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November 7, 2016
BIE Book Excerpt: Building a Culture of Inquiry and Independence in PBL

by John Larmer
Editor in Chief

The following is an excerpt from chapter 5, “Managing Your Project,” in PBL Starter Kit: To-the-Point Advice, Tool and Tips for Your First Project in Middle or High School, published by BIE.


One of the hardest things for teachers to do during a project is to “let go” of their students. The traditional model of schooling involves a lot of spoon-feeding, hand-holding, and pouring-of-information-into-empty-heads. If this sounds anything like your classroom culture, it has to change in a PBL classroom. You may have to resist the urge to do things for students too quickly. Let them struggle a little—the right amount builds character.

When you planned your project, you set up many of the tasks students will accomplish and planned daily activities in ways that encouraged the two “I’s” of inquiry and independence. Before the project started, you built students’ skills to help them be able to work in this way. Now that the project is rolling along, it’s important to continue nurturing that “positive I and I vibration,” as they might say at a reggae concert.

You nurture the spirit of inquiry and independence to a great extent by the way you act in the classroom, when you model the behaviors and attitudes you want to promote. You know the sayings: Practice what you preach, children learn what they live, monkey see monkey do. It may not always be easy, since the behaviors might be new to you, so you might catch yourself modeling “old school” ways of acting and thinking on occasion. If that happens, you could make it a teachable moment—stop and point out to your students that “we’re all new to PBL” and making mistakes shows that we’re learning.

Establishing the right classroom culture for a project
The culture of a classroom is shaped by how you as the teacher behave. Here are some do’s and don’ts.


PBL Starter Kit: To-the-Point Advice, Tool and Tips for Your First Project in Middle or High School is a part of BIE's Fall sale.  The book can be purchased at


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