George Lucas Educational Foundation

Concrete TIPS for Day to Day Implementation of Great Project Learning

Concrete TIPS for Day to Day Implementation of Great Project Learning

Related Tags: Project-Based Learning
More Related Discussions
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share
Let's put concrete tips that help teachers do a better job in the trenches of an actual project. As a Project Learning Coach, I get to work with great teacher who generously share their successes. I would like to dedicate this first TIP to Nadirshah Velasquez. How to make the creation of the Know-Need to Know list a more successful and ACTIVE process: Prior t Nadirshah's suggestion, I used to create the Know-Need to Know list by the traditional "Teacher asks kids to think, and waits for kids to raise their hands and offer ideas." Naturally, when using this strategy, the same 33% of the kids participate, and the rest can all too easily 'check out into "dead time."' Here is how Nadirshah set it up. Have kids begin with “private think time” where they each create their own ‘Know-Need to Know’ list, and write at least 3 items in each column. Then, pair them up and have them share their lists, AND create 3 new items that were not on either of their lists prior to pairing up. Now, all students should have plenty to share. You can choose how you have them share ‘up’ to the class at this point. Some ideas are: collect them at the board as with traditional instruction (kids call out, and teacher writes on the board); have kids post to a wiki or google apps page; have kids show on their fingers how many they have on each list, and choose the ones with the most items to go first, then see if others have anything to add. My favorite part of this strategy is that after the Know-Need to Know list is created, and after Nadirshah has posted the list high on the wall, and added a blank sheet of chart paper underneath (to capture future items as the project progresses), Nadirshah returns to the list, chooses one of the “Know” items and asks the students, “How do you know this? How do you really know this? What does it mean to know this? What parts of this do you know, and what parts of this don’t you know?” I think this is part of training to ask good questions, and training for critical thinking, AND training kids to know what they know ‘for sure’ vs. what they superficially know. Does anyone have other TIPS to suggest that will make Project Learning a more active and engaging process? Let me suggest some categories that you might put in your subject line, in case we want to break these out into separate threads down the road: Kicking off a Project – Day One Holding kids accountable to daily/weekly work Managing High Performance Teamwork (Slacker Hardball) Coaching High Quality Presentations Coaching Outside Adults on how to be part of a Panel Coaching kids how to interact with outside adults

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

Comments (8) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Armando Di-Finizio's picture
Armando Di-Finizio
Principal of a Secondary School in Bristol, UK

One of the issues I initially found when piloting PBL to a whole year group was in ensuring all students progressed in their learning. I wanted them to have freedom, but at the same time it was obvious to us that some students would exploit this. We also wanted to create more space for teachers to work with the more disaffected (we are in an inner city high school the students were 13yrs).

The TV program 'Brat Camp', gave me the idea of creating graduation stages for our students. These are as follows:
"Asteroid Stage" This is the didactic stage. Students are told what to do, where and when to do it. As they show certain responsibilities (we assess the development of certain dispositions which if any one is interested I can share with you)they graduate to . . .
"Moon Stage". This is the dialog stage, where students are given the opportunity to work more independently for short periods of time. They are given the opportunity to show they can be trusted, but are still well supervised. Graduation from this stage leads to. . .
"Planet Stage". This stage is where the students are given much more independence. They use teachers more as resources and make many more decisions with regards to who they work with, when they will complete certain milestones, the order they complete the project, etc. They also have some say in the planning of future projects. This leads to
"Star Stage". This is the utopia all of us in education dream of. Every school has a few of these students and there is no reason why PBL can't develop more of them. At this stage the students take a real lead in their learning. They plan their learning and lead other students. They see the school as a resource base and use teachers as facilitators and learning resources.

With the exception of the last stage perhaps, these stages are not dependent on academic ability. All our students are reaching for the stars, after two years they are not there yet, but some are getting close.

Nadirshah Velasquez's picture
Nadirshah Velasquez
10th & 11th Grade PBL English Teacher at the METSA Academy in Carrollton,TX

I would say to start that when I initially thought of students working in teams it was really something along the lines of "Ok, kids, here's the project, here's what you have to do... ready...set...GO!" and in my way of thinking students would somehow magically begin working together and produce for me a wonderful final product that showed the contribution of each of the team members.

Then, when my team teacher and I ran our first project in the classroom we were given a huge reality check--students have no idea how to work in teams. Sure, they might be a part of other teams such as sports or band but when you put them on a team with the purpose of learning academic content, students are at a loss. And interestingly enough, the more I thought about it,I realized most adults don't really know how to work in teams either. I don't remember teamwork skills as part of my high school curriculum.

So, what are some of my big take-aways from my experiences so far?

First, as teachers, we need to throw away our assumptions that students know how to work in teams because they don't. Teamwork is not natural skill for most. If we're going to put students in teams to complete a project, we better have some clear expectations to share with them as to what we define as teamwork and collaboration within the classroom.

Second, teachers need to have accountability structures in place to allow students to communicate with each other and with the teacher when something is not working within the team.Conflict is also a natural process of working in teams and students need to be taught healthy ways to manage that conflict. Having students create a team contract, for example, or having the class create a list of norms that will set the tone for teamwork are both strategies I've used before to create a culture of collaboration in the classroom.

Lastly, the skill of collaboration and teamwork is on most of the lovely lists of 21st century skills that research has shown our students are not ready for when they get into the workplace. So...if we're trying to prepare our students for the business world, let's shake off our teacher hats for a bit, and start reading a little bit of business management literature. Walk into the business management section of the bookstore and you'll come into a wealth of resources and book after book on effective teamwork, conflict management, presentation skills and more.

Let's work towards providing for our students opportunities to practice and master the skills they will need to function in the world outside of school. Only then, can we deem our teaching relevant and successful.

Tristan de Frondeville's picture
Tristan de Frondeville
Project Learning Consultant for PBL Associates

Nadirshah, thank you for keeping the ball rolling with your emphasis on the need for teamwork training. Let's remind teachers (as you once taught me!) to gather the issues that come up in the teamwork occuring during every project and create a scenario based instruction day, where the past issues are described on separate pieces of paper (or a powerpoint), and teams work through how they would resolve the problem, and what kind of policies and procedures they would need to put in place in their team and their team contract (or in the classroom as a whole) to prevent the scenario from occuring, or mitigate the consequences of its occurence.

Two books that teachers may find helpful:
"Radical Collaboration: Five Essential Skills to Overcome Defensiveness and Build Successful Relationships" by James W. Tamm and Ronald J. Luyet

"Designing Groupwork Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom Second Edition" by Elizabeth Cohen.

And finally a great video on how one teacher sets up his class for great teamwork.

Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate

Terry Smith is one of my favorite PBL practitioners. One of his many common-sense ideas for improving teamwork is to suggest that his fourth-graders "go have a meeting" to iron out differences. Teaching them how to navigate that struggle--by clearly expressing (and defending) their ideas, negotiating compromises, reaching consensus--is all part of getting students into what he calls "project mode."
Similarly, I remember watching a high school student lead a meeting of her peers and adults for a community service project. She arrived prepared, with an agenda and specific items that needed action by the end of the meeting. And unlike the endless meetings that many of us have sat through, this one moved right along--and got some important work accomplished.
So I'd suggest teaching students how to run effective meetings as another strategy for improving teamwork. It's a skill they can use to their advantage for many years to come.
(Terry shares more of his PBL management ideas in this Edutopia story:

Jan Gjurgevich's picture

I am very interested in improving our high school exceptional education students communication skills and teamwork during our service learning projects. I am looking for some teaching strategies that introduce the basic concepts for learning how to share ideas.

Tristan de Frondeville's picture
Tristan de Frondeville
Project Learning Consultant for PBL Associates

Please view this edutopia video ( to get ideas on how to use the fishbowl to get kids to shift from a 'culture of the right answer' to a 'culture of explanation' and then go to this website to learn about the final word protocol as a method of teaching students to process text-based information, and to learn to share their ideas in a safe, yet purposeful fashion. The Final Word is a protocol from the National School Reform Faculty, and they have many more ideas here (

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

I always get the kids to sign a contract or agreement at the start of a PBL, which stipulates what is expected of both them and their teachers.

I also like them to blog, in the final 10 minutes of a session, what they've done, what they intend to do, and what troubles they might have faced or overcome.

Blogging is good, because it's there for all to see, but a paper-based learning journal would work as well.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

I've also had great success with organising, during the PBL time, individual or small-group conferences, where we review the learning that has taken place.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.