Tips for Project-Based Learning in the Classroom
Tips for Project-Based Learning in the Classroom
PUBLISHED: Monday, September 19, 2016 by Stephanie McCauley

With schools increasingly looking for ways to develop authentic learning experiences, project-based learning has made a big splash in the educational community in the last few years. Project-based learning, or PBL, is a teaching approach that asks students to develop knowledge and skills by working on projects for extended periods of time. The goal is to expose students to authentic challenges that equip them with tools they can use in the real world. 

But how can teachers carry out PBL in their classrooms effectively? How can they let students take responsibility for their own learning while still providing the necessary scaffolding for success? We've gathered some ideas and resources to help.

Decide on some guiding principles. Deciding how you will generate and organize projects can make the process easier when the opportunity arrives. MindShift offers five guiding principles for making PBL work. It’s not just about handing over responsibility to the students, they say. Good PBL requires extensive planning and scaffolding to work smoothly. Teachers should:

  1. make projects explicitly connected to standards,
  2. balance clear expectations with open-ended problems,
  3. assess process alongside content,
  4. anticipate the skills and design scaffolds, and
  5. transfer accountability to students. 

These tips can also be applied to makerspaces and maker-based activities. In either case, students should feel like they’re working on authentic problems that have significance outside the classroom. 

Research schools that have used PBL effectively. More and more schools are offering PBL to their students. Read up on new school openings (for example, this school in Tacoma) and existing programs that have achieved success (this school in Vermont). See how PBL operates by reading about the highs and lows of other schools’ journeys. For example, in this article from Education Leadership, the authors track one school's experience in incorporating PBL. It’s not always a smooth transition, they admit, but the effects are worth the challenge. 

Search for existing projects. The Buck Institute for Children offers a searchable database of online projects you can use and adapt to your classroom needs. Search by subject, topic, or Common Core standard to find all kinds of projects. Prufrock Press has also recently released the 10 Performance-Based Projects series by Todd Stanley, which offers ready-made projects for the language arts, science, and math classrooms, along with suggested calendars and mini-lessons.