Teacher Questions on PBL

PBL Teacher Questions & Answers 

1. Do I have extra time to undertake a PBL lesson with everything else I have to do? 

MIT BLOSSOMS PBL offers a “beginner’s level” entry into PBL where most of the preparation is done for you. Begin using our supportive PBL units during exam week or around extended breaks. Start off with doing just the minimum level. 

PBL in general does require more advanced work than traditional lesson planning. However, once the up-front prep work is done, there are many fewer daily tasks than traditional lesson planning. 

For more reading about general misunderstandings of PBL, John Spencer wrote: common lies preventing teachers from using PBL.

2. Won’t I get behind covering the curriculum material and the Common Core and NGSS Standards doing PBL?

Start out with just one PBL unit in the year. Maybe try two units in the year. If you do two units, you will still be able to cover your content as you typically would. PBL is not necessarily meant to replace all lessons, and it is not always possible to find a real world project connection to every standard for students to understand. 

Also, MIT BLOSSOMS lists the standards that are aligned to these Project-Based Learning units. You will find that one unit often covers a long list of standards. Because students are learning by doing, they retain content, which means fewer repeated lessons. Visit the site here.

Read more about Standards and PBL.

3. Will my school give me permission to do PBL?

If you don’t know whether your school permits PBL, it is helpful to meet with administration and provide evidence of PBL’s success (see link below) and how you plan to start with MIT BLOSSOMS.

Edutopia wrote an article on PBL and how it is more effective than traditional teaching.

4. Won’t my students get behind preparing for standardized tests if we spend so much time doing PBL?

Because MIT BLOSSOMS PBL units enrich concepts covered on standardized tests, the two are not mutually exclusive. If you know the key concepts that are part of these standardized tests, then this is an opportunity to weave them into the PBL. 
For further reading, read about PBL and standardized tests.

5. I’m not used to working with student teams on long-term projects. How do I structure the teams to ensure collaboration?

Collaborative teamwork is a core element of PBL! The following resource on the BLOSSOMS PBL website , PBL Resource Tools, provides steps for creating teams, team-building icebreaker activities, team agreements, team roles and structure for teams to effectively communicate with one another.

6. Won’t I lose control of the class with PBL, and things will become chaotic?

There are purposeful times of chatter and conversation during a PBL unit, but as long as it is related to the topic, real learning is happening. As a teacher shifts into the role of facilitator during PBL, the day’s lesson could start with 2 minutes of quiet reflection, 5 minutes of class-conversation, 20 minutes of group brainstorming, 15 minutes of creating a data flow map and 8 minutes in a quiet exit ticket. Each portion of time has its own volume level.

Read more here.

7. How do I ensure that each team member is contributing?

We provide structured resources in our PBL Tools for use in the classroom to proactively demonstrate effective teamwork. 

For example, when students join their teams, they may experience ice breakers activities and collaborate on Team Agreements. When teams create their own norms, they hold each other accountable for different situations. For example, students will often require that they all remove their technology distractions when they are working. So if a student absent-mindedly uses a social media site, other students feel more comfortable reminding that student about their agreements together. Team Agreements, Team Contracts, Task Logs and more are a few of the many ways our PBL Resource Tools list helps keep students accountable.

8. What do I do when a team gets off track?

Before worrying about when a team gets off track, use preventative tools to keep them on track. Project trackers, class-wide check-ins, team norms, and surveys are a variety of ways to start and keep them back on track. We have all these PBL Resource Tools listed in detail. If you do have a team that’s still off-track despite all of these supports, it’s important to sit down with the team and have an honest conversation. When you talk candidly but non-confrontational, you’re also demonstrating how they should act towards each other. “Hey I think we need to step back for a moment and see what we can do at this point to make this team do great things.”

Remember to focus on where to go next, not who’s to blame, as that doesn’t solve the problem. Use your best judgement here, as we all know in teaching there’s no cookie-cutter solution to every problem.

9. How many of these PBL units should I do in a year?

For now, try one unit per semester or per year. BLOSSOMS lessons offer more support structures than doing a PBL unit on your own. Try to get some feedback from a trusted co-worker on your unit’s progress, so you don’t feel alone in this journey.

10. Your PBL units are not part of my subject. What now?

We currently have a short list of PBL units. In the meantime, find your project idea at PBLWorks. Next, use our PBL Resource Tools throughout your project. Make it a simple project if it’s your first PBL. If the suggested final product seems too big, think about a simpler version of your final product. 

11. How do I take on all of the related content to PBL? There seems to be so much content to learn.

There is a lot of content, but it’s critical to focus on the process of PBL, more than memorizing content. This way of learning, understanding process over content, is something we believe in for teaching and for students. If any content seems like too much, reduce the complexity of the lesson to your own classroom’s level.