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by Bonnie Lathram
Learner Experience Manager, Getting Smart

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January 3, 2017
10 Resolutions & 10 Resources for Your PBL Classroom in 2017

by Bonnie Lathram
Learner Experience Manager, Getting Smart

This blog is an update from a 2016 blog post that originally published here.


If you are teaching in a Project Based Learning (PBL) classroom or aspire to bring high quality PBL to your classroom or school, we bring you 10 resolutions for the new year. Follow these resolutions and you will be on your way to activating students’ interests and building a strong culture to support high quality, Gold Standard PBL in your classroom or school.

Resolve to reach all kids.
Project-based learning done well works for all students. Over the last year, we’ve heard from teachers and leaders who utilize PBL to advance equity. Equitable access to high quality education is a core value shared by many teachers as well as a United Nations Sustainable Development goal.

Learn more about those who are fighting for equity, and in particular around equity and project-based learning in our report of last year’s PBL World conference, a conference dedicated to high quality project-based learning, and conversations with Gia Truong (Envision Schools), Ashanti Branch (The Ever Forward Club) and Bob Lenz (BIE) in the Getting Smart podcast.

Resolve to assess student learning, both formatively and summatively.
We almost always have some sort of summative assessment- a final product. But in successful PBL classrooms, teachers don’t wait for deliverable or final product. Ron Berger of Expeditionary Learning says, “If the teacher isn’t assessing all along the way, then the final product will not typically show the high quality of success.” He explains, “You don’t want to undermine the quality of the final product by taking away the scaffolding, but you want a sense of individual student levels of understanding throughout that flow.” Ron suggests building in smaller assessments, in some cases on demand assessments, at multiple times before the final project: “Don’t wait; check along the way.”

What’s new in assessment? The Assessment for Learning project launched in 2016, and at the Deeper Learning conference in 2016, conversations surfaced about the role that performance-based assessments may have in policy moving forward. With the passage of ESSA, assessments will play a big role in the remaking of state and local policy.

Resolve to make projects count.
Use standards to plan projects and make sure they address core content knowledge. In a rigorous project, students are activating and learning standards-aligned content, while building 21st century skills such as collaboration, creativity and critical thinking and meeting other deeper learning outcomes.

Teachers that really make projects count and actually use what students do towards learning outcomes (reword) see higher levels of student engagement, agency and ownership. Schools like _______ that use portfolios filled with student project-samples and evidence see great deeper learning outcomes, too.

Check out 14 Tech Tools to Enhance Project-Based Learning, based on apps reviewed at 2016’s PBL World conference.

Resolve to be project managers (and teach the students how to be project managers).
Teachers should teach students how to chunk down bigger projects into daily tasks. Project management tools can help. Teachers can help students organize schedules and tasks, and set deadlines to keep things moving. Teachers have a much better chance of coming across as authentic, life long learners to their students if they think, deliver and model project-based practices.

Check out Preparing Teachers for a Project-Based World by Emily Liebtag and Tom Vander Ark and the quick start guide for implementing PBL in the classroom.

Resolve to reflect.
I had a sign in my PBL classroom that said: “Reflection isn’t just for mirrors.” John Dewey once wrote, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” When my students took the time to reflect at the conclusion of a project, they learned more about themselves, their own strengths (and struggles) and each other through the reflection process.

Reflection is a significant part of developing a PBL mindset. A great resource around developing a growth mindset for teachers and students is by BIE national faculty member by Charity Moran Parsons.

Resolve to let students have voice and choice.
The most important shift in a PBL classroom is what happens at the student level. Students can take the lead by tracking their own projects using project management tools and skills. According to John Larmer, editor in chief at Buck Institute for Education (BIE), an organization devoted to spreading gold standard Project Based Learning, in his blog about student voice and choice: “Having a say in a project creates a sense of ownership in students; they care more about the project and work harder.”

This is a great podcast that features students themselves talking about the connection between student voice and personalized learning. Share this with your middle/high school students and let them hear more about it in students’ words. Taking this a step further, are there projects where students could (perhaps) start their own podcast?

Resolve to tap adult experts and mentors as part of the process. 
Teachers engage in helping students connect to adult mentors who can support the project process. As Sam Seidel, author of Hip Hop Genius, suggested in his keynote at PBL World (a conference that brings educators together to immerse themselves in all things PBL), adults in the real world who support projects help make them MORE real.

Big Picture Learning schools take this to the next level, equipping 9-12th graders with the opportunity to learn alongside mentors. Learn more about their approach here.

Resolve to include student interests.
A project is more engaging -- and lead to more powerful learning -- if students find it personally meaningful. If they care about the topic, the products they choose to create, or the real-world issue or problem they’re tackling, students care more about doing high-quality work. Writes Larmer, “a project can have personal authenticity when it speaks to students’ own concerns, interests, cultures, identities, and issues in their lives.”

The folks at RoadTrip Nation have a great guide to self-discovery. Generation DIY tells the story of how young people are charting their own course and finding their interests.

Resolve to share it and show it.
You and the students can decide how students will share their work publicly. We love ideas such as posting an article on a blog, presenting in a performance-based assessment, publishing or creating an online portfolio of work.

We are inspired by apps and tech tools that support project-based learning and especially when it comes to sharing. See our student guide to getting started with PBL with lots of  ideas for making projects public as well as 17 Teacher Tools for High Quality Project-Based Learning by Bob Lenz and Sally Kingston.

Resolve to be resourceful.
Engage in meaningful professional learning, whether through attendance at specific PBL workshops, in a professional learning community, or through your own online explorations. Make sure your work is related to your own professional growth plan, and then be prepared to share your learning with other staff members to grow the PBL culture at your school.

We recommend checking out conferences where they will be resources and idea sharing around PBL. See our round-up of education conferences and check out PBL World, New Tech Network’s annual conference, the Deeper Learning conference, iNACOL Symposium and Big Picture Learning’s Big Bang conference.

If you are interested in learning more about gold standard PBL, check out BIE resources and upcoming PBL professional learning opportunities: What are your resolutions for your PBL classroom or school this year? Comment below and share your PBL resolutions and comments at #PBL.


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