What is PBL?
PBL- Project-based learning or sometimes Problem-based learning is one of the educational acronyms with two meanings and this has raised debate over which term is accurate in the education world or more importantly, which kind of instruction is more valuable. Educators argue about the meaning of this acronym because some teachers use this term incorrectly and therefore do not get the point of the word altogether. I have seen these arguments online and in person and as a mother I feel like shouting “Don’t make me come back there!” In the end, it is the misconceptions that occur when applying these terms that cause the problems. Project-based learning has a negative connotation because of the teachers who think this is the instructional strategy they are using when they ask the students to create a slide show about a country that nobody will ever really see. This is not PBL. Because you call the end product a ‘project” does not mean it is authentic learning so it does not fit in my personal definition of PBL. Some people will argue that some over achieving students will create amazing projects that will be detailed creative projects, but this will not be every student. Some will be asking, “What is the point?” Also, some teachers give the student a problem and consider this PBL. For example, a teacher may tell the students to plan a trip to a country. This is a great start but without guidelines and facilitating more learning than this beginning prompt, some students will not learn the objectives for the lesson, some overachievers will, but not all students. Also, PBL has been accused of taking more classroom time. I argue that IF done correctly, it does not. It just requires different class time. If the learning is worthwhile, valid, and reaches the same objectives as reading the chapters does, then it takes up the same amount of time and it is more effective. However, it is seldom implemented correctly because of the inherent confusions in the definition. It is sad when so many teachers have good intentions of using PBL but do so without fidelity and then give up because the end results were not what they were promised. (isn’t this true with any implementation)
RWL and what does it mean?
Therefore, to end confusion I like to consider the pinnacle of all lessons I create as RWL which means real world learning. I know I am not the first person to think this because John Dewey (whom I love) explained this concept years ago so it has been explained and reexplained in may ways but basically I see this real world learning as presenting the students with a real world situation and they need to solve the problem and present how they solved it with guidance along the way. (a combination of project and problem based learning) I propose as teachers that we think “RWL” before every lesson we write this year. We should start with a problem with objectives and the students create their own project using whatever tools they need to get the job done.
For quality RWL lessons they need to include:
1. a scenario for the student with decisions to be made
2. rubric of parts to include or consider, definite time restrictions and the limitations presented at beginning
3. scheduled checkpoint meetings with teacher to make sure all students are working and learning
4. list of objectives for the teacher to make sure the students are covering
5. time and place to present findings to more than just the teacher (in class, brochure, to an expert, on a blog, etc)
6. project evaluation and rebuttal process
7. Along the way there WILL need to be “organized chaos” which means different students on different tasks.
For each grade and subject these components will look differently but they are all very important for the RWL process. For example, an elementary class may need to create a Wax Museum of the most important people in history. The teacher may offer a list of websites for information and a list of questions for the group to consider about their museum. The students would be assigned museum jobs and need guidance to prepare. Also, each student can be told they will play a character for the wax museum and need to find their own facts for their display. The other students can be the visiters to the museum. I have done something similar and it was a huge learning success that took time, but it was quality time. I once took a college history class where the professor assigned us a person to role play as the president’s cabinet and presented us with a problem each week. The professor played the president and the rest of us had to advice him as we would have if we were that person. I never worked so hard for any other class. I learned so much. Since this class was taught twenty years ago (but I still remember) I may now want to create a social media account as that person for anther way to present what I learned.
So lets start thinking of RWL lessons instead of spending our time arguing over if the P in PBL stands for project or problem. Lets focus on RWL which encompasses both and is embedded with student technology integration or real world skills aka 21st century skills, aka college readiness skills, (oh no here we go again arguing over terms). Let’s just say that our world has student technology use embedded into their daily lives and our lessons should be too to make them truly REAL WORLD LEARNING. The details of how are for a different blog.