Project-Based Learning (PBL)

The Role of PBL in Making the Shift to Common Core

December 17, 2013
Photo credit: Photo Dudes via flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Editor's note: John Larmer, Editor in Chief at the Buck Institute for Education (BIE), contributed to this post.

The Common Core has embedded within it some Big Ideas that shift the role of teachers to curriculum designers and managers of an inquiry process. How can project-based learning (PBL) help with this shift?

Big Idea #1: I am a designer.

Common Core calls upon teachers to shift away from writing daily lesson plans and toward carefully mapping out long-range units. Daily lesson planning is important, but it must occur within the context of a larger plan.

PBL Connection: To meet the demands of the Common Core, teachers need a framework for designing units. In PBL, the project is the unit. It requires careful planning from start to finish, as BIE emphasizes in its project planning framework.

Big Idea #2: I facilitate inquiry.

Research and sustained inquiry are emphasized throughout the standards, but most prominently in the writing strand, because written analysis and presentation of findings are critical in both college and careers. To meet the demands of the Common Core, students must be able to build knowledge and expertise through careful reading of increasingly complex texts about the same topic of investigation.

PBL Connection: To meet BIE's 8 Essential Elements of PBL, inquiry must be academically rigorous and position students to pose questions, gather and interpret data, ask further questions, and develop and evaluate solutions or build evidence for answers. Well-designed projects teach students how to be deep, analytical thinkers and require perseverance through the inquiry process.

Big Idea #3: I set students up to dig deep, search for meaning, and craft reasoned arguments.

Common Core requires teachers to shift from promoting a "searching for the right answer" mentality to explicitly teaching students how to dive into texts and search for meaning. Students need ongoing access to inquiry experiences that build their understanding of the world through text, and that explicitly teach them how to support arguments with evidence.

PBL Connection: Projects can be framed around compelling problems, issues or challenges that require critical thinking and prompt students to craft reasoned arguments in response to the driving question. Through balanced assessment in PBL, teachers can assess the critical thinking process as well as products, enabling students to self-assess their critical thinking skills.

Big Idea #4: I create conditions in which students can learn how to persevere.

Perseverance is an underlying theme in the Common Core Standards. To meet the standards, students need to put forth sustained effort through in-depth investigation of issues, building understanding of varying perspectives, reading complex tests, listening carefully, and sharing their reasoning.

PBL Connection: In PBL, students are asked to demonstrate perseverance by analyzing and solving problems, and thinking critically in an in-depth and sustained way. Revision and reflection, one of BIE's 8 Essential Elements, requires PBL teachers to provide students with regular, structured opportunities to give and receive feedback about the quality of their work-in-progress, demonstrate perseverance, and polish their products until they successfully meet the established criteria for success.

Big Idea #5: I integrate content and create relevance.

Common Core requires teachers to move away from teaching skills in isolation and toward the integration of reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language into long-term unit plans. Students should be able to see the relationship between standards as they transfer concepts and skills in the classroom to the world outside the classroom walls. Rather than learning in a decontextualized way, Common Core demands that students have ongoing experiences to learn about the world through reading, and that they understand the relevance of what is taught.

PBL Connection: In PBL, key culminating products are complex in nature and enable students to demonstrate their understanding of a blend of concepts and skills. Well-crafted Driving Questions are both understandable and inspiring to students, and provide a meaningful, authentic context for learning. Projects motivate students to learn because they genuinely find the project's topic, Driving Question and tasks to be relevant and meaningful. Entry events powerfully engage students both emotionally and intellectually, making them feel invested in the project. This provokes students to dive into inquiry and gives them a reason to read, write, listen and speak about the topic of investigation.

Big Idea #6: I facilitate meaningful conversations.

Common Core requires a shift from teachers doing much of the talking to creating conditions in which students can engage in meaningful conversations in which they learn how to use evidence for claims, listen carefully, draw meaning and evaluate others' reasoning.

PBL Connection: Collaboration is a requirement in PBL. When students work in project teams and interface with people beyond the classroom, they have conversations about what they are learning, possible answers to the Driving Question, and how to create project products.

The bottom line for teachers who are wondering how to make the shift to Common Core? Think PBL!

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  • Project-Based Learning (PBL)
  • Curriculum Planning

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