Experiencing PBL World

By Heather Haufe

Diving into Project Based Learning

When I thought of PBL I initially thought we had to plan some huge life changing project that would change the world with my group of over one hundred twelve year olds. That thought seemed intimidating. With some courage last fall our 6th grade ELA department decided to give it a try and challenge our students to find a way to be everyday heroes. While we had to give up control and it was a bit messy at times the students learned life skills and content knowledge in a way they should never forget. Students rented pavilions and hosted events, they had charity drives, and rose awareness on tough topics. We knew it was great, but we needed some guidance for doing a project this big again.


When the opportunity arose to go to PBL world I jumped at the occasion to learn how to implement this more effectively. PBL world was an inexplicable experience. No, not because it took place in beautiful Napa California, but because the conference itself opened my eyes to the possibilities in our classrooms. The first thing I learned was that PBL does not have to be a huge life changing project. You can incorporate PBL on a lot smaller scale and it can be just as effective. If you can challenge your students, give them a voice, allow them to continually edit and inquire about something, make the learning visible and public, along with making it purposeful for your student it can be PBL!

The elements of PBL

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You Don't Need all of the elements!

Here is an example of thing just a few pieces of PBL to create a meaningful learning experience.

Our Workshop

Our amazing instructors walked us through a three day workshop where we created our own PBL lessons. The best part about the workshop was that our instructors used PBL to teach us! They challenged us with creating a unit that encompassed all of the elements of PBL. Through hard work we continuously edited, received feedback and shared our process to be critiqued from those around us. I was pushed to continually make my project better and found myself leaving knowing I would still work to make it better. We developed relationships with the people from around the world we met, and gathered a vast amount of ideas to bring back with us. I learned that this is a process that takes a lot time and collaboration. All of my worries about, "what if a kid doesn't want to work?" and, "how to I assess them along the way?" were answered! I can't wait to share what I learned with my colleagues at ESMS and hopefully give them an experience as close to mine as possible.
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My PBL Project

Dystopian Unit

After swapping my ideas around a million times I decided to create my project around our dystopian lit unit! Students will learn perspective and dive deep I to our novels when they have to debate as dystopian characters from our novel. The so called villans will be put on trial and students will each have a role to play. This is authentic, continuous, and we will have a public audience of 8th or 9th grade students! My hope is that this will be motivating for students as well as have them learn those 21st century skills.
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Ask us about our experience!

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For more information on PBL check out the Buck Institute for Education!