3 Steps to Implement Project-Based Learning

Elementary students completing a project

Project-based learning (PBL) is an educational trend that helps students practice skills in direct ways. As students tackle the steps they need to complete a project, they learn academic and interpersonal skills that prepare them for life outside of the classroom. PBL mimics the type of work adults do in their daily lives such as running a household, planning for home renovations or even searching for a job. A project can be any set of related tasks that lead to a final product and promote learning.

During PBL, students try to solve a problem or answer a complex question for an extended period. PBL differs from problem solving in that it unfolds over the long-term, more problems arise along the way, there is not one right answer and there are multiple ways to approach the issue.

PBL helps students develop critical thinking skills alongside content knowledge. Projects also require creativity and communication. Moreover, because the project leads to authentic work, a PBL curriculum highly engages students. These three steps may be a good start towards implementing PBL in the classroom.

1. Give Students Time to Think

Instead of assigning a complex project right off the bat, help students learn to think critically. Many students are accustomed to solving simple problems on a regular basis, so devote time to develop sustained thinking, working and problem-solving skills.

Implement something like the Genius Hour. This idea comes from several successful and creative tech companies that give employees a certain amount of time to pursue projects they are passionate about rather than assigned projects.

To start Genius Hour in your class, set aside about an hour every week for students to learn about anything that they are interested in. They might want to watch videos and learn to play the guitar or they may want to read about the Titanic and build a scale replica. Have students present project plans, keep track of how they spend their time and eventually present what they have learned.

2. Solve a Big Problem Together

To design your first PBL experience, work directly with students. Ask, “What is a big problem in our school or community that we could make better or help solve?” Have students brainstorm ideas and then narrow those into something actionable.

Next, have the class consider what the ideal solution would be and what it would take to work toward it. Have the students think about not only what they need to do, but also whom they need to inform or request permission from. Together, the class can work down the list of action ideas. Have students document their progress in photos or videos to create a PSA or a presentation for community stakeholders.

3. Define the Hard and Soft Skills Needed

After completing a project with students and experiencing the steps that worked and those that did not, you are ready to design your PBL experience. Start by defining the standards students should experience or master during the project. Also consider what “soft” skills students should get comfortable with. If you want to help students with certain technology skills, make sure they spend time refining those skills. If peer communication is an area of need for your students, design collaborative work. If your students need experience with time management, make sure there are aspects of the project that require them to set and meet goals.

If you are already in the classroom and looking for ways to enhance your practice through methods like PBL, consider enrolling in the Master of Education in Elementary Education or Master of Education in Secondary Education degree program at Grand Canyon University. To learn more about how GCU’s College of Education, visit our website or click the Request More Information button on this page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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