Project Based Learning

At Parramatta Marist High the New Tech Network’s Project Based Learning model is employed with Year 7-10.

What is Project Based Learning?

According to the Buck Institute: Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge.

What does PBL look like?

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Parramatta Marist High iBook

Teaching PBL:

I was fortunate enough to complete my last university practicum at Parramatta Marist High and therefore had a good understanding of how project based learning worked prior to starting my job here. Honestly, it can be quite overwhelming to begin with because it is so different to what we consider ‘traditional teaching’.

Here are the facts:

  • 60 students in a class
  • 2 team teachers
  • Projects can be stand alone or integrated with another subject
  • 100 minute periods
  • Open plan classroom where students sit in groups

It is important to recognise that our definition of a ‘project’ differs from the traditional “here’s some instructions go create a product”. Our projects are designed for teachers to facilitate learning and work with students to develop their skills and knowledge of a subject area while making authentic connections to the real world beyond the classroom walls. One of the things that I love most about project based learning is that we try to instil skills and values in our students that will transfer into their lives after they leave school. The process itself allows for the mastery of collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills as they are inherently part of every project. Our students are left with 21st century skills that are very appealing to potential employers including ICT skills, literacy and numeracy skills, ethical behaviour, presentation and public speaking skills and personal and social capabilities.

There are a few basics that you need to know before delving into the world of PBL. Firstly, project based learning requires the teacher to step back from direct instruction all the time and allow for more student centred learning to take place. A majority of the time there should be noise in a PBL classroom and this can be confronting for teachers who are used to silent classrooms- I know I’m still adjusting! The trick is to recognise when that noise is constructive discussion or unnecessary and unproductive chatter.

There are several different stages in the PBL Process:

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Project Release: This is the first step when launching a new project to students. All projects begin with an ‘entry event’ which acts like a trigger or hook for students to become engaged and interested with the concepts that will be explored over the coming weeks. Some suggestions for effective entry events can be found here: Project Planning Idea Bank. One that I have used recently with my Year 8 class was:

Watch the following video as a class:

Discussion questions:

1. What was the video about?

2. Who did the video feature?

3. What is a ‘first world problem?’

4. How did the video make you feel? Explain why and provide examples from the video.

5. Why was the video so powerful?

6. In one sentence explain the main message of the video.

This video proved to be thought provoking and raised many questions from the students about what the project might be about and led them into the idea of human rights, emotive language and persuasive techniques without explicitly stating them.

After the entry event is completed students are guided through the driving question, task assessment notification and task rubric. A driving question is: “The core question students are answering during the project. Well-crafted driving questions are open ended and allow for a variety of answers.” (NTN, 2012). An example of an effective driving question is:

“How can we as members of the Christian community express the modern concept of reconciliation through a combination of visual and written elements?”

Arguably the most important protocol during the Project Release stage is the ‘Knows/Need to Knows/Next Steps’ list. Check this blog out for more detailed information. This list is created at the beginning of the project to establish what students already know about the topic (prior knowledge), what they will need to know in order to successfully complete the project and what the next steps to learn this information and skills might be. This list is frequently referred to during the project so that students can keep track of their own learning and progress. The idea is for students to move the ‘need to knows’ to the ‘knows’ column once they have answered those during the project and then generate new ‘need to knows’. I often find that my students refer to the lists without being told to as a way to reevaluate what their strengths and weaknesses are. Students with special learning needs also find them useful to keep track of what they need to focus on to complete the summative task.

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Information Gathering: During this stage of the PBL process students are introduced to the major skills and content of the project. It includes research, activities, workshops, lectures and homework tasks. It is also during this phase that students begin working through the benchmarks of the project. Benchmarks are the stepping stones that show the logical pathway that leads to the end product. They allow opportunities for informal peer and teacher feedback.

Project Development: This stage leads on from the content learned in the benchmarks. Students begin to apply this information and skills to create and build their end products. It is essential for students to receive teacher and peer feedback and to collaborate in preparing and drafting their summative tasks.

Presentation: Students submit or present their end products for constructive criticism and feedback according to the assessment rubric introduced at the beginning of the project. This feedback might be delivered using the ‘critical friends’ protocol. [Critical Friends: A tuning protocol that provides a safe way for peers to share their work and get constructive feedback for improvement.]

Reflection: This is the final stage of the PBL process and requires students to meaningfully reflect on their learning and consider what they have achieved/learnt during the project and any aspects that they feel they should continue to work on. Learning shouldn’t finish when the project is over. Students need to be encouraged to continue exploring the topics studied in the project and use those skills in future projects.

PBL is not necessarily a simple learning model, however when executed well it can lead to the development of exceptional students who achieve the deepest levels of learning.

More Information:


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