Questions You Need to Ask While Implementing PrBL

Monday, August 28, 2017

Educators have long been advocating the need to promote qualities such as leadership skills, empathy, teamwork, universal acceptance, etc. among students. Many education researchers have indicated the importance of incorporating a ‘problem-solving attitude’ from early years at schooling. This need inspired the concept of Project Based Learning (PrBL). PrBL requires educators to understand a few critical aspects while planning an implementation of a PrBL classroom.

Here’s how teachers can prepare themselves and their class before implementing PrBL:

  1. What is your objective for conducting a particular PrBL activity?

A teacher must have a clear understanding of the learning outcomes he/she is expecting out of a PrBL activity. Map out your end-goals with some fundamental questions before beginning a project. Questions such as, what are the students supposed to have learned at the end of the project? What skills is the activity supposed to instill in them? The objective can also be to train students on how to effectively work in teams if they’ve never participated in a PrBL activity. Once you have your goals in place, it’s important to discuss the goals with a brainstorming session.

Clarifying objectives not only helps the teacher in preparing a project, but it also makes it easier to streamline the process for the students. For example, digital tools such as MindNode and SimpleMind+ allow teachers to map out the entire brainstorming process. You can easily share your concept maps with students and other teachers via cloud sharing.

  1. Do you have the right resources to conduct the project?

After deciding on the learning outcomes, the next step is to assess resource availability. PrBL activities are often unpredictable as students have a free reign over how to accomplish their objective. To do that they might require extra resources, such as chart papers, white boards, art & craft supplies, reference books, office supplies, etc. As a facilitator, it’s important for teachers to keep these resources handy and  readily available.

For example, asking students to test purity levels of water from different sources would require resources such as containers, access to different sources of water, beakers, chlorine strips, pH strips, materials to present their results on, etc. Thus, it’s important to analyze project requirements before assigning any task.

  1. Is this PrBL project helping students get ready for the real-world in any way?

PrBL activities encourage teamwork and can be designed to achieve multiple learning outcomes from a single activity. The advantage of working in teams lies in creative problem-solving through pooled intelligence. In simple terms, more minds working towards an issue would generate more ideas and in-turn a better chance of having the most appropriate solution for the project.

PrBL prepares today’s learners for the real world by encouraging critical-thinking where a clear-cut answer or set method wouldn’t work. Students have to actively participate in discussing possible solutions with their peers, exchange their thoughts on shared ideas, agree upon a suitable approach and finally carry out the project. They can analyze their strengths and weaknesses after completion and possible areas of improvement. This repeats every time they undertake a project.

  1. Can you create an assessment in line with the project?

It’s usually advised to end a PrBL session with an assessment that would act as a platform for both teachers and learners to evaluate the project. For this reason, it’s important to frame an activity that can be assessed. Activities should be designed in a way such that key aspects, like subject coverage, factual accuracy, observation skills, etc., can be recorded. These assessments also need to include evaluation of relevant skills, such as presentation, collaboration, critical thinking, and effective communication, that learners require to compete in the real-world. These assessments could be in the form of questionnaires to assess subject clarity and to potentially get an understanding for constructing future activities based on their performance in the assessment. Platforms like Snapshot by Edmodo and MagicBox allow teachers to create assessments, track progress and provide feedback in real time.

  1. Do you have the right technology in place to carry out the project?

Spreadsheets, presentations, and designing tools enable students to make compelling and creative projects. A key benefit of using technology for creating or conducting projects lies in the fact that material/data can be saved, analyzed, assessed, and commented on. Several tools are made available that provide a platform for students to conduct project activities and track their progress. For example

  • Buck Institute for Education’s (BIE) online project planner
  • Wunderlist allows students, teachers, and parents to plan projects and track progress
  • Glogster works as a great creative tool for making posters and other multimedia designs
  • MagicBox allows easy distribution of interactive content as well as tracking assessment results in real time.

Such extensive app support ensures that students engage in creating meaningful solutions for the assigned task.

  1. Is the teacher trained to conduct PrBL activities?

It’s imperative to train educators to incorporate critical aspects of PrBL in their teaching. The training should involve learning how to create projects in line with the syllabus, assisting learners in initiating and continuing the project and assessing their outcomes. Besides the initiation, classroom design and layout, resource availability, etc. are also critical points to be addressed during training for a smoother transition towards PrBL.

Training teachers to facilitate such a session is also necessary for building teacher competency towards the skillful execution of a PrBL activity. A PrBL teacher should be able to creatively conceptualize tasks that are engaging and compelling for students to devote their attention to, and apply learned knowledge towards completing the task. Adopting PrBL in a large set-up, such as an entire K-12 unit, would require vigorous efforts from the educators, as well as immense patience during the initial years of implementation. As facilitators of the project, the role of teachers in a PrBL classroom compels them to know what to teach, when to teach and how to teach so that learners realize the importance of undertaking a PrBL project to be an enriching experience of applied knowledge.

  1. Do you have the right learning space?

Since learners usually form multiple, smaller groups during PrBL activities, they would require more team space compared to a regular theoretical session where individuals are mostly seated and writing. An overcrowded classroom often jeopardizes comfort, and in a situation where a student is actively involved in thinking about a solution, discomfort may lead to disrupting the chain-of- thought. Logistical support is equally important while considering project/task requirements as some assignments may require students to place objects on a table or even go outside the classroom. It’s advisable to select a larger room for the activity beforehand to avoid discomfort and achieve optimal engagement levels among learners.

PrBL is a learner-centered approach that enhances learning outcomes by helping students apply the knowledge towards solving real-world problems. Classrooms, teachers and the general attitude towards teaching and learning must transform to attain desired results and successfully adopt a PrBL classroom in your school. Feel free to contact us in case you need any help for remodeling your content and assessments to implement PrBL.

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