Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Moving On

I don’t think I have to modify my plan (meaning change the direction) but I am finding that I need to add to it; producing or presenting more information before teachers begin to use PBL. I realized that before teachers could use scaffolds for creating mini-units, they have to understand what PBL is more deeply. I have started developing fact sheets for teachers for learning about PBL. I am trying to give the essential information about PBL so they can understand in a relatively short amount of time what it is and begin to plan mini-units. I am finding plenty of information and resources, but I am finding it difficult to distill the information into one to two-page presentations that teachers will be able to digest easily, but that also present the information accurately. 

Image from
The first fact sheet I developed is “PBL - Introduction” (see image below) and includes a link to a video that has embedded questions to think about and answer. I hope teachers will watch this first, and then look through the rest of the fact sheet. I decided to included examples and non-examples of projects as a way to make clear just what PBL is and isn’t. I think that will help clarify the significant difference between doing projects (activities) and PBL (projects). I then included some questions and answers that I think teachers will find instructive. I’ve included a print out of the information from this fact sheet to give you an example of how I am trying to structure them. 

I have learned that my expectations are set very high and I need to back up a bit to be sure that the foundational information is present before moving into the project. I tend to move quickly into the deep-end without considering the full scope of prior knowledge that needs to be activated before the real work can start. Stopping to monitor what I am doing, taking time to think about the process, looking at the scope of the work, all of these make me aware of how complex learning is, for adults and for children. Developing a new set of skills requires a lot of practice, and providing the proper preparation is essential for success. The biggest question I have now is about the scope of my GAME plan. Is it even possible to provide enough support for this undertaking without serious and deep understanding of PBL? Is it possible to learn PBL by doing PBL?

Click on the picture below to see the original size of the sample fact sheet.


  1. Mary,
    I agree that the teachers’ need to understand what Problem-Based Learning is (PBL). I really like what you have provided for them as a resources to gain understanding. I am sure as time goes on you will have more examples of problem-based learning to show them. I think one of the most important things I have learned is modeling example to the students. Did you check out the questioning toolkit? This really helped when it came to coming up with the essential question. Your students and teachers need to remember that we have to teach and model to the children how to do all of the steps before a project can take place.
    I saw that you used a Keep Cal visual. I am going to try and include one in my response that made me laugh. The picture did not post.... So keep calm and always return my pencils.

    Great job!!

    1. Tami,

      Modeling is the key, the only reservation I have is that PBL is such a huge and complex process. I don't want teachers to jump in and then fail. Somehow, I need to support them in understanding PBL is not doing projects without overwhelming them with how complex it is. I want to give them a clear understanding of the process and then show them that the effort is worth it. I think having some small project we plan together (no more than a week) and showing how excited kids are and how much they can learn would be the optimal outcome. I know what I want to do, and I believe I know what I'd doing, but the more I learn, the more I know I don't know. Yikes!


    2. Mary with your support your teachers will not fail, they will learn how to do things differently.

  2. Mary,

    You mentioned that you are developing fact sheets to help teachers at your school develop a deep understanding of project-based learning. From what I understand, you are trying to teach other teachers how to develop and implement project-based learning opportunities for their students and you have little time to prepare them for this task. I am not sure of the time constraints you or the teachers you are aiding have, but if the teachers are to develop a deep understanding of project-based learning, I believe the best way is to engage in project-based learning themselves, using the fact sheet simply as a scaffold for support in these learning projects.

    If the teachers engage in project-based learning, they will develop a deep understanding of what it entails by creating and discussing their projects with one another. There is an old Chinese proverb by Xunzi (312-230 BC), which states:

    Not having heard something is not as good as having heard it; having heard it is not as good as having seen it; having seen it is not as good as knowing it; knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice. (as cited in Popik, 2012, para. 2)

    Of course teachers also have different learning styles, so just reading about project-based learning only opens the doors for them. If they engage all of their senses by completing a mini project-based learning lesson themselves, they will surely develop a deeper understanding of how they can provide these same learning opportunities for their students.



    Popik, B. (2012, December 19). Tell me and I forget; teach me and I may remember; involve me and I will learn. [Blog message]. Retrieved January 31, 2014 from

    1. Brett,

      you are right, doing is the best way of learning. Perhaps the best way to do this is to plan the mini-unit myself and let the teachers support me in teaching it. The more I know about PBL the more I understand how complex the process is and I'm not convinced teachers will see the benefit. According to our strategic plan, each teacher is supposed to complete two projects a year for the next three years. They have not had any training in PBL and what I have seen so far have been activities, not PBL. I want to share my excitement, but also want teachers to have success. I think you're right, they have to do a project to see the benefits, but I have to supply the support so they can do it relatively easily...a daunting task!