Project-Based Learning Professional Development (part 1)


Last Wednesday I facilitated a few hours of project-based learning (PBL) professional development for our Innovate Salisbury team, a team of 15 teachers engaging with building leaders, district leaders, and other experts/thought leaders to help shape the vision for teaching and learning in our classrooms.

This year, the team will be meeting a total of about seven times, and four of these sessions will feature some form of PBL learning, this past week being the first of the four.

The Website

Here is our PBL website, which features some of the best resources I could find on the topic. The idea was to create a one stop shop for teachers that (1) supports them in implementing PBL in their classrooms, while (2) not making it entirely necessary for them to find materials on their own. Also, all resources used throughout the four professional development sessions will be posted to the site.

The Session

Here is an overview of what took place last Wednesday:

  1. I conducted a brief tour of the website to familiarize teachers with what has been made available to them.
  2. Teachers read the Buck Institute article, “Gold Standard PBL, Essential Design Elements.”
    1. Using a Google spreadsheet, teachers individually ranked the seven essential project design elements from what they implement the most to what they implement the least. (Implementation includes occurrences during all types of learning, not just PBL).
    2. For design elements teachers implement often (during/not during PBL), they provided examples as to how they are applied. For design elements teachers do not implement (during/not during PBL), they provided ideas and/or questions regarding how they can integrate them into their practice.
    3. Group discussion
  3. In small groups, teachers reviewed the provided projects and selected one.
    1. Teachers “graded” the project using the Project Design Rubric.
    2. They redesigned the project by claiming a slide and completing a template. The rubric and article were used for guidance.
    3. In small groups, teachers presented their work.
    4. Group discussion

Four more points:

  • The article, rubric, and project redesign are all based on Buck Institute’s seven essential project design elements. This approach helped in creating (1) consistent language throughout the session, and (2) a common understanding in regards to what PBL signifies…We wanted everyone to “uncover” the differences between projects and PBL, which we believe was accomplished through the project redesign.
  • I made sure to discuss the idea that teachers do not have implement “a full blown PBL unit” in order to integrate these design elements into their practice. For example, one of the elements is student reflection, which can enhance learning with our without PBL…I do believe the idea of PBL is less intimidating when it is not one extreme (no PBL) or the other (“all out PBL”). Teachers can ease their way into it, a little at a time.
  • The above activities were created in collaboration with my Assistant Superintendent, Lynn Fuini-Hetten (@lfuinihetten).
  • Future sessions will dive deeper into PBL related topics, such as: student-created rubrics, essential questions, formative and summative assessment, student reflection, feedback, etc.

What are you thoughts on our PBL session? What kind of PBL professional development have you found to be the most beneficial?

Connect with Ross on his blog and on Twitter.


Ross this piece was very informative and hands on. I have to admit that I know very little about PBL, but your article made it seem les intimidating. I like how you made it clear that an entire project doesn’t have to be comleted for PBL to occur. I think this will help ease some stress off of teachers’ minds and hope that many teachers get to read this because I think it will give them the confidence to take the first step. Well done.

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