The 5 phases of project-based studying –

The 5 phases of project-based learning

by Drew Perkins, Director of TeachThought PD

Project-based learning experiences can range from highly complex in scope, scope, and timeframe to much simpler versions with limited complexity and sophistication.

The continuous line in all of these cases is a series of steps or phases that encompass specific functions and practices designed to help leverage specific outcomes. With that in mind, here is an overview of the PBL process through the lens of five phases to help educators better understand the big picture so you can plan and implement the details within these phases more effectively.

One of the ways we often talk about project-based learning in our Foundation of PBL workshops is by using Bloom’s taxonomy as an overlay of sorts. While there are some legitimate criticisms of this framework, and perhaps others that some prefer, I think it is useful because of its simplicity and widespread teacher familiarity with it. In our workshops when we discuss the idea of Using project-based learning to flip Bloom’s taxonomy for deeper learning it often creates ‘a-ha’ moments. So I thought it would be useful to include in the accompanying graphic a brief explanation of the connections in the last paragraph of each phase below.

Phase 1: project planning

Before you start your project with your students, you need to do the right planning. This generally occurs without student input, although I’ve seen rare instances where students are able to help shape PBL experiences with the guidance of an experienced educator. Most teachers have a set of content standards and learning objectives that they are responsible for, and the risk of working with students to plan projects together is that the plan and project may not include those outcomes, perhaps because the project is largely inconsistent aimed at the students found interesting.

I’m not suggesting that teachers should disregard student interest, quite the contrary, but it is in the project planning phase that teachers set the cognitive path and thought journey that they want their students to go through. With that path clear and a driving question and student products aligned with those thinking and learning goals, it’s time to plan the schedule, including the scaffolding and assessments.

At this stage the students are not yet active in the project and the teachers identify the things that they need to understand and understand remember (Blossoms). These are the knowledge and concepts that you should have them think critically about during the project, and you should consider which are just basic knowledge to remember and which lend themselves to meaningful application for deeper learning and understanding .

Phase 2: Project start

With your planning complete, now is the time to invite the students to be active participants in the project! The start of a project can take a variety of forms and involves some sort of entry event or hook to provide context for students and spark interest. From there you want to present your driving question and authentic audienceboth important tools to unleash critical thinking.

When students join the project at this stage, use your guide question to unpack (and model) the list of questions they need to know to answer this DQ. This need-to-know list and the process required to create it are an integral part of it Why it is so important to create a culture of inquiry. We advocate clarity in terms of product, purpose and audience and a DQ that includes the following create (Bloom’s) or a synonym such as design, development, author, etc.

Phase 3: Project implementation

In this phase of the PBL process, you teach, arm, and assess formatively while encouraging students to learn, think more deeply, and make connections to the content, skills, and knowledge that you (and likely more) identified during the project planning phase. Depending on the scale and scope of your project, you will have several milestones, both related to the process and the product, as well as important content to learn.

In the project implementation phase, engage student cognition with the planned teacher movements from phase 1, which include inquiry exercises, collaborative learning activities, and direct/explicit instruction where appropriate. While sometimes wrongly conflated, PBL is not the same as Discovery Learning. The role of an effective teacher is to determine when to use appropriate teaching strategies. Although some ask PBL or direct/explicit instruction, what works?this is false binary and students should not be left alone to explore or “discover” new knowledge.

As the graphic below shows, several pieces of Bloom’s taxonomy are involved in this phase. In project implementation, we ask students to do this use, analyzeAnd evaluate critical thinking with the content and knowledge (what we want understand And remember).

Phase 4: Project completion

As your project work completes, students and their groups prepare to present their products to an authentic audience. You should also assess each individual summatively to ensure they have learned the content knowledge you intended. In our workshops we suggest some useful splits and balances in terms of classification and accountability, but in general I suggest giving much more weight to individual accountability than to the group.

When students share their findings and likely present their authentic audience to do what you asked them to do create (Bloom’s) we endorse the use of a one-point rubric to help encourage more critical thinking. Once the presentations and reviews are done by them, it’s a good time for that Help students learn how to hold themselves and their classmates accountable. These sometimes difficult conversations can be valuable tools in developing collaborative skills, but it is important to structure them in a way that is appropriate to the development.

Phase 5: Project debriefing

Once the dust has settled and the core of the project is complete, it can be easy to move on, but don’t forget to think! Of course, you should consider what went well in your project and what didn’t. What would you do differently if you used this project again? What adjustments and revisions could you make for future projects?

In addition to your professional reflections, there is much to be learned by encouraging students to do so evaluate (Bloom) their performance and learning in the project. What worked for you and what didn’t and why? This metacognitive process is a great way to solidify learning and think more deeply about yourself as a learner.

From the overall picture to the fine details

The process of planning and implementing PBL is certainly more complex than this article and accompanying graphic illustrate. We can better unpack these types of details in our PBL Foundations workshops and supportive coaching conversations with teachers, and our free PBL workshop tools and resources page, which includes our planning documents and more, may also be useful. However, without a clear overview and understanding of the whole process, teachers can struggle to get PBL right and I hope this explanation and illustration is helpful in that regard.

If you are interested in expanding your school or classroom with PBL, please contact us. We offer school and group workshops as well as our summer event PBL Grow 23 and PBL On Demand for individuals and smaller groups.

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