10 ways to Ensure Significant Content is part of Project Based Learning … PBL Essential Elements Series


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Welcome to a continuing series of posts based on the eight essential elements (BIE) that make up project Based learning. In this post I would like to focus on “significant content. I have ten ideas for you to think about and have also included a handout that will help teachers focus on signficant content as they plan their PBL. Please enjoy and share this post via email or a retweet. While you are at it, I would appreciate that you take a moment to subscribe to this Blog by RSS or email and follow me at (mjgormans). Also, feel free to contact me about any conference, in-service plans, or PD you might wish to include me in. (mjgormans@gmail.com). You can learn more at the Booking Link.  Please continue to network and join me for our special journey into 21st century education. - Mike Gorman (http://21centuryedtech.wordpress.com)

Special Note… Please join me in for a free  webinar this Wednesday, February 27 (3 PM EST) at the BUCK Institute (BIE), a world leader promoting the best in Project Based Learning! I will be sharing ideas, reflections, connections, and  resources that can be used in STEM education and PBL! I promise you an engaging rich hour of professional development!

In my travels across the country I have heard many interpretations of Project Based learning. Often I hear a description that suggests that the teacher delivers the content and students follow up with an inspiring and engaging cumulative project. Resources from the BIE (BUCK Institute) describe this as a “dessert project”. This comes from the idea that first there is the teaching… and then a sweet project for desert. While this can be useful and  can reinforce some learning… it is not truly Project Based Learning. In fact, I would like to give this practice its own acronym,  LTP (Learning Then Projects). In true Project Based Learning the project uncovers and facilitates the learning of significant content. In PBL there is a balancing of learning that occurs through out the project duration.

I have seen other examples that include an incredible infusion of 21st century skill facilitation in a project based classroom. I think this is wonderful and I fully  support the 21st century skills, often referred to as the 4 C’s (Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creativity). After all, it is part of the title of my Blog. Educators must be careful when bringing these important skills into PBL classroom. Sometimes projects can be so heavily based on 21st century skills, that it is difficult to pinpoint the underlying curriculum. Once again, in true Project Based Learning the project uncovers and facilitates the learning of significant content. In PBL there is a balancing of content and 21st century skills.

It is important to understand that the ongoing project itself, through careful teacher facilitation,  must facilitate the learning.  Furthermore, it is  essential that a PBL unit is designed with proper scaffolding including both learning activities and effective formative assessment. Through this process the  learning, understanding, and application of  significant content  standards will become an important outcome. At the same time, this significant content must be balanced with those important 21st century skills. This specific recipe produces the foundation that proper PBL rests upon. Together, these elements allow for the rigor of learning new content along with the engagement apparent in a student centered program based on 21st century learning. In fact, this balancing act is one process that will allow students and teachers to find success in the new Common Core. It has been stated that the Common Core is the “what”, while PBL is the “how”.

As educators plan for Project Based Learning, it is important the steps they take keep an intentional focus on significant content while providing a balance with the 4 C’s. In doing so, educators will find success in projects that truly allow  students to uncover the curriculum while putting these very same students at the center of learning. Please take a look some ideas teacher may wish to reflect upon during the PBL planning phase. .

  1. The entry event should show a relationship to the Driving Question promoting a “need to know” of significant content.
  2. The Driving Question should allow students to uncover the curriculum in a student friendly and understandable manner.
  3. The PBL planning sheet for students should line up with significant content in the curricular area being studied and assessed.
  4. The project should be ongoing and made up of activities and lessons that facilitate the learning of significant content.
  5. Formative learning activities and assessments that teach and reinforce the significant cont should occur through out the timeline of the project.
  6. While innovative and student centered learning is encouraged,  scaffolding of the project can still include traditional lecture, tests, and textbook reading. that promote significant content. Yes… rich engaging lectures can be used!
  7. There should be rubrics developed that evaluate student learning outcomes and they should be aligned with significant content.
  8. The final project should not only emphasize the 21st century skills, but should show the learning and understanding of significant content.
  9. Final outcome should include more than learning of significant content, but also application and connections of content to real world.
  10. When planning projects teachers should consider Common Core as part of their significant content.

Through proper balance teachers really will build a Project Based Learning Classroom that focuses on significant content along with the other essential elements I will highlight in future posts. I invite you to take a look at a PBL Planning Reflection Sheet I designed to assist coaches, administraotrs, and teachers to insure content is built into a PBL project. Click on PBL_Significan_Content_Building and discover a tool to help educators focus on significant content as they build their exciting student centered learning opportunities. You are free to download and share.  I only ask that you give credit to myself at 21centuryedtech.  I also appreciate any feedback. You can also learn more about Project Based Learning at the worldwide leader for PBL education, ( BIE) …  The BUCK Institute For Education

Thanks for joining me on this journey in 21st century education. Please enjoy and share this post via email or a retweet. While you are at it, I would appreciate that you take a moment to subscribe to this Blog by RSS or email and follow me at (mjgormans). Also, feel free to contact me about any conference, in-service plans, or PD you might wish to include me in. (mjgormans@gmail.com). You can learn more at the Booking Link.  Please continue to network and join me for our special journey into 21st century education. Mike Gorman (http://21centuryedtech.wordpress.com/

8 Comments

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8 responses to “10 ways to Ensure Significant Content is part of Project Based Learning … PBL Essential Elements Series

  1. Pingback: 10 ways to Ensure Significant Content is part of P… | EducatorAl's Tweets

  2. Thanks Michael for this thoughtful post, it has made me resolve to think carefully when developing PBL learning activities myself. I like your name Leaching then Project LTP, I can identify with this in my own lessons. Did you consider calling it, ‘Learning before Project’, then the acronym would be the reverse of PBL, which would point to the solution, give the students the puzzle first. I look forward to your webinar on wednesday.

    • David, First thank you for your thoughts and reflection. I also really like your idea of LBP… It really works with PBL! Look forward to seeing you in the chat room at the webinar. Enjoy! – Mike

  3. Margaret R,

    Did you mean DESSERT?

  4. When I first started with PBL this was my greatest struggle but realising that there is still a place for content input was key. I almost never ‘lecture’ but I used discovery methods for learners to explore and test themselves on significant content. This felt more in keeping with the enquiry-learning aspect of PBL and using stations and short, focused workshops meant that the flow of the project was maintained as learners were able to timetable these sessions for themselves. Useful article to prompt reflection on this important area. (Dessert rather than desert?)

    • Abena, Thanks for your reflection. The points you make are so valuable and it sounds like you and your students have found success with PBL. Thanks for the reminder on the dessert… I must have been thirsty and not ready for something sweet when I was writing. Please continue to return and provide your thoughts! – Mike

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