by John Larmer
Editor in Chief
There’s an old stereotype about Project Based Learning: that teachers just ask students to pick a topic or task, then let them go and see what they come up with. A milder version of the stereotype holds that the teacher acts only as a facilitator who sets up a loose set of steps to follow, helps students find resources, and offers additional support if absolutely needed. In this image, teachers do not “teach” in the traditional sense; they never lecture or use worksheets or give quizzes, and have to change all of their old-school classroom management and assessment practices.
We were well aware of this stereotype and decided it needed to be countered. Although in “advanced” PBL classrooms with experienced teachers and students it’s true that you would see a high degree of student independence, you would still find teachers playing an active role. And (some) traditional teaching strategies should and can still play a role in PBL. When we were developing our model for Gold Standard PBL in 2015, as explained in our book Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning, the Buck’s Executive Director John Mergendoller (channeling John Dewey) advocated for emphasizing the active role of the teacher during a project. So, along with the Essential Project Design Elements, we developed a list of seven Project Based Teaching Practices.
Since then we have created a rubric for Project Based Teaching, aligned our PBL 201 workshops for teachers to the Practices, and posted many a blog about them… But we knew more stories, examples, and how-to tips were needed, so we asked Suzie Boss, a member of our National Faculty and well-known author and PBL expert (and co-author of our 2015 book) to write a book. I made a few contributions and served as editor. Our executive director Bob Lenz wrote the Foreword, giving the rationale for the book, explaining how school and district leaders can create the conditions for Project Based Teaching, and connecting the book to the new Framework for High Quality Project Based Learning. Like our last book, ASCD co-published this one with us, even making it one of their Member Books for this fall—which btw shows how far PBL has come.
The book is dedicated “To the talented and dedicated National Faculty of the Buck Institute for Education” and Suzie eloquently relates their stories and advice throughout the book, along with additional wisdom and tools from other outstanding PBL teachers and coaches. We are very grateful to them all.
Project Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences has just been released this week and is available now in our online store.
Also available on bie.org, as of today, is a set of short videos about each of the seven Project Based Teaching Practices we have just produced to go along with the book. Suzie and I provide commentary about each Practice, and we hear from the teachers and see them and their students in action during projects. (We used footage from the K-12 classrooms we visited for our other recent series of six videos that capture a project from beginning, middle, to end.)
Here’s a piece of the book’s Introduction about the diverse teachers we highlight, and its special features:
Meet the Teachers
Project Based Teachers from across the United States have opened their classrooms for this book and for the companion series of videos. They teach across grade levels and content areas, and they work in schools that vary widely when it comes to student demographics and socioeconomics. You will hear them describe how they use specific Project Based Teaching Practices to support student learning. Unless otherwise indicated, their stories are based on interviews or personal correspondence with the authors or video crew.
Teachers whose stories are woven throughout this book include a math teacher from an urban high school, an elementary teacher whose students include a number of English language learners, a suburban middle school science teacher who wants her students to become well-informed citizens, a chemistry teacher in a high school where a high percentage of students have special needs, and many more. Some teachers work with students who will be the first in their families to attend college. Advocates for educational equity, these teachers see PBL as the best way to prepare all learners for the future. You will hear, too, from instructional coaches who play important supporting roles in helping Project Based Teachers build their confidence with new strategies.
Across different contexts, these educators share a belief that their students will rise to the challenges of PBL. High expectations for all are an integral part of the PBL culture. As one high school humanities teacher regularly tells her students, “I believe in you.”
This book also includes special features to deepen your understanding of Project Based Teaching Practices and strategies to help PBL take hold in your community:
Get your copy of Project Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences here.