It’s PBL’s Time To Shine!


My what a difference a week makes! Just last week I posted an article about my tips for teachers going to remote instruction due to school closures because of the corona virus pandemic, and at that time, I had heard very little from my internet connections about the virus that was sweeping the world.  

In the last week;

  • My school district moved to remote instruction
  • The governor of my state restricted gatherings to 10 people or less and advised 6ft separation
  • The president instructed restaurants to close their seating areas
  • My inbox has been getting a steady stream of emails about various companies policies regarding Covid-19
  • I have seen many blog posts now about what to do while social distancing, ideas for people who now have to homeschool, ideas for teachers going to remote instruction, offers of free or heavily reduced prices for services, etc.
  • And, my Facebook newsfeed has been flooded with ideas for home projects, home schooling, free virtual museum and zoo tours, etc. 

And my little problem solving heart goes “squee!” 

None of us are exactly happy about WHY schools are closing, why we need to engage in social distancing, why teachers need to shift to remote instruction, but, though the reason is troubling, there are some positive side effects as well.  And one of those side effects, is that project based learning is now in a position to shine! 

All of this activity that has happened in just over a week shows active problem solving.  This isn’t PBL in the sense of a project designed to teach students skills, this is real life PBL teaching educators how to do remote instruction, how to use technology they’ve never used before, how to solve the social problems of school closing, such as setting up a delivery system to get food to needy families, teaching parents how to do “home school”, teaching students how to do remote schooling (which will hopefully also teach them some self discipline…)…. This great big problem, Covid-19, is teaching all of us valuable lessons, and while I hate WHY we’re all learning these things, I love seeing the learning happen. 

One of the phrases that has really shaped my PBL journey is, “Just in time, v.s. Just on time”.  Just in time, is learning something before you need it.  Just ON time, is learning something BECAUSE you need it.  You would think the first option would be best, but the second option is the most effective, because the motivation and desire to learn it are strong when you feel a NEED to learn it. This is what this pandemic is doing. It is forcing us to learn because we NEED to.

But, aside from the massive exercise in PBL that this whole pandemic has been, it’s also allowed PBL to shine in other ways too. 

Due to social distancing, schools are closed and students are doing schooling from home.  For some, this looks like work packets sent home, for other’s it looks like an online hosted classroom with videos and assignments, and for others, it looks like mom and dad scrambling to find something educational for the kids to do.  

And what are they doing? 

  • They’re taking kids on nature hikes for science
  • Finding experiments online to do at home
  • Baking cookies for math (and, lets face it, cooking is also a science!)
  • Playing number card games
  • Playing strategy board games
  • Watching art tutorials online and creating artwork
  • Taking virtual tours of zoos and museums
  • Researching questions they have (Like what is a virus? Why is this one so serious? Where did it come from?)
  • Changing spark plugs
  • Washing laundry, etc.

The list goes on and on, but the point is, this is all PBL! They are taking real life activities and applications, and using them to teach, or encourage their kids to practice, academic skills.  Most parents don’t even realize they are doing this, that these actions are actually academic instruction. They are simply trying to think of the things they know that use these skills.

Project based learning is in a prime position to shine right now, and I really think it is! 

My daughter pulled out a book about flowers so she could identify the flowers in a bouquet that was given to me.  She was researching flowers because she wanted to know what was in the bouquet…all on her own! AND, I showed her how to use the index in the process, which was a game changer. Now she’s learned another tool for researching, which will enable her to learn even more about specific topics (in this case, flowers). In fact she’s already used it to look up a particular flower she liked, and this opened the door to look up other things she was curious about, beyond the initial desire to know what flowers were in my bouquet! This is inquiry at it’s best! Free flowing and student driven! As an educator interested in PBL, I get totally excited about these things!  I am overjoyed to see this! 

I will continue to do what I can to help this pandemic end as quickly as possible (social distancing, washing ALL.THE.THINGS – repeatedly, etc.) so we can return to our physical classrooms and life as we know it.  There are some things that are just best done in person. But that doesn’t mean, in the mean time, we can’t enjoy the opportunity to exercise project based learning as parents find themselves homeschooling kids and we all learn to do our jobs remotely.

It’s PBL’s time to shine!

Links to activities I’ve collected this week:
cardboard dome house
Read any book
Listen to astronauts read
Free Tutoring
100+ indoor activities
Virtual Disney World Rides
Watch Broadway plays and musicals online
Virtual School Activities (webcams, tours, etc.)

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