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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Constructing a PBL classroom... the first weeks of school

Constructing a PBL classroom... the first weeks of school

Related Tags: Project-Based Learning
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Hi, The beginning of the year is fast approaching! I'm new to PBL and a pretty new teacher and I want to start off the year strong. I thought we could share effective ways we start the year (curriculum, rules, activities, routines). How do you set up a PBL classroom? What rules and procedures/expectations/routines do you start setting up? What are your classroom rules? Here are the rules I'm thinking of (they're NOT finalized). I want no more than 3-4. Rules can set students up to develop their abilities to collaborate, communicate, create, and reflect. These abilities are fundamental to PBL. Here's my stab at creating rules that set up students well. I welcome your critique and wisdom. - Think from different perspectives - Speak your mind and listen to others - Do the right thing even when no one is looking - Communicate constructively - Take risks This discussion can become a resource for PBL classroom structure...

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eudora stephens's picture

I teach first and second grades and am not artistic so it would be hard for me to do PBL without involving our art teacher. I tell her in advance what my projects for the year are and she how she could help. She has a one hour block every Friday and runs her lesson plan by me to make sure it is what I need for the project. So approach the core teachers and let them know that you are willing to integrate your curriculum with theirs. Hope this is helpful. Good luck.

Amy Erin Borovoy (aka VideoAmy)'s picture
Amy Erin Borovoy (aka VideoAmy)
Senior Manager of Video Programming, Production, & Curation at Edutopia

[quote]I am an art teacher in a k-8 school. Any suggestions on how to get the core teachers to open their doors and let the arts in.[/quote]

Victoria: we have a great video about elementary school arts integration. In Tucson, they have fully integrated the arts with nearly all core subjects. Not sure if this is the kind of direction you're looking at but there may be some ideas in there for you... or at least some fuel for convincing the core teachers that arts ed is critical!

Opening Minds Through The Arts video

Cristina Saenz de Tejada's picture

Amy, Could you give a sense of the timeline you devoted to this part of the process? How long are the projects assigned to students? How much student involvement did you allow versus teacher directing students to the step-by-step? Thanks!

Cristina Saenz de Tejada's picture

[quote]It's so great to hear how educators are developing the environment that will support PBL. I suggest that when developing classroom rules, teachers allow students to help construct the rules. They'll be more likely to want to follow them if they've had a part in creating them. Know what you ultimately want them to be but have the students help create them. Good luck.[/quote]

How much classtime should we allow for this stage of the process? Should teachers offer students ultimate goals for the project? HOw long should a PBL be?

Sue Boudreau's picture
Sue Boudreau
Seventh Grade science teacher from Orinda, California

I just put up some pics of some ways I set up my pbl science class room at, motivated by this thread :-)

Marie F. Jacques's picture
Marie F. Jacques
9-12 grade French teacher at a Public School


I am a French teacher. I would like to start using the PBL with my students. Does any one have any suggestion or comment. Merci beaucoup,


Marie F. Jacques's picture
Marie F. Jacques
9-12 grade French teacher at a Public School

I am a French teacher. I would like this year to start the PBL with my students in order to better motivate them to learn the language. Is there any French teacher who have tried PBL help me get it started?
Merci beaucoup,


Rachel Pickett's picture
Rachel Pickett
10th grade Social Studies

[quote]What is your process for sharing these rules with students and giving them an opportunity to articulate these rule? They will help you with the wording...and in the discussion of what you all think is important (you get to communicate what your bottom line is still, but in partnership) you will get a higher level of clarity and ownership I think.

What an exciting journey![/quote]

Hi Amy,

Here's how I started building the classroom this year:

I started this year by asking students how they wanted to be treated. They then made classroom agreements, and voted on the top 3. I found post-it notes in the shape of a star, and they each individually wrote 'I commit to these agreements' and then signed their name (I told them to do this when they were ready and willing to commit... not because they had to). They stuck their stars on the poster, and I laminated each class' poster. I have one rule: "You may not do anything that causes a problem for yourself or others, including me. If you do, I will do something about it." I explained to them that since they're all different people, I will respond individually if they do act in ways that aren't building a positive learning culture. So far, I haven't had to do anything other than talk individually with a student about being tardy, or about getting work done. I'm finding it very helpful if I explain my reasoning for asking them to do something. They're usually cooperative when I share my reasoning.

This is more of an SEL approach. However, SEL and PBL support each other.

Now I'm wondering how to set up effective project work. We just completed a first small project (students designed 'sustainable cities' based on scientific technology that's being invented as we speak), and there were effective aspects, and ineffective aspects of the project. Students said they enjoy working on this project, and a lot of their cities are beautifully made... filled with thoughtful details. I don't feel that I set up effective SEL structures, and smaller structures that set each group member up to be working all the time.

One structure that was really effective was writing the steps of the project up on the board. Ex:

1. Sign group contract
2. Divide up articles
3. Read and highlight articles with a question in mind (comprehension tool we're using)
4. Communicate what the articles are about to all group members
5. Complete caption sheet
6/7. Design rough draft/Complete caption sheet 2nd draft (they were in groups of 4, and they split into teams of 2 for these steps)
8. Final copy
9. Celebrate!

I gave each group a sticky note and they wrote down everyones' names. Then they went to the board and placed it on the step they were on. When they completed a step they moved down their sticky note. So it acted as a check-off list for each group, and for the class as a whole. My students were referencing the board to figure out what they needed to do next, instead of asking me.

Hope this helps!

Anyone have success with setting up SEL structures in PBL groups? How do you do it? PBL seems to lend itself to teaching communication and collaboration skills.

Also, how do you design clear objectives into the work students are doing? How do you design well-structured (and authentically structured) groups?


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