PBL: Debrief

What do you now understand best about Project Based Learning? What do you understand least?

Throughout this process, I have learned a lot about PBL. This was my first experience creating a PBL unit. Prior to this I had read and heard a lot about the concept, but I had never tested out the process by actually creating a project myself. Upon completion of a unit from start to finish, I would say I understand the development and components well. It all seems to flow nicely from one component to the next. Each aspect seemed necessary and relevant. I would venture to say creating the project assessments were the most time consuming, but also essential to do upfront or order to create and understand the focus and direction of the project more completely.

I have never implemented a project, thus I would venture to say that I understand project implementation the least. Unfortunately in my current position, as a technology instructional coach, I will not be able to implement my project with fidelity with a class of 1st graders.

What did you expect to learn in this course? What did you actually learn? More, less, and why?

When registering for this course I expected to study multiple examples of PBL and review case studies for usage. I was pleasantly surprised that we were able to take a project from start to finish. The BIE resource is so helpful and I appreciated working with their templates and materials and will definitely reference this moving forward. I learned that PBL projects do not have to be scary, but it is a mindset whereas the classroom teacher understands learning can happen even when they themselves are not in the front of the room as the center of instruction. I learned that PBL projects grow and change and can be altered within the design process and even during implementation. I learned that some of the greatest skills students will get from PBL are learning to work collaboratively within a team.

What will you do with what you have learned?

Moving forward I hope to help introduce this concept and way of teaching to other educators. As a technology instructional coach, I don’t see myself using PBL units with a group of students, but rather helping other teachers develop their own units for usage.

Final PBL Project: Discovering Flight


PBL: Designing Integrated Curriculum

A Necessary Challenge

It can be very hard to build curriculum across content areas, especially when you begin to move into departmentalized grade levels and teachers teaching specialized courses. However, it is essential for students to have experiences working through content integration experiences in order to understand how the real-world functions. For example, adults don’t go through their day compartmentalizing math, writing and science. But rather use their knowledge in an integrated way to better problem solve or understand their world and their contributions to it.

At my school site we have some good things in place for designing integrated curriculum, but more can be done. Our district produces skeleton structures for integrated units which is a good helpful start. As an elementary we have both departmentalized and non-departmentalized classrooms. Once each unit teachers are given time to come together as a grade level team to backward map their unit around the lines of inquiry and unit texts. This is usually done with a literacy and writing unit sometimes tied with science or social studies and then a totally separate math unit. It would be great to integrate the math more closely with the opposite unit. Time is already provided for curriculum development, math just needs to be more authentically integrated. It would be great to pull in a coach to this meeting to help teachers grapple with this process.

I appreciate in the video below how the teachers allow time for content area specialists are given time to explain and break down their area’s standards for each other so that way integration opportunities can develop and be more linked to approprate standards.

PBL: Writing a Driving Question

It all stems from a driving question

Google isn’t always the answer. Not when you want students to think critically and grapple with a challenging or thought provoking question or concept. The essential or driving question that fuels a problem-based learning experience must take students on a journey that cannot end before it begins – which is where most directed or single-answer questions go to die. If students can answer yes or no, or Google can give them all they need in one perfectly crafted search query then, the question being posed is not a driving question.

A driving question allows the learner to be challenged with an experience that will take multiple activities or experiences to discover the open-ended answers. It is important to keep students interested so it must be an engaging question. It should obvious align itself to learning goals and standards as well.

As I work to develop my PBL “Discovering Flight” for 1st-grade students, I have crafted a driving question which attempts to include the necessary components of a successful driving question and sub-questions.

Driving Question: How and why do we use flight in our community to make our lives better?


What is flight?
What items or things can fly? Living or non-living?
Why do things fly?
Where does the power of flight come from?
What causes things to fly?
How did humans get involved with flight?
What is the history of flight?
How would the world be different if there was no flight?
How has flying changed and improved over time?
What possibilities does flight have for the future?

My current driving question is open-ended and definitely cannot be answered with a simple Google search. It gets students to tackle many sub-questions in order to attempt to answer the driving questions. The driving question will interest students as it gets them to look into their own community as well as meet with a specialist (pilot) and take a field trip. Students will be interested in the unit texts and science experiences with flight.  This driving question is aligned with learning goals as it asks that student collaborate, read, write, listen, speak, experiment and explore. The sub-questions are laid out purposefully to guide students to understand all of the individual components of the driving question and all the components of flight, flight history and flight implications.  I look forward to further development of this project and look forward to feedback!



BIE Webinar – “Driving Questions: What is it?”


PBL Research

I enjoyed looking at different PBL projects for the elementary level. I focused my research on both ELA and math projects at this level because I work as a coach in an elementary school. I was amazed at how easy it was to search for projects within the BIE website. This was a seamless process. I appreciated that you could filter by standard and subject area.
During my research, it was evident that many projects had similar components and common features. It was evident just in the set up (website) used that the teachers spent a lot of time planning and developing their PBL. There was a driving question that led the problem as well as standards and target objective throughout. Many PBL’s contained rubrics for teacher and student assessments for tasks or deliverables. I also noticed many of the samples I looked at had Steps to Completion with hyperlinked resources but then also an additional resource section as well.
I found one-second grade PBL project titled, “Honey, Where are my bees?” That seemed so engaging for students. I was impressed by the driving question and the critical thinking and rigor this would invoke for such young students. The students were investigating the decline of honey bees and how this would impact their community. I appreciated that this was a real issue but that the class would be focusing locally. The teacher planned to bring in guest experts and students would do small group research. I liked that the plan included options for student presentation and that a real authentic audience would be utilized at the culmination of the project.

Starting my PBL Adventure

What is Project Based Learning?

What considerations are important when incorporating a Project Based Learning approach into the classroom?

As educators “jump” into the realm of PBL, this movement itself can lead to pitfalls if tips are not gleaned from veteran PBL educators. Novice PBL teachers will run into issues if they attempt to incorporate PBL as an alternative to all instruction, fail to enforce deadlines or start off with long-term projects rather than a shorter less complex introductory projects (Mergendoller & Thomas, 2005).

A successful PBL project can be defined by the beneficial learning experience created and maintained by all stakeholders.  Research has discovered that successful projects do not happen by mistake, in fact, success hinges on a teachers foresight or willingness to admit missteps and address these with the class mid-project as needed (Mergendoller & Thomas, 2005). As a classroom teacher, I found students responded well when an adult admitted mistakes during a class meeting and invited a classroom culture shift or, in this case, project shift. It is important that a teacher not feel paralyzed by an unsuccessful process and feel empowered to right the misconceptions or correct the now detrimental project process within their own class in real-time.

Another facet to a successful PBL project is for a teacher to manage student engagement and offer opportunities for students to express learning throughout the process (Ertmer & Simons, 2005). This feeds into the types of students that will be successful in PBL environments. These would be students who are exposed to collaborative learning environments and problem-solving opportunities more often. I would argue that all types of students can be successful with teachers who serve as inquiry facilitators. Increased exposure to these types of learning opportunities will create students who are better able to communicate and not only work alongside peers but understand the benefits of collaboration and seek it out.

Feel free to learn alongside me as I work to better my understanding of PBL in the classroom. Check out this great resource: BIE.org


Ertmer, P. A., & Simons, K. D. (2005). Scaffolding teachers’ efforts to implement problem-based learning. International Journal of Learning, 12(4), 319-328. Retrieved from http://www.edci.purdue.edu/ertmer/docs/Ertmer-LC05.pdf

Mergendoller, J. R., & Thomas, J. W. (2005). Managing project-based learning: Principles from the field (PDF). Retrieved from http://bie.org/images/uploads/general/f6d0b4a5d9e37c0e0317acb7942d27b0.pdf