We each start our PBL journey from a different set of experiences. Whether you are a first-year teacher or a twenty-year veteran, we have found Krajcik and Blumenfeld’s (2006) five key features to PBL to be a helpful starting point to approach PBL in a constructivist manner. If you do a comparison of any current day PBL models, you will see they are derived from these five key features. They are a great foundation to help you design and build authentic projects to use in your classroom.
Students begin by exploring a unique challenge that is authentic and relevant to the needs of the students (Laur & Ackers, 2017). Specifically, an authentic challenge is one that connects your curriculum to either a career or out into your school, local, state, national, or global community (Laur, 2013).
Your discipline or disciplines are what your students engage with to develop their ideas into solutions. Therefore, the use of your discipline’s academic language, application of standards, and knowledge of content is imperative to the structural design of the authentic challenge. Yes, that sounds really academic, but this is where the challenge takes on a life of its own because it now belongs to the kids. Here is where we want our students to begin asking questions and lots of them!
Group work in PBL means collaborative learning where learners cultivate, justify, argue, and recognize multiple perspectives on an issue to create the most appropriate and viable products. The PBL process entails individual and group dynamics to help the learner make meaning from the content and process to articulate that meaning. This happens from the onset of the experience and through each subsequent learning event. This becomes the basis for collaborative activities within the PBL experience.
The inquiry process reflects the complex social situations that experts go through while solving problems and innovating new products. It is the main through line for any well-thought-out PBL project. As students develop their products, the continuous refinement process is what elicits higher quality work from them. The refinements students complete are based on feedback from their peers, the experts with whom you partner, and your guidance. Therefore, the same deliberations need to be taken when training your students to provide feedback.
The premise of PBL is to solve real-world challenges through questions, investigations, analyses, drawing conclusions, and finally the presentation of findings to an authentic audience. Modeling, coaching, and scaffolding combined throughout a project help our students acquire the content and skills needed to reflect on and articulate their final solutions.
We know final solutions are far more effective when the audience is made up of experts, as students are genuinely concerned about the potential impact of the presentation and changes that they may achieve as a result rather than a grade they receive (Laur, 2013). This is why we also suggest experts are rotated throughout the project, so the final product is a representation of the circular feedback loop that is so important.
We encourage you to notice how the key features allow you to teach the project through the curriculum rather than as an enrichment piece added on after you teach your students. Your standards and learning outcomes, in one content area or multiple content areas, become central to the development and design of the final products. This is one of the more challenging aspects for teachers as they transition to a learner-centered classroom.
This blog post is an extract from a new eBook, Authentic PBL with Digital Portfolios. Download your free copy today!
Jill Ackers is an Educational Consultant. Her experience includes curriculum design and development, STEM, Technology & Network Director, International Baccalaureate Coordinator, Global Education Trainer, and School Leader. She is a senior learning designer for Fielding Nair International. She was a founding team member for a Masters in Transformational Leadership through PBL, a K-12 IB school, and started a Spanish Immersion and Dual Language Project Based Learning School in Dallas, Texas. Follow her on Twitter at @ibpbljill
Dayna Laur is an Educational Consultant specializing in authentic learning experiences, project-based learning, and technology integration. She has 20 years of classroom teaching experience, coupled with presenting nationally and internationally for workshops on Project Based Learning, Authentic Learning, and technology integration in the classroom. Follow her on Twitter at @daylynn