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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

PBL Frustration!

PBL Frustration!

Related Tags: Project-Based Learning
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Hi All, I'm so frustrated right now! My school is brand new and is an all-PBL School. Sure, we have classes, but our classes are designed around PBL, so the idea is that I'll always have students working on projects with me, and I'm there to facilitate and guide them (particularly through the mathematical portions, since I am a math teacher). I'm just so frustrated with my students! I've attempted 2 projects with my Algebra 2 students (The Great Debate: Which Cell Carrier is really best? and The Rocketeers: Real life PBL & The RocketBoys). and I'm in the middle of my 2nd project with Geometry (Building Bridges was first, and now we are doing ProjectHOME). Some of these projects have been designed by myself and my colleagues with whom I integrated the projects,and some, like the ProjectHOME that I'm working on now, come from bie.org. My frustration is that my students aren't engaging. They are whining and asking for a test and asking for a lecture and notes, etc. I just can't seem to get the buy in (which seems silly since they knew when they registered at our school what our mission was!). Can anyone help me? Help them?

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Comments (14)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

gigi carunungan's picture

Firstly, our educational system will have to take responsibility for hard-wiring students to want worksheets, have the one correct answer, and testing. In PBL, students will have to learn in a totally different framework: learn-by-doing; taking risks because there's no one correct answer; and learn by collaborating with peers.

You may have to "transition" your students from the industrial age way of learning to the digital age. An orientation or rather re-orientation session about how one learns, citing research that demonstrates how students hardly retain learning from filling in worksheets, may give your students a sense of how neuroscience and best practices support learning that happens in a PBL framework. For example, in a traditional math class, if you give the wrong answer, then you're doomed. However in a PBL class, it must be made clear that you are looking for the strategies students employ and iterate to solve problems.

You may want to use a PBL approach as well to the PBL orientation. In this way, we practice what we preach.

Hope this helps.

Julia Gabor's picture
Julia Gabor
Director of Education

When I get stuck in a classroom, I ask myself these questions: Is it possible the students don't understand why they have to learn this? Is it relevant to them? Do you they feel connected to the lesson? How can it impact them?

Sometimes I ask students to design the actual lesson and work in small groups-- instead of me asking them to do what I planned. I give them the basic guidelines/structure of what needs to be accomplished. I let them constructively assess each other.

I just saw this article from Ben Johnson about students working collaboratively or collectively in preparation for college. I thought it was useful for student engagement strategies. http://soc.li/OZLTF5B

Hope this helps as well.

Shawn Gypsea's picture
Shawn Gypsea
Learning technology integration coach in international schools

The two BIG problems I see in watching teachers implement PBL are that they throw a lot of activities at the students, but they are all at the same level of learning (think BLOOMS taxonomy). AND, teachers forget to explain WHY the activities are important to the overall learning goals.

-I plan each unit with one activity related to each level of Bloom's....even the students who do not need to re-visit the lower levels, benefit from them. And, by doing this, teachers help all students raise their understanding of the subject. ALSO, by doing this, I avoid the "activity dump" .....the tendency for teachers to just "do" a lot of activities related to a topic but not really building UNDERSTANDING of that topic.

-Secondly, no matter what I do, I explain to the students WHY we are doing the activity. This keeps me accountable AND builds trust with the students. If I cannot coherently describe WHY an activity is necessary, then my students will not understand how the activity relates to their learning, either.

Hope this helps!!!

Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate

Hi Kristen,
Shifting to PBL can be challenging for teachers and students alike. It can take time to get into project mode, especially for students used to more traditional instruction. If it's any consolation, you aren't alone in feeling frustrated at lack of student engagement. (Check out this blog post from 2010: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/project-based-learning-not-giving-up-suzie-...)
You've described projects that you designed, sometimes in collaboration with colleagues, as well as ones you've adopted from bie.org. Maybe it's time to bring students in at the design stage, so they are invested early. What are their interests? How can you leverage these for meaningful, academically rich projects?
Please let us know how it goes.

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