“Are you going to make us craft as homework a home-made California mission in middle school and high school?”  


Sometimes when educators speak about project based learning (PBL), parents, students, and other educations think that what we mean by project based learning are at-home activities which kids are assigned as an extension of their classroom learning, and which parents often bear the burden of.

As regular readers know, I am passionate about the importance of project based learning as a core component of 21st century learning and of “becoming a school of the future.”   But I am equally passionate about the importance of being more precise about our definitions of and standards for high quality PBL, and carefully distinguishing it from learning extensions or enrichment via “activities.”

So I am delighted to see the fine educators of High Tech High, which is proudly a high quality PBL school, offering videos to clarify further what is and what isn’t high quality PBL.   In one video, entitled, What PBL isn’t, teacher Jeff Robin explains carefully what PBL isn’t is Project Oriented learning.   (I really wish I could embed these videos here, but I could not get the video embed code to work.  Apologies, but follow the link).

Project oriented learning looks something like this: First, teachers decided they need to teach students everything they need to know, getting all the basics down first, and then they ask students to do a project about what they learned.

“All right kids, two weeks to go in the semester,” the teacher says “ok,  kids let’s make a project.” The project is oriented toward the things the kids have been learning in class.  Then the kids do the project and then do the exhibition or presentation.  There might be some smart things in there, but it is not PBL because  the kids did not have to learn all these things to get the project done,  the project didn’t run the semester: the semester ran and then kids did the project.   

The opposite of love isn’t hate, it is indifference; the opposite of PBL is Project oriented learning, not straight lecturing.

In a second, and also very helpful video, Robin offers what PBL is.

PBL goes something like this:  You decide what the students need to learn, and you develop a project, and you reverse engineer the content into the project.  Then you do the project yourself, that way you know the pitfalls, you know what the deliverables will be, and you know what tasks are involved.  Then you introduce it to the students, you have a management scheme to get the students to to do the work: you want to design it so nobody falls between the cracks and noone can game the system.  You know how to support them because you have done it yourself and through revision and critique you create a beautiful project.

Then you have an exhibition, and you really need to have an exhibition because that is what makes it real.

And just one more thing: Do the Project Yourself,  Do the Project Yourself:  It will pay off huge in the end if you do the project yourself: First.

My thanks to HTH and Jeff Robin for these helpful videos; onwards in the work of supporting our educators in designing, developing, and implementing high quality PBL.