Summer PD: How to Build a Calendar for Project-Based Learning


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Teachers want to know what the day-to-day looks like. I know I do. After generating great project ideas, I want to know exactly what my day-to-day looks like. There is a pitfall there. Sometimes we plan the calendar too quickly. When this is done, projects can be unsuccessful. Why? Because not enough time and thought is given to content, skills, and knowledge that are required for students to be successful. When teachers reflect with me on projects that were not as successful, I often hear these comments:

“The project went longer than I thought.”

“I forgot a lesson, or didn’t think that the students would need it.”

These all stem from rushing too quickly to the calendar. Here are the steps and some advice for building a calendar for a successful PBL project.

Begin with the End in Mind
Look at the products students are creating. What skills, knowledge, etc. will students need to be successful in the project? This Teaching and Learning Guide, provided by the Buck Institute for Education, gives an example for an elementary project. It is very similar to Understanding By Design backward design process.

Open Your Filing Cabinet
Please, please, please don’t reinvent the wheel. Teachers have amazing lessons and resources that they collect over the years. I know when I moved classrooms I had an exorbitant amount of binders and folders of teacher “stuff.” Use that amazing teacher bag of tricks. In fact, you may use traditional teacher tools. In the example below, you can see readers’ workshops as a staple instructional strategy for the project. If this were a math problem, you would most likely see selections from the textbook, direct instruction lessons, or worksheets. If this were a project focused on writing, you might see worksheets on commas, as well as drafts and mini-lectures for writing skills. These are great, and will help your students. The important thing is that these teaching strategies are aligned to important content and skills needed for kids to do an authentic project. A small caveat: make sure you vary your strategies to meet the needs of all learners.

Plug and Play
This is the most gratifying step, because now, building the physical calendar is easy. You’ve generated necessary skills and content to be successful for the project. You’ve looked in your library of teacher resources to come up with specific lessons, strategies and tools to arm kids with these skills and content. Now, you can plug and play. Using the right column of the Teaching and Learning Guide, put the lessons and tools in appropriate places in the calendar. See the example calendar week below. Don’t forget to include implementation and work time, where students apply the knowledge into creating and performing the tasks for the project. In addition, make sure you have your formative assessments and draft products built in, not only to check for understanding, but also to hold students accountable.

It’s a Reframe
We’ve all been there. We’ve all been to professional development where it feels like we are being asked to erase our teacher toolkit like an Etch-a-Sketch. This is not the case. Project-based learning is a reframe, ensuring that all teaching strategies and tools are aligned to an authentic project. You will use your teacher resources, and when taking the time to plan, build a successful PBL project calendar.