George Lucas Educational Foundation
Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Summer Planning for PBL

Low-stress ideas for revising your project-based learning curriculum before you head back to the classroom.

July 9, 2018

It’s summer, which is a time for those of us who have a summer holiday to take care of ourselves. But if you do have some energy to reflect on a project-based learning (PBL) project or to do some planning, here are some manageable ideas to consider for revising what you’ve done in the past without creating too much new work.

This process should not be as taxing as planning a full project—instead it’s a way to look at PBL in your classroom very broadly to assess and map out your next steps.

Summer PBL Planning

Keep, adjust, or trash: Looking over your projects, make the important and yet time-saving decision about whether to keep the project as is, make some small adjustments, or cut it from your schedule.

Sometimes a project we design is a hit—students love it and create buzz for future students, who look forward to “that project” in our class. Other times, a project is pretty good and just needs some adjustments. But it is completely OK throw a project away, whether because it was a complete flop or just seemed to lose its luster due to time and changing student interests or for some other reason.

Make decisions about what to keep, modify, or drop first in your planning so you know where you can best spend the rest of your summer work time.

Map out the projects: After you’ve curated projects that are working and identified needed revisions, map them out to see where they fell in the previous school year and then consider whether any tweaks to that schedule are needed.

Sometimes a project is so engaging that it might best be used at a time in the school year when engagement is low. We all have those lulls. If you have the flexibility, move projects around to keep momentum. Also, look for breaks from PBL—times when projects don’t fit or when students might benefit from another way to learn important content and skills.

You might also consider using projects that are limited in terms of time and scope at the beginning of the year to build students’ stamina for PBL.

Identify opportunities for new projects: After you’ve created your year map for existing projects, look for gaps in the schedule or opportunities for a new project. Depending on your available time and energy, you might try to plan two new projects, but even one new project is powerful and worth the effort to plan.

Maybe you’ll add a unit that’s challenging in order to engage students. Or if you decided to drop a project you may have a gap in the calendar that you’ll seek to fill with a replacement. You don’t need to plan a full project right now—it’s enough to identify where you want to spend some time in the school year planning for that new project.

Set later planning time: If you’re like me, you need to carve out time to get planning done. In addition to my normal meetings and tasks, I schedule time for planning, thinking, and designing. Do this for those projects that need revision as well as any new project you want to design.

I recommend setting aside time for each project individually, rather than trying to do them all in one sitting. You might set aside 30 minutes for a project revision, or maybe two hours with colleagues to start designing a new project when you return to school. For now, you don’t need to do the planning itself—just set a clear goal and intention to revise and plan later.

Spend some time online: Instead of starting from scratch, spend some time perusing project libraries like the ones at High Tech High or the Buck Institute for Education. Watch videos of high-quality PBL or look for a post about a PBL topic here at Edutopia. Find student handouts or teacher tools to use later.

There are many great ideas out there that can serve as worthy and not time-consuming professional learning in the summer. Set aside a specific amount of time for this, to ensure that you get quality learning that’s manageable during your holiday.

Sleep on it: Now it’s time to walk away. You’ve done great work and put in some thinking—it’s a good idea to leave your ideas for later, when the school year is about to start. You’ll come back feeling refreshed and with fresh eyes ready to plan some great PBL experiences for your students.

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