Meaningful projects—the ones that engage students and set the stage for deep learning—don’t happen by chance. Summer can be prime time for good project ideas to percolate. By keeping your eyes open for project possibilities, test-driving technology tools, and perhaps engaging in some do-it-yourself professional development, you’ll be primed to get off to a fast start with PBL in the fall.
Here are six suggestions to make the most of summer opportunities.
- Watch the headlines. News items can lead to timely, relevant projects. Keep your eyes open for “ripped-from-the-headlines” project possibilities. For example, is extreme weather affecting your community this summer? Students might investigate the relevant driving question: How can we help our community conserve water during the drought?
- Connect with the PBL community. Build your social network of PBL-friendly colleagues (including me @suzieboss and co-author Jane Krauss @jkrauss). You’ll discover a global community eager to share resources and offer feedback on project ideas. Follow #pblchat on Twitter to join weekly discussions focused on PBL topics (Tuesdays, 5 p.m. Pacific/8 p.m. Eastern, moderated by PBL experts from @newtechnetwork).
- Test-drive tech tools. If you’re hoping to integrate more digital tools into next year’s projects, give yourself a chance to test-drive some technologies outside the classroom. Use your mobile phone to make a video story about a vacation. Practice your podcasting skills by interviewing a family member about a cherished memory. Take a virtual trip to Angkor Wat, Pompei, or another world heritage site via Google World Wonders Project (google.com/culturalinstitute/worldwonders). Consider how these tools, and more, could extend learning opportunities for your students.
- Collaborate en plein air. PBL often involves teacher collaboration, but that doesn’t have to mean sitting together in a stuffy conference room. Plan some informal “walk and talks” to discuss project ideas with your PBL partners. You’ll bring fresh perspectives (and fresh air) into your conversations.
- Plan your own adventure. An entry event that fires up students’ curiosity is a great way to start a project. Now’s your chance to try an entry event yourself. For example, you might be planning to launch an environmental science project by having students take a stream walk to look for evidence of pollution or wildlife habitat. Or perhaps you’re planning to launch an investigation of world conflicts by visiting a memorial site. Do these experiences create an emotional connection to the content? Do they cause you to ask questions or wonder why? Those are good indicators that you’re on the right track with your entry event idea.
- Do-it-yourself professional development. Extensive resources are available to help you plan effective projects. Find project planning tools and a searchable project library at the Buck Institute for Education (bie.org). Explore the video collection showcasing PBL in action at Edutopia (www.edutopia.org).
Perhaps a summer book study is in your plans. Thinking Through Project-Based Learning: Guiding Deeper Inquiry includes a discussion guide (Appendix B), as well as a professional development guide (Appendix C) and more suggestions to build your PBL bookshelf.