As the school year draws to a close, educators naturally focus upon the rest and relaxation offered by summer vacation. Although the opportunity for a much-needed break is both appealing and necessary, teachers have the ability to use a portion of their time away from the classroom proactively in order to reduce the stress of planning “in the moment” during the following school year. One particular area of planning that can be of great benefit to educators over the summer surrounds project-based learning (PBL). The following steps serve as a guide to assist educators with balancing planning and summer relaxation in order to be well-prepared and rejuvenated for the beginning of the school year.
Decide What to Keep and What to Trash
Reflecting upon the PBLs used throughout the previous school year in order to determine their overall effectiveness is an important first step in PBL planning for the new school year. In most cases, teachers will recognize that some projects worked extremely well, while others produced less than desirable results. When examining the effectiveness of PBL experiences, teachers must take an objective and emotionally detached approach in order to consider the true value of the projects without regard to any personal connections they hold to them. For example, teachers should ensure that projects are standards-based and engaging for students, and not simply favorite topics of their own. Once project effectiveness has been determined, teachers then can decide whether to modify or eliminate them in favor of more relevant and engaging projects during the following school year.
Review Your Project Schedule
Beyond ensuring that PBL experiences are meaningful and productive, teachers also should review their schedule of projects for the school year in order to ensure that they are timed and placed appropriately within the calendar. Teachers must remember that their classrooms are full of students with a variety of learning styles, and while effective PBL experiences appeal to multiple modalities of learning, striking a balance between more traditional forms of instruction and PBL is important.
Variety in instruction is the key to maintaining student interest and enthusiasm. Therefore, ensuring that PBL experiences are well-timed throughout the school year will promote maximum effectiveness and reduce the potential for students to become “project-fatigued” as the school year progresses. As is the case in most areas of life, the quality of PBL is far more important than the quantity, so developing a schedule centered around high quality and engaging learning experiences is tantamount to ongoing success.
Look for New Opportunities
After reviewing and revising their curricular schedules, teachers should examine the scope and sequence of instruction and identify any gaps within their plans. Often, curricular gaps provide excellent opportunities for teachers to incorporate new instructional approaches. The process of bridging gaps in curriculum and instruction is a critical step in promoting student growth, and the use of PBL to assist in this manner provides a framework in which students can develop familiarity with and build mastery of concepts on a personal level within a forum centered around their individual work products as opposed to traditional written assessments.
To a certain extent, grades based on authentic work products provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned from a “big idea” perspective, which allows the instructor to determine whether or not students have accomplished the objective of a unit or lesson series. Additionally, if time remains within the schedule, PBL activities provide outstanding opportunities for growth and enrichment and are easily adaptable for students that are excelling as well as those in need of additional experience with fundamental concepts.
Utilize Online Resources
The instructor’s “best friend” in planning PBL experiences is the World Wide Web. Over the past several decades, the volume of available resources for teachers has expanded at an exponential rate. A brief Google search for “project-based learning ideas” yielded 740 million results. Ultimately, if a teacher is seeking inspiration for quality PBL activities, he or she needs to look no farther than a smartphone or other device with internet connectivity.
As teachers are innately creative, the idea of searching web-based resources for ideas is not a pathway to “cookie cutter” instruction, as educators are able to build off of the ideas they find and adapt them to fit their own instructional goals and their students’ individual needs.
Account for Ample Planning Time
Intentional planning related to PBL activities is non-negotiable. A poorly crafted PBL experience has the potential to create frustration among students and diminish their interest in applying themselves to future PBL assignments. Therefore, teachers should schedule an ample amount of time over the course of the summer months in order to construct effective PBL plans. Waiting until the days before the new school year begins to develop new PBL activities and revise existing projects has the potential to produce activities that are mediocre at best and ineffective at worst. Time used for planning PBL activities during the summer months will result in a less stressful and more rewarding school year for students and teachers alike.