Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Yes There IS a Right Way to "Do PBL"

It started when I was contacted by some friends who were attending the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) conference this past February.  "What is your principal saying about PBL here - do you REALLY do this at your campus?" What they were talking about was someone who was filling our spot because we had to cancel at the last minute. And, what that person was saying was, "We do PBL at our campus and here's the issues we have had..."

"Doing PBL." I really, really hate that expression. You do NOT "do PBL." That's like saying you do teaching, or you do coaching, or you do directing music. If you are using PBL as a method of instruction then what you are doing is - wait for it.... - teaching. You are a teacher and you teach. I know, crazy, right?

When you teach do you use various forms of assessment? Do you randomize selecting students? Do you have warm-ups or do-nows? Do you pull students into small groups? Do you flip your class? I could go on and on. These are things that you "DO" in your classroom to be a better teacher and each of these things that you do are things that you feel comfortable doing and you feel that (or, even better, KNOW that) your students are getting a better education because of these processes.

Project Based Learning (PBL) incorporates any and all of the things I have just mentioned. That's because PBL wants us all to use best teaching practices. So, if you are a teacher using PBL in your classroom, then you DO great teaching. And, based upon who you are and who your students are, each PBL classroom might look very different.

If I go into a PBL classroom I will see students working collectively. Even if the teacher is doing a whole group lecture or all of the students are engaged with electronic devices, I can see that they are grouped.  Collaboration is a key element and I want to see the students working together towards a common goal.

If I spend time in a PBL classroom I should hear academic discussions and questioning.  I should see students doing some sort of reflection on their learning. I should see students assessing their personal and group progress and assigning future tasks. Like a good company, their groups should be working towards a common goal.

If I spend time in a PBL school I should hear and see everything I just stated in every classroom. And, because of the varying time requirements for projects, I should be able to see every stage of a project happening in the classrooms. I should see projects starting with entry events. I should see lectures and group work. I should see students preparing for their presentations. And, I should see presentations.

If you think you want to "do PBL," then the first thing you need "to do" is your homework. You are probably a beginner and you need to get a deeper understanding of how the PBL process works. Google "PBL" and you'll see hundreds (thousands?) of possibilities. On the first page of these you will see BIE.org and Edutopia.org. Both are incredible places to get knowledgeable about what PBL is and how to do it.

If you want to go deeper you can attend PBLU (a BIE product) remotely or you could get BIE to come to your school or district and train a group of you by attending a PBL 101. A PBL 101 is three days of helping you design one project while learning about how to plan projects and manage the process.

Once you have been trained; you have done a dozen or so projects; and you have been frustrated by not feeling like you are doing it right for the first 4 or so of those projects, then, and only then will you be allowed to say "I do PBL." I'll still think you're a rube for saying that but I won't correct you because you will now be beyond the beginner stage of practicing the PBL process.  So if you want to be incorrect go ahead - you've earned it.