Making PBL work: Tips for implementing PBL in schools and in the classroom

 

Kirstine Gonano, Deputy Principal and English/History teacher at Campbelltown Performing Arts High School (CPAHS), reflects on the PBL journey of her school — sharing what works when implementing PBL.

Implementing, evaluating and scaling innovation

There were a number of pre-conditions that enabled Project Based Learning to be implemented and scaled at the school. There is strong leadership support at all levels for teachers to develop, implement and evaluate innovative practices, one of which being Project Based Learning.  The school had established community partnerships and the implementation of Project Based Learning has built upon and deepened these partnerships. The school also has a strong culture of evaluation to understand impact on student learning outcomes of a range of innovative approaches. This is evident through the action learning teams which run across the school investigating new approaches to teaching and learning in the areas of co-created, integrated, connected and personalised learning. Project Based Learning is frequently a pedagogical approach that is used by action learning research teams.

Year 8 students are also engaged in a discrete Project Based Learning course. Teaching and learning programs integrate learning outcomes in cross-disciplinary projects that are clearly connected to real world problems. The course is team taught and teachers are mentored through the planning, programming, assessment and reporting phases of the teaching and learning cycle. This model supports teachers to implement Project Based Learning in a supportive, team teaching environment.

Tangible impact on learners and the community

Project Based Learning has had significant impact at the school and is now being implemented through a number of models across the school. It is implemented by individual teachers or teams of teachers within a faculty, across faculties and as a discrete course for Year 8 students. Project Based Learning is now also being used as a model to integrate and develop student skills as part of STEM programs at the school.

We have undertaken significant evaluation to determine the impact on student engagement and the achievement of learning outcomes and it is clear that project based learning has impacted positively in both of these areas.

Most notably, Project Based Learning has resulted in increased student engagement and deep learning opportunities for students. It has seen students develop future focused skills, such as collaboration, critical thinking, communication and creativity while connecting their learning with the real world and local community.

Project Based Learning has also strengthened partnerships with the community as students have connected with local agencies and businesses, including local council, schools and health care providers. This has resulted in students creating and pitching products and services to address authentic issues in the local and broader community.

Tips for implementing PBL in the classroom

1. Make the learning visible and transparent – provide students with scaffolds and support, make their deliverables clear and transparent throughout the project. Use a project wall to outline the progress of the project as a whole and allow students to visibly track their progress on the project wall. This should include key components of the project including the driving question, sub-questions, deliverables and timeline. It will help hold everyone to account and provide visibility of progress for teachers and students alike.

2. Co-create and co-design products and learning with authentic audiences as much as possible. Allow students to tap into the knowledge and skills of experts and adults in the real world. Provide opportunities for students to contact experts for research and to obtain feedback and critique from them. There are more resources and knowledge in our local communities than we realise. Teachers and adults within and across schools can provide expertise as well as parents, community agencies and local businesses. People are willing to help, we just need to ask!

For an example of a successful PBL project run by CPAHS, click here.

By Kirstine Gonano. Kirstine Gonano is Deputy Principal and English/History teacher at Campbelltown Performing Arts High School.