Do you want to get started with project based learning, but you’re not sure how? Maybe project based learning sounds too complicated, in-depth, and overwhelming to you? That’s how I felt when I first delved into PBL. But now I know there is nothing to be afraid of! In this post, I will give a quick explanation of project-based learning and then give you some tips and ideas to begin to implement it in your own classroom.
What is Project Based Learning?
Project based learning, simply stated, is an authentic learning experience in which your students collaborate to solve a problem in the real-world. It incorporates standards across content areas, and takes place over an extended period of time. In contrast, a project (not to be confused with PBL), may only take a day or two, only incorporate one subject area, and may not require your students to collaborate. Projects have value, but they are not the same as project based learning.
How to Plan for Project Based Learning
When planning a PBL unit, it is key to think of something that is relevant and meaningful to your students. Are they currently into a certain XYZ (toy, author, genre, game)? Is there a real problem you are encountering in your classroom that you can turn into a project and work to solve? Sometimes, the idea for the end project might come first. Others, you will simply begin with the standards you need to cover. In either case, it’s important to map out the standards and processes you want to cover across the content areas right from the start. You’ll want to map out the following:
Topic– What are your students interested in? What science/Social studies units are coming up? What problem are you encountering in your classroom?
Content– What standards connect well to the unit? What knowledge and skills do you want your students to gain through this experience?
Driving Question– This will guide your unit. The final product should do something to answer this question.
Product/Audience– What might your students create to showcase what they learned, communicate to the audience, and answer the driving question?
I’ve created a simple PBL planning guide which you can download for free by clicking HERE or clicking on the image.
An Example of Project Based Learning
In my classroom, we use a science program that sends creatures by mail. When our goldfish arrived unexpectedly one day, I had no choice but to quickly set up a tank from a plastic bin and put the fish inside. The next day, the fish were dead. My students were devastated. We hadn’t even had the chance to observe the fish, let alone name them. From this experience, I saw the perfect opportunity to begin a PBL unit. We had a driving question- How can we set up a habitat for goldfish in which they will thrive? (By the way, this is a great driving question to ask if you are planning on getting a class pet–don’t wait until something dies first). I then mapped out the standards that I knew we were working on and that we could work on through the project. Finally, I jotted down some possible products/audiences that my students might choose from.
Once you have this lined out, your day to day lessons will come much easier. We read many nonfiction books and took to the internet for information on proper goldfish care. We wrote down our new learning on anchor charts which we revisited often. In math, we did a survey to decide on the “theme” we would use to decorate our aquarium. We also did a survey to determine what we would name our goldfish. I incorporated goldfish problems that would help us into our daily problem-solving (There are 10 gallons in a tank, each goldfish needs 5 gallons of water. How many goldfish can be in our tank?)
Ideas to Get you Started– take a look at some of these driving questions, products, and audiences that you might use with your kinders. You don’t have to set out to change the world with every PBL unit you do. It’s fine to research something to share with others in your building. Sharing with older students is a favorite!
Possible Driving Questions
- How can we plan for and throw a class celebration?
- How can we teach others in our building how to reduce, reuse, recycle?
- How can we prepare for a class pet?
- How can we create an escape plan in our homes in case of emergency?
- How can we teach others what we’ve learned about ___?
- How can we create a cookbook to showcase our favorite recipes?
- What is the best kind of seed to plant that will be ready for Mother’s Day?
- A poster
- A play
- A book (written or published on writereader.com)
- A pamphlet
- A blog post (if you use kidblog or something similar)
- Older students in your building (we partner with a 4th grade class and they are our “reading buddies”–I milk this one a lot)
- Another class (invite another kindergarten class over!)
- Parents (you can invite them in on your own or plan PBL units around open house, back-to-school night, etc. so they will already be there)
- Other teachers
- The internet (think class twitter or Instagram account, school Facebook page, etc.)
- Community members
- Local businesses
A Note About Project Based Learning
I feel that it is worth mentioning that project based learning is, to a point, messy. Careful planning and organization is key, but this is still a teaching style that will require some adjustment for many of us. The constraints of lesson planning in a given format that is often required of teachers may need to be addressed. Talk with your administration about your plans for project based learning and what this will look like in your classroom. In real life, subject areas are not divided into isolated boxes; therefore, they should not be encountered only in isolation in our classrooms. In project based learning, you be comfortable veering off the path that you had initially envisioned from time to time. Your students are taking the lead, and that is a beautiful thing!