K-12 Project Based Learning Resources

Demands on our educational system are changing, and the graduating student profile indicates the need for students with well-developed critical thinking, higher-level thinking, collaborative abilities, learner-centered study emphasis and a budding real-world skillset. Students will be "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."
— General George Patton
expected to demonstrate their ability to think and reason their way into problem resolution. Ideas such as comprehension and understanding are no longer destinations but gatekeepers to the next level of ideas in a growing knowledge base that is to be scaffold through a life-learning process. In other words, we must give our students workplace abilities. Our society is demanding it. A video from the Ohio Resource Center summarizes the importance of PBL on student learning:

"Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations."
— Peter Drucker

The emergence of Project-Based Learning (PBL) is being considered as a methodology that quite capably merges content and thinking development. Successful instructors of today are leaders of intellect, and they embrace and encourage their students ability to learn autonomously. Of course, autonomous learning is a developing process in and of itself but as early as kindergarten, students need to mature in their adeptness for evaluating material and managing their knowledge. The key to meeting these expectations within the timeframe of a class period is to unite projects of meaning with standards-based teaching. This approach dismisses the idea of “doing a project” versus project-based learning.

The Buck Institute for Learning (BIE), defines PBL as “a standards-focused systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks.” Of course, the depth of the inquiry and the complexity of the driving question will be dictated by the age and grade-level of the students. Theoretically, PBL equalizes the process and the product, respects the student’s individual learning style, and emphasizes the learning journey guided by the learner himself. Though Project-Based Learning takes on many different formats and definitions, the BIE model focuses on standards, content, accountability and performance and it narrows the gap between the expectations of our education system and the ideals of sound educational theory.

The term “standards-focused systematic teaching method” implies a well-planned, well-organized process and the essential elements of that process are represented in the graphic below:

Project Based Learning Essential Elements (Thumbnail)
Table 1 – Essential Elements of Project-Based Learning
Lorin Mayo, 2013

Using 21st Century skills and addressing content standards with significant academic relevance, students will be introduced to the topic where the stage is set by presenting what is referred to as an entry event such as a narrative, video, or skit, relevance is established. "Education is the mother of leadership."
— Wendell Willkie
A Driving Question which “starts with the end in mind” will identify the learning goals without developing any teacher pre-conceived clear path to its conclusion. This Driving Question prompts the students Need to Know. Students begin student-centered and responsible, autonomous learning to begin their inquiry into the Driving Question and have Choice or decision-making authority in approaching their method of investigation. In the Inquiry and Innovation phase, the teacher acts as facilitator to guide meaningful learning. The end product begins to take shape as concepts are defined. The amount of teacher guidance will be regulated by the age of the students and their ability to think their way into the curriculum, the determined scope of the project and the expected learning outcomes. The Feedback and Revision state calls for instructor and peer feedback. As ideas are clarified, students might rethink their positions or outcomes and make revisions to their product in accordance with the comments received. Another real-world competence, Publicly Presented Product, allows the students to present their findings and celebrate their learning journey.

The Buck Institute for Education elaborates on the requirements for effective set-up of sound PBL studies: There are four key steps in plotting the course for your students.

  1. Organize Tasks and Activities
    • Analyze end products
    • Evaluate Student Abilities
    • Prepare for scaffolding or building knowledge
    • Break down tasks
  2. Decide How to Launch the Project
    • Verify the Project includes state standards
    • Determine your entry event
    • Check Idea Banks such as those found at Edutopia and BIE
  3. Gather Resources
    • Books,Community Resources, Internet
    • Supplies such as notebooks, display boards, construction paper
    • Determine technological tools
    • Remember to use your resources that will make your projects more efficient, have breadth and depth and allow students opportunities for investigation.
  4. Draw a Storyboard

A storyboard is simply a flowchart or pictorial representation of the progression and expectation of the project. For example:

Week 1 Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Week 2 Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Week 3 Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
...and so on.

Be sure to list resources that will be needed in each phase and plan or reserve libraries, Computer carts, speakers.

Now, you must manage the process, facilitate your learners and provide sound leadership directives.

  • Share Project Goals with Students
  • Help Students Refine the Process
  • Use problem-solving Tools such as a Know/Need to Know Table
  • Devise checkpoints for the Feedback and Revision Step
  • Plan for your Evaluations and Assessment Rubrics

Of course it is important that projects are graded from a variety of sources and a variety of criteria.

  • Rubrics
  • Peer Evaluations
  • Essays or Tests
  • Carefully tracked progress
  • Require a variety of resources
  • Make mid-project evaluations in order to redirect students and their work

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."
— John Quincy Adams

Project-Based Learning requires careful planning on the part of the instructor. Keep in mind unexpected circumstances such as unexpected delays or timing of certain aspects of the project. Making the projects standards-based can solidify the students' understanding of material for which they will be held accountable. Interdisciplinary projects afford professional and academic support and often allow students more time to develop their ideas and create their products. Once the flow of projects is mastered, it can be a very rewarding experience for all concerned.

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