Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
There are a few elements that are important to include in project-based learning, otherwise your students are just doing projects. I vaguely talked about this in a post published last week, "What is Self-Directed Project-Based Learning Anyway" and now I'm back with details on specific elements of PBL, and how to modify those components to be self-directed.
I love project-based learning because it naturally presents a variety of opportunities for students to make decisions about the experience; to make choices that reflect who they are as unique individuals. Each PBL component mentioned in this post can be, and should be in my opinion, open for student choice. Opportunities for choices lie in the components highlighted right here. Check it out!
All of the resources in my project-based learning product line are deliberately designed to give students choice while also providing structure to avoid overwhelm.
Key Components of Project-Based Learning:
1. Innovative Final Product -
Students conduct research or gather information on a topic of their choosing or around a theme or standard that you present to them. They then assemble that information into a final product that demonstrates learning. An innovative final product moves away from the cut and paste approach of a poster board or Powerpoint. Examples include timelines, business plans, video promotions, skits, and more.
You can easily give students choice in how they demonstrate learning even if the class is focusing on the same topic or driving question. For example, if your students are studying habitats, rather than have every student create a 3D model of their chosen habitat, let them choose how to share new knowledge. Their choice might reflect their goals, their interests, hobbies, and more. Allowing students to determine this aspect of the experience makes it more engaging because it is relevant and personalized.
2. Community Experts -
Communicating and/or collaborating with community experts is a critical component of project-based learning. The idea is that students learn about their project topic from primary sources - real people specifically. Students might conduct an interview, shadow, intern, volunteer, or work directly on a project with a community expert on their topic. The community member might assist with student projects by providing materials, a work space, or knowledge.
This element of project-based learning, when self-directed, helps students build communication skills, develop and expand their community network, and gather authentic and accurate information. Give students the opportunity identify, communicate with, and coordinate interactions with their own experts.
3. Authentic Presentations -
An authentic presentation is one where the end product of a PBL project is shared with an authentic, relevant audience beyond the boundaries of the classroom. The purpose is to motivate quality work and make an impact on the community.
This is an easy component for students to take on themselves, to self-direct, especially if they choose their final product. Final products and authentic presentations are interconnected. If a student chooses to create an animation to demonstrate learning, for example, they wouldn't present their final product on a podcast. A more appropriate final product to share on a podcast would be a book of essays, for example, and the student would share an excerpt from that book.
4. Assessments and Consistent Feedback -
Project-based learning doesn't often have cut and dry, right or wrong answers, which can make some students uncomfortable. Providing regular feedback is critical, giving students security and validation.
I offer a variety of feedback opportunities throughout the project-based learning process, including self-, peer-, and teacher one-on-one evals. This can get tricky when the PBL experience is self-directed, because you may have 20 different PBL's going at once. I create a schedule, and this comes highly recommended. For example, I facilitate project progress circles every Friday where students have an opportunity to review each other's progress and offer feedback.
Scroll to the bottom of this post to see how I plan self-directed PBL's.
5. Project Reflection -
A reflection is so important to PBL. When a student has completed their PBL experience they should look back on it. The ability to reflect, adjust, and improve is an important life skill. Reflecting on a student-led experience is essential because they look at personal growth rather than data or grades. They reflect on challenges, strengths, implications of what they've discovered in the inquiry process, and more.
6. Final Assessments -
Again, project-based learning emphasizes self-evaluations. My students self-evaluate one more time, present their overall experience to their class, and have a final one-on-one eval meeting with me. The assessment piece of project-based learning can absolutely be self-led. Have students generate their own rubrics and lead their final evaluation meetings with you.
I also have my students build and manage their own project assessment portfolios. They add ALL learning outcomes, reflections, goals met, rubric scores, photographs of the experience, etc. over the course of a session to a ready-made digital PBL portfolio. Overtime they will have a robust, shareable portfolio of project-based learning experiences. This is a self-led endeavor that improves organizational skills, among others.
My latest resource bundle is perfect for starting self-directed project-based learning right now. This self-directed project-based learning planning bundle includes my project-based learning tool kit and a PBL digital planner. The whole kit was designed to help you facilitate self-directed PBL today.
Observe. Question. Explore. Share.
To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.