Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
I am a former high school teacher of ten years. As an educator with an experiential philosophy, I have found project-based learning to be the most effective way to engage teenagers.
Project-based learning for my students, however, is self-directed 90% of the time. I (usually) do not plan their PBL experiences for them. I offer the structure and tools for students to successfully direct their own experiences.
This week's post is all about managing those details. You are a facilitator of learning. The trick is knowing how to coordinate and manage these PBL experiences. How do you get started? What do you do next? How do you wrap up? It's super easy when you know how!
In my ten years as a project-based educator, I have refined this routine and would love to share it with you in hopes of making the process as smooth and seamless as possible. The remainder of this post goes over those steps.
Before reading on, take the following steps:
Note: You do not need to purchase my PBL resources to coordinate self-directed PBL's with your students. These products simply provide the guiding tools. If you choose not to purchase my resources, choose a theme that you would like students to design PBL's around, grab your free planner and start planning!
Self-Directed Project-Based Learning in 7 Steps
The banner sprawled across the top of my TPT store page says "Question. Explore. Create. Share." This series of actions act as the foundation of self-directed PBL in my classroom. Think of these actions as you plan and coordinate these experiences.
Step 1: Project Design
Self-directed PBL leaves room for student choice. Let students play a role in designing the experience by choosing their own topic or subtopic, determining how they will gather information, community expert(s), their authentic audience, how they will share new skills and knowledge with that audience, assessment criteria and more.
My students fill out a "project plan" that includes all of these details. All of my PBL resources include this project design template.
Planning Step 1: Grab your planner and scroll to the correct month. Drag and drop the "Write Project Plan" element to the date that best suits your schedule. Add important details in the notes section of the calendar. You can also add more specific steps to the text boxes included under each date, such as "topic brainstorming session".
Step 2: Research, Collaborations, and Learning Activities
Once students have a project proposal completed they can begin gathering information. Students write a driving question and research questions in their project plan.
Students will review a variety primary resources, connect with community experts, and participate in community events or activities that would deepen understanding of the topic. One of the major roles of a project-based educator is to organize authentic learning experiences relevant to the project topic at hand. Add those experiences, such as a community speaker, to your planner!
Planning Step 2: Drag and drop the "Research" and the "Connect with Experts" elements to dates that best suits your schedule. Add details in the notes section of the calendar. You can also add more specific steps to the text boxes included under each date, such as "virtual speaker 9 am".
Step 3: Progress Evaluations
Throughout the project process students will self- and peer-assess using a generic project assessment or the student-generated assessment (both included in my PBL tool kit). If you do not need the whole kit, check out this PBL rubrics bundle.
Planning Step 3: Drag and drop the "Self-Assessment" to dates that best suits your schedule. Copy and paste this element if students will self-assess more than once. You can add peer-assessments to your calendar by typing directly into the text boxes included under each date. Schedule in times for you to go over self-assessments with students as well.
Step 4: Create Final Products
An innovative final product is how students assemble information and demonstrate learning. The end product might be a blog, an advertisement, a documentary, a photo journal, etc. Each of my themed project-based learning resources include final product options for students to choose from.
You can also check out my post 100 Final Product Ideas for Project-Based Learners for final product ideas.
Planning Step 4: Drag and drop the "Final Product Deadline" element to an appropriate date. Make sure to communicate this deadline to students. You can also type in "final product work days" if that helps you stay organized.
***You may share your planner with students using Google Classroom so that everyone can see the plan and deadlines. You can also share a blank copy of the template with each student using Google Classroom to use and fill in as their own. They can write in their own project deadlines and goals.
Step 5: Authentic Presentations
An authentic presentation is one where students share their new skills and knowledge with a public audience that is relevant to the topic. For example, if a student creates a brochure about a career of interest, they might leave a stack of their brochures at a community career center. Once students have completed their projects and assembled their final products, they can share that product or information with their authentic audience.
Planning Step 5: Drag and drop the "Authentic Presentation" element to the date that best suits your schedule. You might want to add that element to note the deadline for authentic presentations, or as the date that an authentic presentation event will take place.
For example, my students do a heritage PBL every year, and they authentically present at a community exhibition night that I organize. I would add that date and important side notes about that event to my planner.
Step 6: Reflections
After students give their authentic presentation they will write a final reflection. The reflection piece is critical. They will not only look back on the content and what they've learned, but the experience itself. They will analyze their own strengths and weaknesses throughout the process and build on that moving forward. All of my PBL's include a reflection.
Planning Step 6: Drag and drop the "Reflection" element to a date that best suits your schedule. It could represent the reflection deadline or time set aside in class to complete reflections.
Step 7: Final Evaluations
Once students have completed projects, presented to an authentic audience, and reflected on the experience, they will present to you and the class. Audience members can provide feedback and if you wish, you may complete their final rubric at this time.
I prefer to meet separately with each student after their presentations to go over their rubrics one-on-one. The students bring a self-evaluated rubric and their reflection to the meeting. We go over it together, determine credit, and make goals for the next project. During this meeting we also review their Personal Learning Plans.
Once students have completed their final evaluations they add learning outcomes to their project-based learning assessment portfolios. Get that for free here! This is a great portfolio to showcase of all PBL experiences over the course of a session.
Planning Step 7: Drag and drop the "Final Evaluations" element to dates that best suits your schedule.
These seven steps set the stage for self-directed project-based learning. They can be broken down into more specific steps, all of which are included in my paid PBL planner.
The free version is a great version of the planner to cover the basics. If you're looking for a more detailed, guided experience, check out my full project-based learning planner that also includes a weekly and daily planner, as well as sign up forms for approval meetings, evaluation meetings and more.
As always, reach out with questions about my resources and continue to follow along on this self-directed project-based learning blog series!
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.