Don’t jump into project-based learning (PBL) too quickly. But at some point you’ve got to just jump. Does that sound like conflicting advice? Let me explain.

Some teachers jump on the PBL bandwagon—and these days it’s a loud, expanding bandwagon—because they’ve read persuasive articles, seen cool videos, heard inspiring presentations, or been swept up by enthusiastic colleagues. To these folks I’d say, don’t try PBL until you’ve done a bit more reading, gotten some training, or planned your jump with colleagues.

Pulling off a successful project is not easy for most teachers new to the methodology, except for a few “naturals,” so launching your first one without proper preparation is risky. A project that fails epically might permanently scare off teachers and scar students, who would remember that time they wasted two weeks floundering in class, when their group let them down and they worked late putting together that embarrassing presentation or building that stupid diorama, but what did they really learn?

Who are you?
How you prepare for your jump into PBL depends on who you are. If you’re considering PBL, you’re probably an “early adopter,” as explained in diffusion of innovation theory. (If you’re an “innovator” you’re probably not reading this article because you’ve already been doing PBL. If you’re in the “early majority” you might be reading this article but might prefer to wait for the early adopters in your school to show you that PBL works and how to do it. I assume people in the “late majority” or “laggard” end of the scale are not reading this either.)

Here are some questions to consider about yourself as an early adopter, or bold member of the early majority:

About the Author:

John Larmer is editor in chief at the Buck Institute for Education (BIE), where he oversees all of BIE’s written products and manages its PBL Blog. He wrote and edited BIE’s project-based curriculum units for high school government and economics, and the PBL Toolkit Series. In 2015 he co-authored Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning, published by ASCD. For 10 years Larmer taught high school social studies and English and co-founded a restructured small high school, and he was a member of the National School Reform Faculty and school coach for the Coalition of Essential Schools.