In project based classrooms, learners engage in authentic, complex thinking and problem solving throughout the project unit as a way to master content standards and skills.
A project begins with an Entry Event or Project Launch (see image) that typically requires students to take on a role beyond that of ‘student’ or ‘learner'. This occurs either by placing students in a scenario where they simulate tasks performed by adults and/or by requiring learners to address a challenge or problem facing a particular community group. Shown in the image below in red, facilitators ensure students work together in active learning or 'scaffolding' to build skills needed for the final product by hosting workshops, doing collaborative research, engaging in learner centered instruction*, homework, formative assessments and more.
*see the Learner Centered Practices Card Set
Benchmarks (see image) can be simple checks for understanding that let teachers know if learners are mastering the material being taught and/or process checks to ensure students are progressing in the project work as a team. These occur at several points within a project. After each benchmark, students are given time to reflect (see image). This path continues until learners gain the knowledge and skills required to present their final product. An opportunity for a final reflection is given after their final presentation. Throughout the project students are practicing key skills for outcomes that matter, such as Agency, Collaboration, Oral Communication and Written Communication.
This graphic captures the difference between doing projects as a culminating “dessert” event of a traditionally taught unit and a PBL unit that starts with a complex and engaging challenge, but it also calls out the needed pauses in the process to reflect on what is being learned and how it is being learned.