The four P’s, Planning, Preparing, Products, and Performances are key to the development of an effective PBL project. Part of the planning stage is preparing the project tasks and detailing them for the students. Creating an entry event that will grasp the students’ attention and draw them into the project is the first step in planning. Thereafter, each project task needs to be carefully prepared so that both students and fellow instructors understand the requirements and expectations.
Scaffolding instruction so that each student is equipped to complete the expected tasks is vital to effective PBL. Each student may need support in different areas and it is the responsibility of the instructor to manage the needs of the individual as well as the needs of each group. Additionally, students need a fair amount of structure while progressing through PBL. Without structure, students are likely to wander aimlessly through the tasks, often getting sidetracked. A well-prepared student or group will stay on track and produce a much better product than an ill prepared or unguided group.In PBL, the instructor’s role shifts from the transmitter of information to managing the process of learning.While voice and choice are also vital to a successful project, students should be given clear guidelines as to what is expected. In her article Scaffolding in PBL, author Jamie McKenzie explains eight characteristics of scaffolding:
- Scaffolding provides clear directions
- Scaffolding clarifies purpose
- Scaffolding keeps students on task
- Scaffolding offers assessment to clarify expectation
- Scaffolding points students to worthy sources
- Scaffolding reduces uncertainty, surprise and disappointment
- Scaffolding delivers efficiency
- Scaffolding creates momentum
The timing or pacing of PBL can often be a struggle for the facilitator. As I am developing my PBL Ecology Project, I am clear on the tasks that I want the students to complete and the scaffolding that needs to take place. However, until I work through the project the first time with the students, the time required to complete the activities may vary from what I expect. I tend to underestimate the time needed, especially if additional scaffolding or mini-lessons are required.
Clearly outlining the products and performances that will be required in a PBL unit helps ensure that the students’ work does not simply get graded, returned, and never looked at again. “A culminating event is the end activity that showcases the content learned and skill development that has taken place during the unit”. A PBL project will almost always end will some sort of presentation that will involve an audience of more than just the instructor and classmates. The hard work and dedication that the students have put into the project should be highlighted and celebrated. Parents, administrators, and people from the community may be invited to view the presentations.