PBL 101 with the Buck Institute, the Genuine Gold Standard in PBL

June 16, 2016 at 2:07 PM 1 comment

Jim Bentley is the presenter for this Buck Institute PBL 101 Introductory Project Based Learning Workshop. His first project he ran was making a running track for his school. This workshop is about running big, compelling, workable, manageable projects where children get to make a real difference in the world and their work is shared with real people outside the classroom.

I was initially skeptical of the BIE method with all the fill-in-the-blank-space planning sheets. It just seemed so onerous and fun-sucking from the joy of coming up with a new project. I was afraid that I would not be able to think up new projects and put my own spin on them. Well, I was wrong. It’s a very helpful structure with some labor-saving sheets and what I’ve learned will lift the projects I’m planning for next year to be more closely linked to standards, better planned ahead of time and will almost certainly save me time and stress during the upcoming, brand new, intensive PBL course 7th grade science has to implement next year. Even better is the real possibility that many of the ways of working with students will be helpful for colleagues working together to implement PBL, and might build collaboration and collegiality amongst staff as well as students. 

The ideal graduate… Skills, knowledge, attitudes and dispositions would a 7th grader have by the end of the year? (Think, Turn and Talk, then ‘Whip Round’ to share out.) Here’s what we shared out: Self confident, able to listen as well as talk, able to compromise but also know how and when to stand up for their ideas. Use evidence to back up their ideas. Feel empowered to share, especially girls as they often go ‘underground’ in 7th grade. Ability to transfer knowledge between disciplines. Know how to find out information they need to know and learn independently. Curiosity, perseverance, respect for each other. Take risks: fail fast, fail forward. Fast Fail, Fast Company at Google X design labs. Global thinker. Effective collaborators. Engaged learner, outcome driven, learning driven. Critical thinker. Self motivated. Self-advocacy with both adults and other students in their groups and class. Resilience and ‘grit’. Leave with a passion for (subject area). Empathy. Organized. Desire to make a real difference in the wider world. Be a ‘fixer’ not a whiner :-). Girls who feel okay about being competent and assertive. Nerds who feel the same. Popular kids who can listen empathically. 

These are NOT really gradable. And the smartest person in the room is… the ROOM:-)

The workbook from BIE is the backbone of the course. The goal is to build one project by the end of 3 days. Norms inc. be on time. Be present, be a good collaborator, treat this as a hand on institute vs a passive conference. Any other norms to be added? Name before you speak. Share the air. ‘Show your sketch’ (we did this literally.) Edutopia blogger Chris Opitz has great resources on building norms with students, fishbowl protocol and more.

“Make just one change: QFT Question Formulation Technique” by Rothstein and Santana in ASCD. Silently have students generate questions around say, an earth science curriculum outline, or some central artifact from a curriculum. Then classify as open or closed ended questions. See p.8 of the BIE workbook. This is iterative. The kinds of question you ask colors the information you get back. Slow students down to think about the kinds of question you ask. You can just date a q then move on :-). Which qs do you REALLY want to answer? Have a back up q. Make a ‘need to know’ list.

Sharing out the qs. they really want to answer can be through a Google slide deck (this has the questions from teachers at the PBL workshop). A google slide deck can have 28 slides, one for each student etc. and keeps a record electronically as well as on chart paper. Record student words exactly and resist the urge to ‘clarify’ or mould the questions. And then periodically through the project, have students either write post-its or use the google slide deck to write in their answers at that point to share their wisdom (This was really cool during the workshop btw. Here is the slide deck with all our answers to the questions teachers had during the workshop – helpful for PD for PBL.)

Here are is the collective wisdom of the group around key questions: How do we handle conflicts in groups? Absences?, How do we build a culture of unity/collaboration in our classrooms? (I really like this idea of the class as a family).  How do we formatively assess? How do we summatively assess? You can enlarge these small photos for a closer look:


PBL Examples: There are loads of curated projects on the BIE website.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 10.10.59 AM

“When we are done, we’re not.” A story of revision and growth. Mark Twain said great writing is never done, its just abandoned.  See “Austin’s Butterfly“about a first grade boy in Idaho at an Expeditionary Learning school. Be helpful, be specific and be kind when making suggestions.

Protocols to try for PD and with Kids:

See the image of the gallery walk and critique of each other’s PBL proposals. Another way is the ‘charrette‘ which is a little smaller than a gallery walk. See the BIE workbook p.10 for a slide on this: Present (Presenter presents their project idea and DQ to a partner. The parner listens 3m, Framing Question: Presenter asks a specific question to frame the feedback. ex What can I make better about…? “How can I improve..” 1m, Feedback: Partner gives suggestions, presenter listens 2m Make sure feedback is helpful, specific and kind. Open Discussion: Presenter and partner have a dialogue about the suggestions/feedback 2m. See a more detailed explanation here. Here is a pic of the poster proposal with post-it feedback.

For how to scaffold a project and ASSESSMENT, see p.30, 32 for Project Assessment Map (PAM). See BIE’s rubrics here.

See Student Learning Guide, fill it out and then go to the Google calendar. Work backwards. Genuinely helpful to have this iteration to continue to refine project ideas. 

For info graphics, see Piktochart and Easel.ly. Don’t forget ExplainEverything app too for visual, white board, pics and voice over. This is for an end products idea.

For an easy way to share student work and keep pics of work, put out anchor papers etc. see Seesaw and contact Laura S. who’s been using it for over a year. She says it’s much easier than Google Classroom.

“Tuning” projects at National School Reform Faculty – also called ‘critical friends’ for how to do this and build culture. Also for ‘fishbowl protocol’. This is really effective for fine tuning our projects with each other in the workshop and could be a very powerful way to change the culture of project/curriculum development as well as with classes.

Here are the basics of the Tuning Protocol: 5m to present your project. Presenter turns their back to the group. 2m to ‘assess’ with a rubric. 3m “I like”, 3m “I wonder if you could…” then the presenter turns back to the group and summarizes what they heard. Then “I have (ideas, suggestions) 3m and finally an open discussion for about 2 mins. Good idea to have this posted.

Example entry events to grab attention to set up the PBL/topic: field trip, provocative reading, startling statistics, puzzling problem, video clip, real or fictitious correspondence, a playful engineering challenge etc. How do you get kids to care about the topic/project?

Protocols we used: Turn and talk, Question Formulation Technique (QFT), Round Robin, Gallery Walk, Charrette Protocol, Tuning Protocol. Think, pair, share. Reflection Line Dance (2 lines, each pair shares the answer to ex. I used to think… but now I think…, I was surprised by… The next thing I will do is ….. Each time, have 2 people go through the tunnel so everyone talks to new people all the time.

Project Design Overview: Helpful to give to an administrator/for admin to require. Look for variety to meet all different kinds of kids. Use different protocols, apps, mix of See the word doc at BIE or the google sheet of Project Design Overview. Also good to have had by now, about 3 or 4 iterations of the projects I’m planning. Not my usual way of working and yet oh, okay, so there is a point and the projects are way better and more tightly planned than the usual seat-of-my-pants project planning. Good news, Marshall and Michael 🙂

First Days of a Project (p.38 in the workbook)

  • Entry event.
  • Driving question
  • Final products
  • Start student question list
  • Project teams formed. Don’t let kids have total free choice. Can be a point of contact for each team and they pick other kids. Balance skills, gender, behavior. Who can you help? What do others have that complement your skills. 
  • Discussion of expectations/norms for teamwork. Can build norms ex. Chris Opitz on social emotional learning and other norm building blogs on Edutopia. 
  • First team meeting: team-building activity on fun, non-content ways. Contract, initial task/to do list. See camp counsellor team building websites for ideas. See teampedia.net (and Marshall, obvs.)
  • Project Documents to have ready:

See BIE student handout page.

  • Project information Sheet.
  • Project Calendar. Can be Google Calendar. Can be displayed in class.
  • Rubric(s).
  • Checklist of requirements.
  • Points/percentages for grading. Decide what you are going to grade.
  • Templates for contracts. Here is an example of a student contract.
  • Task lists, action plans, etc.
  • Team roster for contact info etc.
  • Presentation day schedule.
  • Have a Project Team Work Plan which helps keep the team on track, and helps if a student is absent.
  • Resource list.

Other things to consider/plan for before launching the project:

  • Exemplars. Nice to have an overview calendar too – work time, mini lessons, benchmarks maybe with post-its.
  • Useful to have a status update regularly – may be written and/or meeting face to face.
  • Project wall with the DQ, need to know list of questions, word/cocept list, calendar, checklist of requirements, rubrics, sample products. Can also be on a teacher blog.

Last Day

  • Self and Peer Assessment. Can be online.
  • Project Reflection and Celebration. It’s a major thing we’ve done together.




Entry filed under: Assessment and grading, Class Management, Conference Reports, Project Based Learning, PROJECTS, Starting the School Year, Useful links. Tags: , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Alison Waterman  |  June 20, 2016 at 9:12 PM

    Great reminder of what we learned, Sue. Thanks for posting!



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