Instruction & Curriculum

Bringing Project Based Learning to our Classroom

Entering my twenty-third year of education I know there is more.  I have been through basal reading, whole language, memorization of facts, conceptual mathematics, hands-on science and many teacher manuals more of “best practices”. The pendulum swings back and forth while teachers and students try to keep afoot and learn.  So this year I have decided to focus on bringing project-based learning to my students.

Teaching is a scientific art.  There are things we understand about the brain and learning, but there are also nuances of understanding the human emotion that impacts classrooms. Children learn by doing.  Children are naturally curious.  Children are engaged when they are interested in the topic. Margaret Semrud-Clikeman, Ph.D., LP, ABPdN, University of Minnesota Medical School states, “It is important for teachers and parents to understand that maturation of the brain influences learning readiness. For teachers, this is especially important when designing lessons and selecting which strategies to use.”*  These research-based facts and more are going to drive my classroom this year.

This summer I learned more about Project Based Learning and found six actions important for implementation.   First, the method of learning requires collaboration among students.  Collaboration has to be modeled and taught throughout the school year.  This fits well into my philosophy of learning and the Kagan model I currently use in the classroom.  Connecting something new to something I am already teaching will promote success.  We start our school year getting to know each other as a community and learning about each others strengths and weaknesses. Building this trust among students will not only allow for collaboration, but teach necessary 21st century skills they will use throughout their life.

Second, project-based learning promotes inquiry and curiosity in the classroom.  These are a natural instinct for children, but our school system teaches them to questions what is “required”.  This must, therefore be modeled and retaught to use PBL in the classroom.  Allowing students choice in their learning increases their engagement with students.

Along with this, questioning is the third action necessary for successful PBL implementation.  Starting the school year it is important to teach students how to question.  Using Bloom’s Questioning, I model asking higher level questions.  Students, however, don’t always know how to find lower level answers.  Providing them with stems and demonstrating turning a question into an answer with text or knowledge is important to allow them to research on their own later in the year.  Students need to be able to ask good questions to guide their research and strengthen their learning.

The fourth action for PBL is the need for failure.  Learning comes through hard work and mistakes.  This is something those who persevere understand, but it can be difficult to acknowledge.  It is important to acknowledge the impact failure plays in learning.  The first week of school I plan to plan activities that promote failure.  Things students will not be immediately successful from.  We will also start some self-reflection and a resource for mapping failure.  With this failure board, students will start to see how somethings take a single failure while others take multiple failures.  Have a failure board is one way to demonstrate and celebrate this. This will be a new step for me this school year.  I am sure this failure will bring success to my students though.

The fifth action for PBL is for building relationships.  Building relationships is paramount in the classroom.  Learning small things about students allows you to connect and they will trust the space in order to fail, and eventually succeed.  It is important to build a classroom community centered around relationships including adults as well as peers.

Lastly, you must provide resources to allow students to be successful. This is the second new thing I will be building into my classroom this year.  Resources include rich text (from books to magazines), reliable sites, internet etiquette and experts available to answer questions and assist with research both in person and online. I will be building an expert phone book this year.  For Parent Night I will have a sheet available for parents input.  If they are willing to share their areas of expertise or hobbies, they will be able to leave contact information.  I will also provide this for our BOE members, administrators and community partners.  Students will be able to reach out to them when they need guidance or answers to project-based learning questions.  We will also have a list of Skype resources for starting points.  Our classroom is bigger than our walls, reaching outside of those walls will bring expertise to my students I am unable to provide alone.

Incorporating these six actions into the classroom will allow students to engage in their learning and promote project-based learning in our room.  Four of them are things I have been doing and feel comfortable with.  Two of them are new to me, failure boards and community resources.  Starting anything new is scary and challenging, but connecting to the things I am already doing will promote success.   So what are you doing in your classroom from this list?  What do you want to try this year?  And what research-based strategy does this lead you to next?  Follow our classroom journey into PBL this year.  The successes and the failures will both be celebrated.

*Semrud-Clikeman,, Margaret. “Research in Brain Function and Learning: The Importance of Matching Instruction to a Child’s Maturity Level.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association,

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