Understanding PBL Through Examples

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Exploring several PBL examples in detail this week has allowed me a few lightbulb moments or so about the focus of projects\process. First and foremost, many of the PBL units I discovered were very much inquiry-based and relied on primary source documents. Additionally, the examples were very student driven in that the students were doing lots of exploration and discovering information through the primary sources. Towards the end of the projects, students were tasked with reflecting on the consequences of the unit (i.e.

This realization occurred much to my relief as this is how I generally teach my classes. We do lots of hands-on primary source analysis and use those documents to answer guiding questions. The only major difference is that my lessons are day to day rather than an integrated, structured approach to a single driving question. As such, I think that it is going to be possible to create a PBL that will still allow me to cover material while simultaneously getting depth.

Despite my increasing comfort with some aspects of PBL, a couple of new concerns have arisen. First, most of the topics in the project seem to fall into one of two types – a) the project topic is very narrow (i.e. putting Truman on trial for dropping the atomic bomb) or b) the project topic is exceptionally broad (does history repeat itself?). Normally this would not be a major concern but the timeframes of the example projects (two to eight weeks in duration) do pose issues. This next semester I will be teaching eight-week sections of US History. That means that my students have to learn an entire semester’s worth of US History content in a short amount of time. Spending two weeks on a mock trial for President Truman won’t work for us. As such I don’t know that the narrow focus is a possibility in my classes. I am learning towards the possibility of a broad question we can revisit each session or week that helps us tie major ideas in history together between the eras.

For those curious, below are the links for the sample PBL units I explored:

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