January 5

Making Time for PBL: Planning Project-Based Units


Anyone who has planned a PBL unit knows that it takes a tremendous amount of time to write it well. I'm currently in the process of writing a 7th grade science unit, and the background research and initial planning stages alone take a significant amount of time. Add to that the everyday teacher duties of lesson planning, grading, contacting parents, and more, and there's not a lot of time left for big-picture PBL planning.

In emails I've received from teachers, as well as in webinars, I hear the same refrain: “We love PBL and we want to do more. We just don't have the time!”

Unfortunately for myself as well as the rest of the teachers I work with, I've not been able to add more hours to the day! However, I do have 5 ways you can seemingly “make time” to add more PBL to your year.

The Five “S”s: Making Time for PBL Planning

  1. Start Small: It is COMPLETELY fine to expect to do just 1 PBL unit per semester when you are just starting out. Use any time you can to start thinking about next year's new PBLs. Make peace with this, and work on adding 2 more PBLs next year. Soon you'll be swimming in high-quality PBL units that you've created for your own context.
  2. Split Up Duties: When I was teaching the Senior Project, I had a common planning time with my wonderful collaborating teacher (Hi, Mark!). We would sketch out the big ideas for our upcoming unit, then divide and conquer gathering resources, creating assessments, and planning lessons. We'd share the resources and discuss our choices, saving each other dozens of hours a week. This works well when you're on the same page with a teacher and if you have a common vision for the outcomes of your class.
  3. “Steal” and Adapt: It may take some digging, but there are some free PBL units or unit starters out there. Not everything is high-quality, and not all that you will find is truly even project-BASED. However, it's fine to use these as starting places and adapt them to your context. You can also build a project using lessons, labs, resources, and readings that you use now, just create a PBL storyline, launch, and project to house them in. Ask me how to do this if you get stuck!
  4. Schedule a Sub: Sometimes you just have to ask for a sub. Hopefully your building principal is behind your vision for PBL and has the funds to do this. If not, ask for half a day and split the sub with a collaborating teacher. Or, have an in-building teacher cover your class for an hour or two. You can return the favor another day.
  5. Share with the PBL Network: The PBL Network exists to connect teachers, coaches, and administrators from around the world as they hone their PBL practice and support PBL in their settings. In 2018, we are looking forward to providing a way for members to share units and resources with other practicing PBL teachers so you don't have to reinvent the wheel…you can just adapt it to your context. Stay tuned for more about this development!

Whether it means making peace with starting small and building as you go, or finding coverage for your class for an hour or two, or splitting up duties, there are ways we can make time for PBL in our settings. How have you and your colleagues made time for PBL in your buildings? Let us know in the comments!




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