classroom structure PBL projects reflection

Creating PBL 3.0

I have been on my project-based learning journey for a while now. This blog has served as the main receptacle for my inspirations, ideas, successes, failures, and reflections. It is now time to document my next step: wide scale revision.

This post will be divided into two main sections:

  1. A look back at the posts that brought me to this point. (Reading them may provide some context, but not reading them will provide you with more free time…your call)
  2. A look ahead into my revisions and their rationale. I will describe the new administrative and assessment framework around the projects and provide links to the first completed framework online.

Now that we have that out of the way, I guess we should start with section one.

1.      My views on PBL have varied drastically as I have experienced it first hand. My initial vision for the course was one of infinite possibilities. Students would develop their own projects and follow them out to fruition. I would provide the supports for them to do so. Only after I tried to do this myself did I find that good projects are hard to find, and even harder to create. My initial (naive) vision can be read here:

As I re-shaped this initial vision, I discovered that there was a lot more support for these teaching ideas than I originally thought. Every time I found an excuse not to pursue the goal, it was addressed. My skills at project creation were growing and views of prominent educators worldwide began to solidify my belief that a completely project-based class was possible. My solidified vision can be read here:

        I gathered support and launched two courses that were project-based. I included good problems and tasks for students to learn the basic skills and they were then solidified and utilized in their projects. During the semester, I had a number of roaring successes–both with problems and projects. Students were buying into the deep learning available to them. My largest project success can be read here:

        The semester ended and I had a chance to reflect. I knew the students had learned on a deep level, and I left most days surprised with the complexity of their thought and initiative. Upon reflection, I highlighted areas that the class needed to improve on. These included the technology, group work, and assessment. I wanted the course to get stronger in all three areas. My rationale and reflection can be read here:

That brings us to the next step along the path.

2.     My solution to the three major issues addressed above was to implement a continuous feedback assessment structure. That would keep groups accountable as well as improve the formative and summative assessments on the projects. I dubbed the framework, “Project Binders”.

Each group has a unique project binder for each project. The projects are no longer allotted a clump of time in which groups are required to produce the final product. I found this approach left quite a few students lost along the way. Every group would come up with a product, but many would be missing key developmental stages along the way. The project binder clearly truncates the project time into “stages”. The students are responsible for a certain sub-section of the project during that stage. Each stage is discussed orally, worked on within the group, and assessed by a “stage rubric”. A binder includes two copies of each stage rubric–one for the group to use and one for the teacher.

Along with the stage rubrics, students fill out a daily log to infuse the process with self-evaluation. Students are asked who was present, what they accomplished, what their next steps are, and if there were any issues they needed to report. Issues could be anything from a lack of white glue to a slacking team member.

Also included in the binder is a cover page, a calendar page, and a group contract. The calendar page will be put into a clear sheet protector. That way students can write deadlines, stage assessment days, and teacher-group meeting days right into their binder. Each binder comes equipped with a fine-tip dry-erase marker.

The group contract outlines the responsibilities of each member for the duration of the project time. If a group takes issue with a member’s conduct, they can fill out a “issue” on the daily log form. A meeting with me decides a future course of action. If the problem persists, that student can be found in violation of the contract and will be forced to form their own group. If this occurs, the student and I will negotiate the amount of appropriate overlap between their new project and their previous group’s.

I plan on setting this all up with a set of dividers and leaving plenty of room for the students to hole punch work from the stages and place it right in the binder. (Calculations, geometric drawings, brainstorming, etc.)

My goal, for this year, is to take a step back from technology. I want to refocus my efforts; I think it became a distraction at times last year. I also want to make these project binders accessible to a large number of teachers. I have abandoned the class wiki in favour of a paper calendar and physical progress sheets. It is my hope that this method appeals to more educators.

I have developed a set of templates for each page in a “project binder”. I have also developed the specific contents of the “Pop Box Project” project binder. I believe that the new structure will not kill the innovation from the original project. (Linked above). I have posted all the files I have to date on my personal wiki page, and will continue to post the binders as I develop them.

Download the project binder templates from the heading on the top navigation bar.

All I ask is that you use the material and provide feedback so we can make this process continually better. I am sure that this is not the last chapter of my PBL story.


2 replies on “Creating PBL 3.0”

I really like your continuous feedback assessment structure. As I think about my math students, they need that continuity of feedback to know if they are doing something correct or not and if their progress forward to worthwhile. I found your blog through and I am glad I stumbled across that. I want to use more PBL in my math classroom and this looks like a great place to start. What age students/math classes are you using these ideas with?

@Mrs. Belyea
I have created two courses of this PBL style. First is grade 10 (age ~15) and the other grade 11 (age ~16). I only teach the gr. 11 one this year. That is the course I am piloting the structure in.
"they need that continuity of feedback to know if they are doing something correct or not and if their progress forward to worthwhile."
I am careful to label student project work as correct. The assessment structure is largely to get them moving down a path toward product creation. Some aspects, like calculations, should be accurate, but large ideas, patterns, musings, or curiosities are tough to label as "correct" or "incorrect". PBL opens up the task to many avenues of worthwhile thought.
Thanks again for reading.

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