Project-based learning (PBL) is a trend that’s spreading faster than a wildfire during a drought. Why? Because research on PBL proves that it increases student engagement and achievement, and helps students develop the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in their future careers.

For PBL to reach its full potential, though, educators must learn to step back and be facilitators in the classroom, a change that requires thoughtful and ongoing professional development. Here, three educators offer their insights on what it takes to roll out and support a successful PBL implementation.

Give Teachers Autonomy, Flexibility

Art Fessler, superintendent, Community Consolidated School District 59

Learning in District 59 reflects the real work being done in the world, empowers the learner, solves real-world problems, and provides for student agency. We are moving from a traditional means of education to an environment where kids are empowered to learn. PBL has been used in classrooms throughout our district for many years.

However, as we shift into a modern learning environment, I wanted to ensure educators had a shared understanding of what PBL looks like. We made visits to local programs engaging in PBL and worked closely with their administration and coaches to help us identify a path to implementation and develop our own PBL opportunities.

We attempt to build teacher buy-in by allowing voice in the process and autonomy in the design. As a leadership team, we spend a significant amount of time discussing and building a shared understanding of best practices in instruction and leadership so leaders have the requisite skill to inspire and lead. Both building and district leaders are required to spend a portion of their day in classroom and grade-level meetings to gain understanding of the challenges staff face. Asking good questions, collecting data, and providing meaningful feedback all play an important role in building leadership credibility and empowerment.

We have used multiple professional guidance materials and resources including the Buck Institute and Defined STEM. While Buck Institute has helped us kick-start our PBL program by providing educational blogs and actual units, Defined STEM’s project-based learning resources have saved us valuable time spent curriculum planning.

We ensure every resource we provide allows teachers the flexibility to modify and really personalize lessons to meet the needs of their students and provide some level of choice in learning. The bottom line is that we provide educators the tools to make the learning applicable and engaging, and to prepare our students to be successful for life.

(Next page: More advice on PBL success)


Add your opinion to the discussion.