George Lucas Educational Foundation

Project Learning: Teachers Discuss the Daily Challenges

A team of eighth-grade teachers compares notes on the trials and rewards of working together on project-based "expeditionary" learning. More to this story.
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Project Learning: Teachers Discuss the Daily Challenges (Transcript)

Paul Clifford: When we started this process twenty years ago, what it looked like then and what the products looked like then were very different than they look like now.

Voice Over: These teachers at King Middle School in Portland, Maine, are pioneers of expeditionary learning, a teaching method that uses project based learning and real world experience to engage students and encourage collaboration.

Paul Clifford: And now we're fine tuning more than we were. Before, we were sorta going at it with a hatchet and we were hacking stuff to pieces, 'cause we didn't all understand what was going on and a lotta people were resisting the change. But now, I think it's fine tuning a product to a certain extent.

Teacher 1: Yeah.

Teacher 2: I do know that after our first expedition, the thing that we all sat back and looked at was, prior to when you had parents' open house, you would go and select the best and put that on the wall, and you would hide the others in the drawer. And with the [inaudible] expedition, every end product was just unreal. From your gifted student to your special ed student, every end product was unreal. So we bought into it, and we said okay, and then developed the other expeditions. As long as it was relevant and we also made sure that it was curriculum driven, not just pie in the sky, but driven by our curriculum.

Paul Clifford: Yeah.

Teacher 3: Yeah, and just one piece that I think is one of the most challenging things about expeditionary learning practice is that when you have seven adults around a table who are trying to figure out what they're gonna make with kids, it's very difficult to have a really deep, meaningful conversation around curriculum and how that's all gonna fit together if you don't actually have the thing made and can look at it and say, "For science, I know how I can contribute to that, or for math, I know how I can contribute to that." And if the thing that you make doesn't match everybody's needs, then you can change it so it does match everybody's needs.

So I'm hoping that our work around getting exemplars made in advance will help that whole dialog around how to connect the kind of learning that's most important. Instead of just making the thing we can make, we're making the thing we can make because it makes the most sense for learning.

Paul Clifford: And the debrief piece is a huge thing at the end of an expedition. The kids give us feedback and they're the real-- in my opinion, they're the real places where we want feedback, because they point out things that we may not get, or it may not be a direct feedback. It may be

You notice that none of them get one idea, or that all of them-- only 30 percent of them completed this aspect of it, or this assignment, getting ready for it. And a lotta times, that's where you can really see how they struggle with certain aspects of it.

Gus Goodwin: To me, what's challenging in an expedition is the schedule, is like, it's just so hard to predict where the kids are gonna be. And you know, sometimes if they wanna go off on this, you know, kinda dig a little deeper, it kinda throws everything off and it just-- so having that deadline is tricky for me.

Teacher 3: Yeah, I think deadlines, 'cause like we had a snow day.

Teacher 4: We had the flu.

Teacher 3: And it killed us. I mean, that was a work day. We had one expedition where it was a culminating event, was a dinner for about 150 people on a Friday and we had a snow day.

Paul Clifford: Twice, right?

Teacher 3: Yeah, twice. And we're panicking. And just to find the space or what to do with it, but it all works.

Teacher 2: So it all comes down to the way we approach it as teachers and how we organize for kids' learning, using the laptops. So we've been asking people to look at putting these learning materials and organizing these learning materials in an index, online, so that when we ask kids to go and do this kind of research, they're not off in left field. And when we tell them that they're accountable for finding good information, we know that information's out there, because we're already organized it and it's there, so we hold them accountable in the same way we've always held them accountable. But we used to do it-- I remember in the old expeditions, at the beginning of an expedition, you would hand out a big journal of all the reading assignments, in a binder.

Teacher 3: We'd go to the library and get all the books that--

Teacher 2: Every single thing would be all there. And now what we're saying is, that's still the right way to do it, except we have a huge world of options open to us, and now that means we can grab so many better pieces. But again, it ups the ant in terms of planning. We have to plan harder and plan better and we have to make sure that we have what I call the developmentally appropriate materials for all learners.

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis


  • Karen Sutherland

Coordinating Producer

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Camera Crew

  • Gilberto Nobrega
  • Kevin Kalunian

Production Assistant

  • Doug Keely


  • Carl Bidleman

Support for Edutopia's Schools That Work series is provided, in part, by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Teacher and School Planning Guides:

Rubric: Buck Institute for Education Planning Template (


Form: Casco Bay - Expedition Planning Template ( 568K)

Guidelines: Casco Bay - High School Expedition Guidelines ( 568K)

Rubric: Casco Bay - Making Meaning: Critical Thinking & Reading Strategies ( 568K)

Sample Teacher Schedule from King Middle School (From Edutopia article, Sample Teacher Schedule for Middle School.) ( 500K)

Rubric: King Middle School Six Steps to Planning a Successful Project ( 80K)

Graphic: Audio Recording Tips ( 1.1MB)

Chart: Evolution of Project Learning at King Middle School (1988 - 2007) ( 240K)

Graphic: Tips for Taking Photos


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Comments (2) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

alixinlee's picture

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jollinlewis's picture

project based learning platform acquaints and also acknowledges more ideas about real-world problems and challenges.Perfect opportunity given through this learning techniques have contained that much capacity to achieve expected knowledge easily.Josh Warren

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