What kind of professional development (PD) is needed in order for project-based learning (PBL) to be done well, spread throughout a school, and stick?

Short answer: a lot.

Long answer: participant-driven, interactive, ongoing, job-embedded, and… a lot.

And by PD I don’t just mean traditional training workshops, and I don’t mean only for teachers. Here are 5 points I’d offer about PD for PBL, based on what the Buck Institute for Education has learned by working with more than 80,000 teachers and school leaders:

How to make sure your #PD for #PBL is on point

1. Make sure teachers and school leaders understand what it means to shift to PBL.
PBL is not just another tool that can be dropped in a teacher’s toolbox. It represents a profound change in thinking about how students should learn. It is based in John Dewey’s concept of experiential education and the more recent theory of constructivism, which holds that learners construct knowledge and understanding and build skills through an active process. This contrasts with traditional teaching, which is based on the idea of transmitting knowledge to students, as if it were being poured into an empty head.

PBL also means rethinking what students should learn. It does not mean “covering” a long list of content standards—which is not the same as “teaching” anyway. Students still need some basic knowledge, even in this age of information at our fingertips, but more importantly they need to know how to apply it. PBL emphasizes depth over breadth, depth over superficiality, and the ability to think, solve problems, and tackle real-life issues. (Note: Of course, this point bumps into the issue of what’s being tested in our assessment system, but that’s for another post.)

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.


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