Taming PBL: Project Management

I can guarantee it every time – yes, every time! When we train teachers in PBL 101 we start with a list of “Need to Knows” about PBL. Every time we make this list, EVERY TIME, at least one question is asked about project management. “How do I find the TIME to do PBL?” “I have _________ students in my class, how am I supposed to get them all engaged in PBL?” “How do I make sure that ALL of the students are doing the work?” “What do I do when ___________ happens?” Many educators can come up with a standards-based project idea, driving question and end products, but it is that middle part, the day-to-day planning of the PBL experience that stops them in their tracks. Managing a PBL experience that is authentic and engaging for students is hard work and takes careful planning. I think that Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss said it best in their book, Reinventing Project-Based Learning (download for free from OCM BOCES ASCD collection):

Managing a project requires a 21st-century set of skills. In the business world, a good project manager is a masterful communicator, an efficient time manager, a careful budgeter, and a tireless troubleshooter. These skills can be applied to the world of teaching and learning, too. When you become a successful manager of digital-age projects, you draw on a combination of skills to facilitate your students learning. What’s more, your students learn from your example. Before long, they will begin developing their own strategies for managing their time, collaborating with team members, assessing their progress, and maximizing their learning experiences. (Boss & Krauss, 2007)

Isn’t that what we all want? Students who can use the skills they develop in our classes to drive their own learning! Here’s some advice from experts in the field to help you manage your PBL experiences.

Taming the “Constantly Having to Communicate with Every Student” Beast

  • Create a project calendar with due dates and benchmarks listed on it so students can be self-directed in their learning.
  • Do authentic projects to keep students engaged, and include student voice and choice.
  • Completely plan the project before you launch it to your students which will allow you to communicate to students what you want them to know and be able to do.
  • Use table checklists so students know what is due daily, weekly and for benchmark assessments – this is also a great way to provide a list of steps to complete if you are busy with another group.
  • Set up team reps so you can pull that group and give specific directions they can take back to their team; think about rotating the responsibility of team rep, too.
  • Provide students with rubrics at the start of the PBL experience so they know your expectations for content and quality. Ian Stevenson, BIE National Faculty, wrote a great blog about specific management techniques teachers can use to control the chaos and make the PBL experience more meaningful and productive, such as, team meetings, team rep meetings and creating a self-service classroom.
  • Use team contracts to help student teams manage collaboration and communication.
  • John Larmer, Editor in Chief for Buck Institute of Education, recently wrote a blog, 5 Tips for Successfully Managing a Project, that is organized by tips for the following situations: Some student teams aren’t working well together; some students aren’t doing their fair share of the work in teams; one or more students are frequently absent and miss key project events; students don’t know what to do during independent work time, waste time, and/or get frustrated; and the project is taking too long and your calendar was way off.

Taming the “Lack of Time” Beast

  • Plan your PBL experience so that it assesses SIGNIFICANT content standards, which means that you have to analyze and prioritize your curriculum with your colleagues. PBL is inquiry-based so the expectation is that students will be digging deeply into the content.
  • Plan every PBL experience with content standards + Content Literacy (Reading and Writing for Information) or ELA standards + ELA Speaking and Listening Standards that will be assessed by the student products and presentations.
  • Build 21st Century Skills of Communication, Collaboration and Critical Thinking into all of your lessons, right from the start of the year, so that when you get to PBL experiences, students will have some of the skills they need to work as teams and solve problems.
  • Establish routines for collaboration at the beginning of the year based on BIE’s collaboration rubrics (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12).

Taming the “Resource Restrictions” Beast

  • Create a project wall so students can be self-directed in their learning and provide space for the Driving Question, checklists, rubrics, resource lists, workshop requests, and questions.
  • Use your Library Media Specialist to help you find resources you need for your PBL experience, print and technology.
  • Query your colleagues before the start of a project and see if they have suggestions for materials and services you need to complete the PBL experience.
  • Invite parents and outside experts to become involved in the process.
  • Find an online community network with free classified ads and post a want ad.
  • Search Craigslist for items you need.
  • Apply for a STEM grant (check to see if your local BOCES, colleges or cooperative service providers have grant writers on their team and ask for their help)

Taming the “Roadblocks Thrown in your Path” Beast

This is a great list to get you started. PBL teachers that we coach tell us that managing projects gets easier over time. This happens for several reasons: routines become established, accountability for collaborative behavior and high quality individual and team products become the norms, and, students end up sharing the responsibility of creatively solving problems they encounter as they dig deeply into authentic, meaningful learning. Please post ideas about how you tame the project management beast in your PBL classroom.

Keim_Joanne_SMALLJoanne Keim

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