PBL Tips for Newbies

Friendly PBL Reminders from Myla

Greetings Galileo Leaders!

This is it. Some of you are deep into your project based learning units right now. Others are about to launch. Hooray! It's excitement, fear, inspiration, and courage captured in a new learning adventure for many of you.

I've curated a collection of tips as you embark on PBL. For those who've lived PBL before with their students, please consider these resources as affirmation of what you're probably already doing in your classroom culture.

What I've found to be challenges for newbie PBL teachers are the following:

  • Teachers realizing that they play many roles in PBL - facilitator, presenter, coach, and consultant.
  • Teachers utilizing the power of the need to know list as a tool for formative assessment and sustained inquiry.
  • Teachers being intentional about formatively assessing student learning and creating time for students to reflect.
  • Teachers establishing the expectations and routines needed for individual students and team members to self-manage.

I've shared my advice regarding these challenges through the posts below. Bottom line, keep it simple and have fun along the way.

Regardless of how many "gold nuggets" of advice I share, we all know that YOU WILL make mistakes. That's normal. It's expected. My first project was what I referred to as my "Project of Favorite Fails" The gift you'll give yourself and others is reflecting on the lessons you gained as a learner. It's all part of the journey that you'll capture in your digital story presentation.

May this PBL experience be transformative for you and your students.

All the best,


MYTH: There is no room for direct instruction in project-based learning

This excerpt is taken from Common Project Based Learning Myths and Mistakes by PenPal Schools. It includes advice from other PBL Colleagues as well as yours truly.

Many teachers are often hesitant about project-based learning because they’re not sure how it will allow them to focus on the learning outcomes they are responsible for.

Andrew Miller has heard this a lot, too. He tells us, “A question I get a lot from teachers new to PBL is about direct instruction. Some mistakenly believe that direct instruction disappears or is nonexistent in a project due to the belief that a PBL project is purely experiential. That is a myth. In our our world of clear learning targets and outcomes we must ensure students learn, it is important to know that direct instruction has its time and place in a project.”

Project-based learning does allow you to provide direct instruction - and it will likely be more meaningful than in a traditional classroom. “The key is to provide ‘just in time’ direct instruction linked to student inquiry. When teachers launch a project and provide a powerful driving question, students then generate their own questions related to the project or their ‘need to knows.’ As a teacher examines this list, they can reflect on what questions might be an appropriate place for direct instruction. Similarly, as teachers assess student learning and discover gaps, they may need to provide direct instruction to some or all students to ensure they learn. Rather than automatically provide direct instruction, teachers need to do it when students need it.”

Curated PBL Tips and Advice

FINAL WORD: Routines, Procedures, and Expectations and Project Management

So many times when teachers hear "project based learning", they think that relinquishing all control is what makes the learning "student centered". More so, some teachers even believe that to have any form of control is unacceptable and takes away from student voice and choice.

On the contrary, classroom routines, group routines, and effective classroom management establish a solid foundation for students to be empowered to have more voice and choice. Students know the expectations of the classroom culture. Yes, PBL classrooms may be more noisy than non-PBL settings, but there is a clear difference between constructive chaos and a dysfunctional classroom community.

Especially if you are planning to launch your PBL unit in the beginning of the year, it's okay to start the project holding onto the reins more as you set your expectations for transitions, handling materials, and independent team time.

What are some strategies that you embed in your routines or lessons that help scaffold students to be more collaborative and independent? What are some tools you use to help with transitions and using your time more effectively? Believe it or not, you'll be using those very same methods in PBL. Sound evidence based instructional methods can only help make PBL more successful.

Here is a great link to management strategy videos from the Teaching Channel. Lastly, below are two videos - one on structuring collaboration for student success and the other about embedding formative assessment throughout the project.