CELL at UIndy

Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning

PBL Teaching

Adventures in Learning

Envision the students as Indiana going on learning adventures, searching for academic artifacts, and navigating real-world challenges. The teacher acts more like George Lucas or Steven Spielberg—they create the story and give direction, but the students are the star of the show.

From Expert to Explorer

Project-based learning abandons the traditional education philosophy in which what is taught is what is known by the teacher. Rather than acting as a knowledge repository and content expert, the teacher becomes a facilitator of student learning. Teachers still design the project framework, but students pursue their own questions to create meaning. Teacher instruction then becomes based on student-generated “need to knows.”

With PBL, the teacher may not have all of the answers, forcing both the teacher and student to become learners. Rather than assuming the responsibility of answering every question, the teacher may respond with, “Where can we look to find the answer?” This expands the boundaries of the classroom to allow students to access and analyze information from across the globe.

Next Question

Traditional classrooms focus on answers, whereas PBL classrooms focus on questions. To truly engage students, educators must create situations in which students yearn to ask their own questions. Good projects make students want to learn more and tap into things they don’t already know. When students learn about the things that interest or intrigue them, they see value in the project—both for themselves and for their community. PBL teachers cannot rely on textbooks or labs to educate students. Instead, they must get students to buy into the work by making learning an extended student investigation in which students ask questions to create content.

Planners & Partners

Many believe that PBL requires too much time in an already cramped schedule. In reality, PBL changes the nature of the teacher planning process. Projects are frontloaded, meaning the majority of a teacher’s time is spent planning for the project. Teachers must prepare materials, design performance assessments, and map out activities prior to the project’s launch. However, once the project begins, teachers spend the majority of their time working closely with students rather than constantly preparing new lessons. PBL’s flexibility allows teachers to then refine their ongoing instruction to meet students’ needs.

Fun Through Flexibility

Teaching in PBL requires a great deal of flexibility. The teacher must keep students moving toward the learning goal by remaining curious and observant about what students understand and where they struggle. Based on the evolving activities in the classroom, the teacher can adjust classroom practices to differentiate instruction and assist students. Ultimately, teachers must be open to the element of surprise. What happens in PBL isn’t always predictable, so teachers should be open to engaging in a learning adventure of their own.

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