A Journey into PBLs and DT

There is a lot of buzz around the world of education about teaching students 21st Century Skills. These skills include collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity.  The trouble is that sometimes, traditional instructional methods don’t teach all of those things.

Educators are realizing that students need to be prepared for a future we can’t even really imagine.  Culture and technology are changing so quickly that the jobs my 8th grade students will have don’t even exist yet.  So I need to be preparing them not just with knowledge, but the skills to learn, to persevere, to think beyond boundaries, and to work with others.

The first time I heard of Project Based Learning was when I was taking courses for licensure in Gifted and Talented Education.  In that class, I had to develop a PBL unit and then implement it in my class.  It was hard.  My own thinking had to change, and the project I gave the students was big and challenging and beyond their comfort zone.

It was great!

For two years, I put PBLs into place in my honors class.  This year, I’m also developing them for my regular level classes.  In fact, our entire school is moving toward a Design Thinking Model — very similar to PBL, but with additional emphasis on empathy and creating prototypes.


This year, every class I teach will do at least one PBL / DT unit.  The honors class will work with our local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters to develop a advertising campaign for them — aimed at both kids who need Bigs and adults who might be interested in being a Big.

My eighth grade class is working on re-designing my 7th grade course.  They have to come up with books I can teach that will be interesting to the students in my class.  (In the photo, my eighth graders are interviewing fifth graders to find out what kinds of books they like.  This is part of the Empathize step of DT.)


And my seventh grade class will think about what makes a classroom a good learning environment — especially what kind of seating is best.  (Flexible?  Traditional?  I’m still making that decision myself, so they are going to come up with prototypes!)

The longer I teach, the more I realize that learning never ends.  I must continue to learn and adapt in order to bring my students the best education I can.  This is part of my journey.


2 thoughts on “A Journey into PBLs and DT

  1. This is so interesting! At work we’ve been doing some learning modules about communication. On one of them I had to retake the test three times because I could NOT figure out the best answers regarding how to communicate with coworkers. This was not a surprise – communicating with coworkers is one of my weakest areas. It seems like the type of learning you describe would naturally help students get better at communication.

    • I gave my honors classes an experiment assignment — something they had to work together to do, but there were a lot of challenges and frustrations. Thankfully no one killed any teammates, but it was a near thing! I had them talk today about how they could have communicated better in order to avoid the tempers and irritations. We’ll see how the rest of the project pans out!

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