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by Alfred Solis
Former BIE Staff

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Topic tags: how to do PBL


October 8, 2010
How long should my projects be?

by Alfred Solis
Former BIE Staff

Before you take the students through a high-stakes, high-stress project project cycle, it's nice to do some low-stakes, fun team building activities for them to get to know each.  The activity I'm going to share with you is called Back Talk.  All team building should lead to some teachable moment(s).  There is a wonderful teachable moment for teachers at the end of this blog regarding, "How long should my projects be?"

This activity is done in groups of 2.  I have my wonderful colleagues Theresa Siliezar & David Ross volunteering some valuable Friday work time to demonstrate Back Talk.  This bonding moment is my gift to them.

The facilitator has an image (digital or hand drawn) that the groups will be drawing.  I have a set of images on a powerpoint.  Make sure they don't see the image before you start.


With their back to a projector screen, computer monitor, or flip chart, one team member has a piece of paper and a pencil waiting to draw.  Theresa starts off with her back to the monitor.  She didn't try to cheat and look behind at the image.  I've had students look at reflections off the windows across the room.  Sneaky sneaky.

The other team member is facing the image and waiting to tell them what to draw.  No pointing or "air" drawing."  David waits anxiously and even says, "I'll close my eyes until you say start."  What a model student!

The facilitator sets up a timer for the first drawing.  How much time you give them depends on your drawing and the participants.  I give 90 seconds for my first slide.

What do you think of their drawing compared to the slide?


Now it's David's turn to draw the second slide, but this time I only give them 45 seconds.  Oh no!  Pressure is mounting!  Fun Friday just got serious.

What do you think of their drawing compared to the slide?

At the end of the activity it's great to have them reflect about the process.  Theresa has a great comment at the end of the video.  When I do Back Talk with students we discuss communication and collaboration, but when I do this with teachers at a workshop I add a...


Theresa and David had half the time to do the second drawing.  They went from 90 seconds to 45.  As you could see the drawing is actually better than the first.  So remember this...

Start off with a short project that goes through the project cycle.  This let's you to work out your process, while the students get used to projects and your style.  Even a 3-4 day project, Mutants Revealed, could have all the Essential Elements of PBL while covering Significant Content.  Use the lessons learned for the next "higher-stakes" project.  It is also critical that the first/short project is successful.  The PBL Starter Kit has a Tip from the Classroom to Celebrate Successes!

Set a project timeline and stick to it.  If I tell my students that we have 2 weeks to finish, then we have to figure out how to do it in 2 weeks.  Do not extend your deadlines because the next thing you know that 2 week project just became a 6 week monster.  Turn the shorter timeline into a challenge.

Leonardo da Vinci sent me a text message once and it read, "Masterpieces are never finished, only abandoned."  Leo (he let's me call him that) had a deadline just like everyone else.  The only difference was instead of an iPhone Timer, someone stood by an hourglass waiting to say, "STOP!"


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