Project Based Learning

Posted: July 16, 2012 in 5Rs, learning, PBL, Punk Learning

I have been researching, reading, thinking and pestering (mainly Darren Mead) on Project Based Learning or PBL for probably a whole year now. It’s something that I have wanted to do with my students for a very long time – I was conscious of the fact that if I did attempt it, I wanted it to be right – or at least working towards the essence of what real PBL is about. It was the visit to High Tech High (HTH) by Simon Brown and Jamie Portman that made me pull my finger out – reading, hearing and seeing what they encountered at the San Diego School made me think that this is what every student I teach, could and should experience.

After each of the twelve lessons and post project sessions I wrote my honest reflections about what we did and my thoughts – please excuse the “slap dash” nature of some of the posts – I was going to rewrite them but I quite like the organic flowing nature of them so have maintained them to capture my true feelings.

Everything that I have used, read, created and stole appears at the end of the post.

LESSON 1 Monday 11th June – Period 1

The Launch! For the first 30 minutes or so I talked to the students about the project, why they were doing it, what I expected from them and what we would be learning whilst doing this. A considerable amount of this time was spent explaining about the Public Critique sessions.

The presentation I used can be found in the resources section at the end of this post. The first PP slide was on as they entered the room – which captured interest. Ironically the “comic” style font that I used on the PP wasn’t installed on my classroom PC so it reset the font to a default setting – I used the unexpected opportunity to talk about why I had chosen the font and which font would be best in catching the eye and being engaging. The students really liked the rollercoaster videos and I think that set the scene really well. The collaborative task was good and was interesting to see what they perceived as being key attributes for a “great” learning resource (bright colours, eye-catching fonts – which undoubtedly led from the font chat earlier, engaging images, videos etc).

Students seemed to be a mixture of excited, apprehensive and genuinely frightened at the thought of exhibiting their work to parents and other members of staff. The last 20 minutes or so were spent getting into groups, defining roles, brainstorming ideas and populating the calendar. Interestingly they liked having a portfolio to put all their work in! I circulated and asked what their end product would be – the majority said they were making a comic/comic poster, on reflection I think I may have intentionally directed them to make this decision (ie if this was me doing it, I would do that!) – I need to stop doing this! No students used the PBL board that lesson. Some students asked if I could book  the laptops/ICT breakout area for next lesson – which shows forward planning and self-regulation.

Final feelings – not sure how they took to it, was I more excited than them about this – could they sense my desire for me wanting this to work? I had no sense of if they really took on board the launch – was it good enough? Could the launch have been better? Did I need an “expert” to sell it to them?

LESSON 2 Wednesday 13th June – Period 4

This was our first real lesson on #PBL. I told them during the last lesson I was going to greet them, do the register and then they were on their own. I was a little apprehensive as to whether they were switched on to this – would I have to do another mini launch again? I was genuinely relieved and pleased that many students as they came in asked “are we in our teams Sir?”; “can I get our folder Sir?”. I registered them – very briefly explained some updates to the calendar (I would be out for one lesson and therefore a cover teacher would be in the room* and that we were all missing one lesson for a STEM day) and then……..

Amazed at the team work, self-regulation, work ethic and focus. Although nearly every students asked if they could do this or that – they seemed to want my affirmation for their decisions (which I suppose is fair enough) this is what they were working on

  • many were researching Physics (gravity, forces, speed etc) – majority were putting stuff into PP 😦
  • some were collecting eye-catching images to use
  • several were starting on their first draft of their comic by hand
  • one group were experimenting with which comic software to use – they ended up looking at Pixton (I gave them no help what so ever with how to access it, they found the web app link on our new school website and they were away!) another were looking at using GoAnimate!
  • one pair wanted to make a model of a rollercoaster – the team conversation was brilliant listening to them discuss which resources they should use, they decided on a small paper model for next week’s Public Critique which they would then re-do in card and then make a final one in plastic – using scaletrix kit!!! They also gave me an order list of what they wanted for tomorrow – I was tempted to persuade them that they needed more apparatus but didn’t – key that they are planning ahead, learning from mistakes and being reflective.
  • My “SEN student” worked really well researching areas of Physics about how and why a rollercoaster carriage goes up and down – TA said how much he was enjoying the liberating atmosphere
  • My “Bored student” very happy and engaged researching what he found interesting
  • My “Reluctant student” seemed to work really well with others and more engaged than I have seen him recently, not sure how much work he produced though
  • The best – one student that I was really worried about – designed and produced a parent feedback form!! “so parents can tell us what they like and give us improvements if we do this type of thing again” !!! 🙂
  • Also chatted to him and some others in the group why we were spending five weeks on this and why it needed to be top quality work etc

Generally gobsmacked at the self-regulation, focus, discipline of students – I didn’t do much, asked students what they were doing more out of interest than in checking up. Spent last five minutes of lesson explaining how many lessons we had next, when the PC session (have added dates and number of lessons left on our #PBL board – some students using this now, gives them a good resource to help them plan ahead) was and how impressed I was on their self-regulation, collaboration and ethos/climate of the class – *there is no problem of me missing the lesson, they don’t need to rely on me.

Roll on tomorrow!

LESSON 3 Thursday 14th June – Period 3

Again, the lesson started with me greeting the students, completing the register, reminding them about our Public Critique lesson next week and telling them about this journal that I was writing…they seemed to like this idea. “Are you a journalist Sir?”

Students literally ran out of the door to get onto the computers – although many were happy staying in the class working on their part of the project. This is what I saw;

  • Two students quietly beavering away on Pixton…..they were just outside the classroom door, a few students saw what they were doing and stopped, one asked some questions and then asked if he could use the site for his team.

Students working on Pixton for their comics

  • Students asking their survey questions to each other.
  • Two students discussing why magnets might be used on roller coasters – I asked them how they could investigate this, at the end of the lesson they had given me a list of equipment they want on Monday to test how magnets could slow down a roller coaster car.
  • Students working on computers finding background pictures for their comic “we’re making our comic by hand Sir, the parents will like that”
  • My “SEN student” clearly finding the freedom of the project liberating, I watched as he worked with his TA on designing a roller coaster!
  • My “Bored student” – didn’t produce much work this lesson, he was under the impression that he had done his bit for the team – I spoke to him (and a few others) of why we had teams and not groups, I emphasised that groups work together while teams work for each other. This was useful for some, others still lost their way slightly probably due to the team planning and not much direction given. On reflection I think I need to encourage these particular students to improve their focus.
  • My “Reluctant student” claimed there was nothing to do, I spoke to him in the lesson and after the lesson, he feels he would do better if he wasn’t part of the project (he didn’t like the idea of not being told what to do), I am making alternative provisions for him for next weeks.
  • One group were working on their roller coaster models; see photo and commentary.

The model roller coasters – first draft

PBL 1  after this recording we discussed how the speed could be measured accurately, they decided on some more equipment they needed for next week.

  • Another pair were working on a learning resource in the style of a quiz/gameshow, with images of famous people asking the Physics questions, listen to their description here;


LESSON 4 Monday 18th June – Period 1

The pressure is starting to show! Not sure if it’s mine or the students! Greeted students, took register, explained that my course had been cancelled (met with one or two groans!) reminded students that our next lesson was our first Public Critique session – I communicated in detail what the plan was for the critique session and encouraged every team to have  some kind of first draft of their learning resource by the end of the lesson….this caused a bit of panic!

I circulated around the room and spoke to each team. I asked them the same questions; what were they going to show on Wednesday? and what was their final product going to be?

Some teams were really clear on what they were showing and had a sound grasp of what they were looking to produce – they could tell me how each member of the teams work would contribute to the final learning resource. Listening to them articulate their plans and bouncing ideas of each other was fascinating – I heard one group look at a draft of a comic and comment on how much they liked the character in it and how it reminded them of a South Park character…by the end of the lesson they were cutting out characters that had been printed off to be put into their comic strip. “the Year 8’s will love these Sir!” Another group were discussing how they could incorporate their model into their learning resource – this group are flying and I didn’t need to spend much time assisting them – after much debate they had all agreed on taking photographs and producing a flip book to explain how Physics are essential for roller coasters to work.

Other groups I had to spend more time in assisting and helping, some weren’t working as a team so I had to put into place some scaffolding of their learning – how can we incorporate the research that Elizabeth has done with Caitlin’s model etc. This was quite hard work to be honest but essential to get the teams working together in a more effective and productive manner. Personally I think this is the idea of students’ self-regulating their learning – some are doing this brilliant and looking like producing some beautiful work, others are struggling and are more reliant on me helping them, for these I have certain worries about how good their work will be. I’m hoping the Public Critique will help all the students, but especially those teams and students who are struggling with the effective collaboration.

LESSON 5 Wednesday 20th June – Period 4

Our first Public Critique session.

After giving the teams five minutes to get their first draft in a presentable format, I talked about the importance and reasoning behind Public Critique (my Year 7 students thought it was funny that someone called Burger (sic) had come up with this!) I emphasised in some detail about the three rules of being kind, specific and helpful – this was displayed on the IWB and posters around the room. I then choose a team at random and asked them to show their first draft to the class using the visualiser – I stressed to the class that we were critiquing the team’s work and not the students or their presentation skills. Each student critiquing had a post it note to write their kind, specific and helpful feedback on, in groups they then collaborated to come up with group feedback to the chosen team. I then read out each of the critiques (at times asking the group want they actually meant), I was pretty ruthless at this point (Mean Mr. Coles) explaining to the class why some of the feedback wasn’t helpful and why some was actually going to help the team improve. I think this was hugely important as I wanted my students to understand what effective feedback actually is and why there is no point giving their peers ineffective and pointless comments.

We then went on to a Gallery Critique – where all the students critiqued two other groups by looking at the work, thinking about the rules and writing hopefully improved feedback comments. Each team now had their Public Critique sheet populated with good quality feedback – I asked them to talk about the feedback, their next steps and their feelings about their first ever Public critique session and fill in their sheets. The Public Critique sheet I created can be found in the resource section at the end of this post.

Here are the completed sheets.

LESSON 6 Thursday 21st June – Period 3

Why haven’t I done Public Critique sooner in my teaching career!!

After a quick overview check of which lessons we had coming up and a reminder that the more successful teams were working collaboratively for each other rather than with or in some cases working separately from each other. We then set to work…….and what an amazing transformation!

Looking at the first drafts you can clearly see the progression and improvement – groups are a lot more focussed and have a willingness to act on the feedback given by their peers ” we’re changing this because the class said it needed to be improved”. The “reluctant and bored students” seem to have a clearer idea of what THEY are actually doing and how THEIR contribution is helping the team and will have an important factor in the success of the final product.

  • One group are now incorporating ALL the work from individual members – the font survey results are now being used, the images collated and printed off are now finding their way into the background of the comic.
  • Several groups talked about the quality of the finished product – asking if their posters/comics/booklets could be laminated, enlarged and bound….they’re thinking about the exhibition now.
  • One group has now realised that they need to think more creatively about their learning resource based on the Public Critique session, they are now working on a comic pop up book! Will they have enough time to complete a high quality product? Should they have planned their ideas for longer at the start? Or, is this the reality of the designing process?
  • Almost all of the groups are re-looking at the quality of the Physics information. This was one of my major concerns – will my students be learning enough Science in their PBL? The Public Critique session obviously focussed on the learning resource produced which incorporated both the quality of the resource but also the quality of the content.

We now have a real sense of pride in their work and what processes and planning are needed to achieve this. Equipment is being ordered for upcoming lessons in advance, requests are being made for me to laminate sheets etc. I put this down to both the huge incentive that their work will be exhibited to parents but also from the impact of the Public Critique session the lesson before.

LESSON 7 Monday 25th June – Period 1

I was late! The traffic was bad – seemed the whole of West Yorkshire were trudging along in a lethargic manner mirroring England’s dismal performance the night before. I phoned a colleague up to get the students into the classroom for me and start the lesson “Don’t worry I said, they know exactly what they are doing”. I was right, when I entered the classroom with a mild sweat on – they were already looking through their portfolios planning what to do in this lesson – if this isn’t an example of how well the students are responding to it I’m not sure what is…

Usual format, spoke very briefly about long term goal, we were now over half way in our PBL, and that we had a Public Critique lesson this Wednesday. The students went to work, many were sorting out their portfolio as I informed them that we had a special guest coming in to the next lesson to see how well we were getting on.

Out of the six groups I can say that three are working really well, producing a high standard of  work and developing their collaborative learning skills. These are the students that plan ahead, discuss ideas, argue, agree, check each other’s progress and work together on one single piece of work. The three other groups although working hard, are not working collaboratively. These are the students that rush off at the start, work on independent pieces of work, rarely check and show each other their work and importantly don’t talk to each other! Well if they do, it’s not about the learning..

I am constantly highlighting this successful team work, making examples of the teams that have really grasped the idea. There was a very telling moment in the lesson today where two groups of students were working opposite each other, one group were all improving their comic – and I mean all, one was colouring, one was sticking cartoon characters on, one was finishing a table of results from an experiment to go on the comic and two were working on the speech bubbles that would later appear on the comic. Opposite, five students were all beavering away on separate projects in silence! When discussing the difference with the groups, the first group said “we were a bit like that……. last week”, you know, sometimes students don’t need teachers to teach them.

For next lessons Public Critique session I have been reflecting on how our first one went. I think my students need scaffolding and help in constructing their critique, after all it’s hard enough for teachers! There’s a great quote in Ron Berger’s “An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students” that talks about the need to focus on vocabulary building in the critique process.

“if we picture our critique as surgically dissecting a piece of work to improve it, our vocabulary is our kit of surgical tools. If we only have words like ‘it’s good’ or ‘it’s bad’ we are trying to do surgery with a meat cleaver. If we want to dissect the work carefully and put it back together well, we need a kit of precise tools” Ron Berger

I have decided to have a “live” vocab sheet on our PBL board, I will ask students to write down important words that have or could be used when giving effective critique. I’m also planning on some kind of Physics help board, where information can be written, collated and collected – each group seem to have a great deal of Physics information (some at GCSE standard of content) but in some cases very little is finding it’s way onto the comic. Again, this appears to be the case with the teams that are not working for each other.

Next lesson – our 2nd Public Critique session………………..with the Head coming in to watch!

LESSON 8 Wednesday 27th June – Period 4

Our second Public Critique lesson. I started the lesson by asking my students to self assess their collaborative skills – where they thought they were at Lesson 8 and what they needed to do to improve. I used a Collaborative rubric from the Buck Institute website (see the list of resources used  at the end of this post). A quick Q&A session highlighted the importance of collaborative skills and the impact they have on the team’s final project. I then chose a piece of work for our whole class Public Critique session – this time I presented it using the visualiser, I was conscious of the fact that last time some of the critique was aimed at the presentation and presenters, I emphasised again, and I think this was important that we were critiquing the work. To increase the challenge I asked each team to discuss and agree on two critiques that they wrote on Post it notes and placed on the board  (last week it was just one between them). I stressed the importance of why our feedback needed to be good and of high quality (incorporating Berger’s rules of being kind, specific and helpful) – I used an example of a lesson I observed in PE this week where students were giving each other feedback on how they approached the long jump board. We then discussed the critiques given by the teams. This was only our second attempt at Public Critique but the improvement of the quality of feedback was staggering. Yes they were kind, but they were last week, they were definitely more specific highlighted the exact areas that needed developing but the thing that stood out was how helpful the comments were. My students were now telling each other how to improve! We then went into a Gallery Critique, where I asked students to critique three separate pieces of work. During this part I asked two students to circulate around the class and find keywords that were being used in the students comments – these were written on our PBL board, we will be using this in later lessons. Another pair were asked to pick out the Physics content that was being presented in the student made resources and write that on our PBL board – again this Physics information will be used next week.The next stage was to allow the students to discuss what their next steps were – because the PC session was a lot more slick and the students now are “getting it” they had much longer to complete this as compared to last week. Again this was a huge improvement, students were discussing exactly what they were going to do in the next lesson, who was going to do it, what equipment they needed, how they knew if it was going to be of high quality and what time frames they were going to give. I asked the question to several teams was this PC session more useful than last week, one replied “this week was better because the comments were better”

And what did my Head think? We had a fascinating discussion at length about what would an Ofsted inspector rate it as. His overall judgement was a “Good” lesson – the observation sheet highlighted these points;

“Teaching is consistently effective in ensuring that students are motivated and engaged; Good and imaginative use is made of resources, including new technology and other adults’ support is well focused; Students demonstrate excellent concentration and are rarely off task; Students are keen to do well, apply themselves diligently in lessons and work at a good pace; Students’ behaviour is welcoming and positive”

“Students were highly motivated, engaged and mad progress within the lesson and over time.  Excellent use of public critque framework and collaboration rubric.  Teacher to be outstanding that students will be able to consciously reflect on their learning of the science behind the presentation theme.”

An interesting programme on Ofsted inspectors can be found here. A this point I must add, for me real learning is far more important than “passing” an Ofsted judgement and by no means would I encourage or deliver something purely to meet the needs of an Ofsted judgement, however would this be seen by the eyes that judge teachers and schools as being OK? Here are the key points from our discussion

  • Was this a Science lesson? Would an inspector expect to see a “Science” lesson?
  • Was there enough progress in the lesson? My students have and were making huge progress, developing their collaborative skills, critical thinking, problem solving and self-regulation. But what about the content?
  • Should content be incorporated into the lesson as some kind of add on? Summative assessment at the end (which is what I’m planning)? Content lessons delivered before or alongside the PBL? Perhaps “teach” forces and create PBL opportunities to apply their learnt knowledge into how forces are important for roller coasters? Student workbook to be completed at start and end of lessons? Using the Flipped Classroom idea of providing students with videos and podcasts to watch and listen as part of their Home Learning?
  • Is individual progress easily identified?
  • Create a different way of showing progress rather than a team portfolio? PBL Learning wall displaying images and student work – possibly used as some kind of progress continuum?
  • Did the project itself need more fine tuning to allow more content to be explicitly and easily picked out by students and observers?
  • Are these the usual pitfalls and worries of an inexperienced PBL facilitator like me?

Notice these are all questions………………..answers on a postcard please!

LESSON 9 Monday 2nd July – Period 1

Based on the lesson previous we spent several minutes at the start of the lesson discussing how beneficial the Public Critique had been. We looked at two team’s efforts and highlighted the progress and improvements from the first and the second drafts.

As you can say there is a distinct difference and improvement in the quality of the work – although the original idea is still intact an organic development has happened. It was extremely encouraging to hear the members of these teams tell the rest of the class that all their amendments and tweaks were direct results of the feedback from the Public Critique session.

The rest of the lesson was spent improving the work, although encouraged by me at the start of the lesson it was also great to see students asking their team mates and other people to look at their work, questions like “what do you think?” and “do you think I should change this?” were music to my ears.

LESSON 10 Wednesday 4th July – Period 4

Not a great lesson if I’m honest, yes the teams that were fully involved and completely immersed in their project were on task, self regulating, collaborating and improving their final draft. However, the teams that were struggling slightly were not working as well as I would have hoped. Don’t get me wrong the work they were producing was good but it tended to be individual or paired work and distinctly separate to the teams collaborative effort. At certain points in the lesson I had to have mini mentor session with certain team members about their role in the team and what they were contributing. My “SEN student” was again working really well alongside and with his team – I have to say that his social skills, interaction with others and general self-esteem has improved significantly. The “bored student” however was very much unfocused, I’m not sure he was aware of his role in the team and the amount of expertise he could contribute to his team. Again, like many of these lessons it has really made me reflect and think about how the PBL can be improved next time – I think with students like this a clear, explicit structure is needed from lesson to lesson, in hindsight perhaps I could have insisted they use the calendar more effectively and possibly write SMART targets for each member of the team for each lesson. Perhaps this may become laborious and too constrictive for some but for others it may give them the support and guidance that they require.

LESSON 11 Thursday 5th July – Period 3

I personally think that today’s lesson was one of our best – in an extremely positive way the pressure was getting to the students – some teams continued they great collaborative learning and critical thinking while others really upped their game. There were many discussions about the quality of the work, was the Physics correct and appropriate for a Year 8 student, was the literacy all correct, could last-minute alterations be made to make something even better. Again, it was fantastic to see students move around the learning area and ask their peers to Public Critique their work and more importantly act on the feedback given. There was a real sense of pride amongst the teams but also a positive attitude towards each others achievement. There was a fascinating discussion about what size of photos should be used for one team’s flipbook – this must have gone on for five minutes, with all the students listening to each other, developing their reasoning skills and finally agreeing on the “perfect” size. Another group decided to take the initiative and produced feedback sheets for each team’s boards – the sheet which parents will be encouraged to write on had WWW (what went well) and EBI (even better if) on it! This is something we use in our lessons a lot….perhaps it’s rubbing off on them! By the end of the lesson I had a pile of beautiful work all with post it notes on asking me to laminate, copy enlarge and bind ready for them to plan and attach on to our display boards – we’re almost there!

LESSON 12 Monday 9th July – Period 1

The lesson before exhibition evening – and it was great. Seeing the teams working together and for each other was extremely satisfying. The amount of time, effort and care my students put into making their final “beautiful” piece of work was amazing. It was evident that they were very proud in what they had achieved but also very interesting to hear and see them still critiquing their work right until the very end.

THE EXHIBITION (Year 7 Parents’ Evening)

Team 1 – Interactive “Game Show” Physics Quiz

Team 2 – “South Park” Comic Strip

Team 3 – Practical Comic Strip and Flip Book

Team 4 – Comic Strip, Physics banner and booklet

Team 5 – Comic Strip and Information Poster

Team 6 – Model, information poster and super hero comic


As a class we assessed, celebrated and reflected on our first attempt at PBL.

Assessing how well they learned.

We completed a second collaborative rubric and compared it to the first. It was clearly evident that students had developed in their collaborative learning, with all saying they had improved. Here is a snapshot of three students – Charlotte, Jordan and Matthew with his TA.

Student reflections of the PBL.
We completed a Google form to reflect on our PBL – here are the results.
and my student’s WWWs and EBIs
They both certainly make for interesting and positive reading.
Assessment of what they learnt.
Results from PBL Summative Assessment – I asked my students to complete a test on the Physics that they may have covered during the project. Here are the levels achieved along with their “target” end of Year 7 levels.
  • 85% stated that they learnt about Physics during the PBL – this is supported by the summative assessment results with 21 students out of 30 achieving higher than their +2 levels of progress target, and 4 students hitting their target
  • Their collaborative learning skills have been developed – based on data from the google doc (96% agreed that PBL allowed them to learn collaboratively) and improved – according to their collaboration rubric used in lessons 8 and 13
  • Their problem solving and critical thinking skills have been developed during the PBL
  • The Public Critique has been a huge success – for me, this has been the highlight of this pilot and something that I have used with other classes and shared with Faculty Leaders
  • Student ownership has been at the forefront and for many has been a motivational factor in them succeeding
  • Student regulation has also been developed and in my mind has improved for the majority of students – PBL lends itself brilliantly to promoting self-regulation “The key for understanding the process of learning (or self-regulation) is that it is taught, such that the student learns to monitor, control or regulate their own learning” John Hattie 2012
  • 92% of my class enjoyed the PBL
  • The exhibition aspect of the PBL proved to be extremely important in encouraging and stimulating their desire to produce work of a high quality, or as Berger puts it “beautiful work”
  • I had several discussions with parents during the Year 7 Parents’ evening (and exhibition night) about how they had seen a change in their son/daughter with regards to them talking about what they were doing in Science at school and how they appeared to have gained more confidence and self esteem
  • My SEN student in particular has improved significantly in the way that he learns, communicates and interacts with others – this was echoed by both his TA and his Mother.
  • Planning in time for students to celebrate success and reflect after their PBL
  • “it would be better if sir didn’t make us put what he wants on the project and just let us get on with our work” taken from my students’ evaluation – fair point, I need to create opportunities for students to take complete ownership and stand back  “the teacher also needs to have the skill to get out of the way when learning is taking place and the student is making progress towards meeting the criteria against which successful learning will be judged” Hattie, 2012
  • Although the above is crucial for some students, I feel others (e.g my bored student and reluctant student) require a more rigid structure for the lessons – perhaps encouraging them to set SMART Targets for each lesson?
  • Encourage students to use the collaborative PBL board more to collate, collect and use resources/ideas from the class
  • Focus on vocabulary used during the Public Critique – although we collated a list of word used we didn’t use this effectively
  • Have a way to visibly show progress through lessons?…….for our Ofsted chums!
  • Connect the learning with more subjects – although this wan’t logistically possible this time around, I feel that this is where the PBL can be extremely memorable and effective
  • Again, not possible this time but, a prolonged and continued period of time to work on the PBL – two week time frame (similar to Cramlington Learning Village) or a full day/week off regular timetable
  • By the end of the PBL I wasn’t entirely happy with the project itself. I’d worked on a similar project when I was a consultant, asking students to create comics for science practical methods (as Jeff Robin says in his animations you MUST do the project) so I know it worked, but for some reason it didn’t have the same sparkle. I’m not sure if my students completely bought into it – what was in it for them? Next time I plan to spend longer designing the project and asking colleagues to assist me in several ‘project tuning’ sessions. I would like to incorporate the community into the project some how and give students some real choices of what they want to create…………….watch this space!

Following on from publishing this blog post I received feedback from colleagues and friends that really made me think hard and reflect on my pilot PBL. Below are their critiques;

From Simon Brown

PBL Feedback 
Just the bad bits, you don’t need kind, just specific and helpful, your ego is big enough.
I think you should always start a project with at least one exemplar (YOURS) – DO the project. If you’ve done it before show the exemplars from there. 
What does Ron think of copying??? p.85 
I wasn’t sure if the project was more of an enquiry than a project in that there was a question which lead to a choice in artefact for the exhibition therefore creating a success criteria for each artefact I reckon would be really difficult. How did kids measure the success of their products if they were all different? 
I’m a big fan of Enquiry based learning I just think PBL is different.
From Darren Mead

The narrative was interesting and I can see you grappling with the ideas yourself. You captured yours and your students journey nicely and I got a flavour of both the successes and the frustrations that arose.  A true reflective practitioner!


Since you asked for some feedback I compiled questions as I read through the journey. I think they indicate the kinds of things they made me think about. Obviously I don’t have answers to all these and in fact are the questions I grapple with during PBL work, I hope they will lead to some further dialogue. These questions fit in one of four categories.

1. About the post itself, these are mostly clarifications and factual.

2. Some are about your planning and practice of this experience.

3. Comments and statements.(Likes and +1’s I guess)

4. Finally, reflective questions about your understanding of #PBL and how you may develop your ideas for future projects

I hope you find them useful!

 I’ve toyed with arranging the questions in the categories above, but feel they’ll make more sense following your narrative.

1a Did you do the project first? Did you have a teacher model?

1b What do you think the expert could have brought?

1c What else did you think the students would have come up with?

1d Is this where you planned choice? It seems that you have a dilemma between giving choice, hitting the content you want to cover and the quality of the product?

1e Would you add a paragraph to the beginning of the post stating what the product is and what content is to be learned?

1f What is a PBL board?

1g Would you equate the “key attributes” with the success criteria for this project?

1h I think your passion here adds value to what the students are going to do, it will be infectious.


2a What drove your decision to “leave them on their own” in lesson 2?

2b Did you agree success criteria for self regulation etc? At HTH they do a lot of this in the middle school, they take a real critical skills approach in developing these skills.  Are these things a normal part of your classroom?

2c Was this an entirely research based task? Did you teach them any content?

2d HTH are very clear about that not everything you teach/ or that is learned must appear in the final project. I find this quite liberating.


3a Did the students have success criteria for the product now?

3b How “specific” were the job roles- were these defined?

3c Would the magnets experience be of value to all? Eg a taught practical session?

3d How did you broach differentiation?

3e How did you construct groups?


4a Is this more an enquiry (with many different lines of enquiry around a theme) than a project?


5a Did you have guiding questions for the critique? If so where they linked to the success criteria, content?

5b Since you moved on to a gallery critique, what benefits would choosing a strong piece of work ( as opposed to one chosen at random) would have brought?

5c Do you think the public critique allows the students to reflect upon the quality of their own work?

5d Did the Physics content surface enough in the critique? 


7a Would using a structure like a “moving on map” help differentiate the process for those struggling?

7b You have captured the essence of having an audience for student work, powerful stuff.

7c As a teacher how could you ensure the transfer of the physics content into the final products?

7d Nice move getting the head to observe, politically sound! 


8a Would the Collaborative Rubric been useful earlier in the project?

8b The consistency of using the feedback norms is great, I have a feeling this will have long term effects.

8c Some of the questions you pose are great- I would answer with the following questions . How would you plan these in “normal” lessons” Why would you not do them in  a project? How might you adapt some of your normal “teacher” approaches?


10a. Why is the individual element a problem? Could this be the individual aspect you were looking for earlier?

10b Yep, scaffolding for these is essential.


11. A master stroke using the summative assessment in the ways that you did. Most importantly it demonstrates to the students that they are learning.


12. I found it fascinating how your students valued the collaborative aspects of this project. How could you make this developmental?

From Gwyn ap Harri 
A few questions for reflection…

Did you use a model e.g. did you do the project first, maybe twice (one good, one bad) and get the kids to dissect what was good / bad? Did this / would this help keep the kids on track?

I looked at your calendar. Did it expand to have more detailed check in points? During CLV project fortnight, I saw some really creative progress maps.

After the critique sessions, did the kids formulate action plans from this?

Were the kids present at the presentation? Did they present their work to the adult audience?

Did the kids learn the same stuff, or did the groups focus on different areas of knowledge, then share the knowledge? If they presented their work at the exhibition, did they also explain everyone else’s work?

A huge thank you goes out to Simon, Gwyn and Darren for spending time not only reading the post but giving me feedback – their critique of my project, strategies and also post has made me reflect even more on Project Based Learning.
Here are the resources I used for our PBL;
This was the presentation I used to launch our PBL PBL Launch[1]
Collaborative learning assessment sheets Collaboration_Rubric
Public Critique sheets PUBLIC CRITIQUE
PBL Calender for students to use Project_Calendar
Here are the resources that helped me plan our PBL;
A planning assessment sheet Project_Design_Rubric1
Checklist used when planning Essential_Elements
A Learning planning form Teach_Learning_Guide
Some more assessment sheets Presentation_Feedback and Presentation_Rubric
Here are the resources that inspired me to finally do PBL;
Simon Brown’s blog posts about PBL
Darren Mead’s article in HTH’s Unboxed publication
Jamie Portman’s reflections on his HTH visit (lucky bugger!)
“Work that matters” document – simply a must read
Website of High Tech High
The website of the genius that is Jeff Robin – check out his animations
and finally the legend that is Ron Berger
Here are some links to a few videos
and a link to the book that inspires me on a day to day basis
  1. […] Thank you to Simon Brown for showing me the way on this one. I’ve successfully carried out PBL and am a huge advocate of it and I’ve used some of the Expeditionary Learning core practices […]

  2. Nice to come across your blog here – and lots of ideas to think about. A brilliant resource.

    By the way, I’m a former ‘old millenium’ student of Temple Moor, Leeds, 1979-85

  3. Very interesting topic, thanks for posting.

  4. […] I have been researching, reading, thinking and pestering (mainly Darren Mead) on Project Based Learning or PBL for probably a whole year now. It’s something that I have wanted to do with my . . .   […]

  5. […] It's something that I have wanted to do with my students for a very long time – I was conscious of the fact that if I did attempt it, I wanted it to be right – or at least working towards the essence of what real PBL is about.  […]

  6. Hi Tait, really enjoyed reading about your experience! Great to see you putting these things out there.

    A few questions for reflection…

    Did you use a model e.g. did you do the project first, maybe twice (one good, one bad) and get the kids to dissect what was good / bad? Did this / would this help keep the kids on track?

    I looked at your calendar. Did it expand to have more detailed check in points? During CLV project fortnight, I saw some really creative progress maps.

    After the critique sessions, did the kids formulate action plans from this?

    Were the kids present at the presentation? Did they present their work to the adult audience?

    Did the kids learn the same stuff, or did the groups focus on different areas of knowledge, then share the knowledge? If they presented their work at the exhibition, did they also explain everyone else’s work?

    Well done buddy. This stuff is priceless mate.

    • taitcoles says:

      Thanks Gwyn, I’ll put your questions on the blog post if you don’t mind – the critique of the PBL from you and others have been really helpful. Thank you

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