills they lacked and how they got around the various issues they faced. Essentially, they were talking the language of project teams and project managers. They were talking about their learning, not just what they have created. I was very proud of them!!!

    I taught them more than I had to – this wasn’t a project management course, after all. But, how could I not? I have a fair bit of real life project experience. I wish I was taught some of these principles in school – especially planning and time management.

    This is what I like about PBL. It’s about having goals, being challenged as individuals and as a group, working together and negotiating/managing work to be done. It’s about looking at how we do things and how we can improve. The skills learnt in PBL transcends the actual content of the PBL – does that make sense?

  3. Teachers ask questions that they know the answer too. This is quite weird behaviour, when you think about it. Why would anyone ask a question they already know the answer too? I want to explore having students frame questions, the ones that they want answered. That is a good project IMHO. I am working on this idea at the moment but would love to hear from readers of Bianca’s blog about their approaches to having students do the questioning. 🙂

    • I like that thought and hear what you’re saying – though Plato used questioning to spur deeper thought. As for inquiry, a well-phrased question put to students can elicit more questions in response. Now, having said that, I think a controversial statement could serve the same purpose.

  4. ok bianca I have consumed with creting and running my own pbls so as yoou were an inspiration I iwll write the experiences of myself students. I am in the middle of two and will get some student feedback, Is the holidays ok? Paul

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