The Role of PBL in Making the Shift to Common Core

“CCSS is the what and carefully designed projects are the how.” 

The Common Core has embedded within it some Big Ideas that shift the role of teachers to curriculum designers and managers of an inquiry process. How can PBL help with this shift?

Big Idea: I am a designer. 

Common Core calls upon teachers to shift away from writing daily lesson plans towards carefully mapping out long-range units. Daily lesson planning is important, but it must occur within the context of a larger plan. 

PBL Connection: To meet the demands of the Common Core, teachers need a framework for designing units. In PBL, the project IS the unit. It requires careful planning from start to finish, as PBLWorks emphasizes in its project planning framework.

Big Idea: I facilitate inquiry. 

Research and sustained inquiry are emphasized throughout the standards, but most prominently in the writing strand because written analysis and presentation of findings are critical in both college and careers. To meet the demands of the Common Core, students need to be able to build knowledge and expertise through careful reading of increasingly complex texts about the same topic of investigation.

PBL Connection: To meet the PBLWorks 8 Essential Elements, inquiry must be academically rigorous and position students to pose questions, gather and interpret data, ask further questions, and develop and evaluate solutions or build evidence for answers. Well-designed projects teach students how to be deep, analytical thinkers and require perseverance through the inquiry process.

Big Idea: I set students up to dig deep, search for meaning, and craft reasoned arguments.

Common Core requires teachers to shift from promoting a “searching for the right answer" mentality to explicitly teaching students how to dive into texts and search for meaning. Students need ongoing access to inquiry experiences that build their understanding of the world through text and explicitly teach students how to support arguments with evidence.

PBL Connection: Projects can be framed around compelling problems, issues, or challenges that require critical thinking and prompt students to craft reasoned arguments in response to the driving question. Through balanced assessment in PBL, teachers can assess the critical thinking process as well as products and enable students to self-assess their critical thinking skills.

Big idea: I create conditions in which students can learn how to persevere. 

Perseverance is an underlying theme in the Common Core Standards. To meet the standards, students need to put forth sustained effort through in-depth investigation of issues, building understanding of varying perspectives, reading complex tests, listening carefully, and sharing their reasoning.

PBL Connection: In PBL, students are asked to demonstrate perseverance by analyzing and solving problems and thinking critically in an in-depth and sustained way. Revision and reflection, one of the PBLWorks 8 Essential Elements, requires PBL teachers to provide students with regular, structured opportunities to give and receive feedback about the quality of their work-in-progress, demonstrate perseverance, and polish their products until they successfully meet the established criteria for success.

Big Idea: I integrate content and create relevance. 

Common Core requires teachers to move away from teaching skills in isolation towards the integration of reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language into long-term unit plans. Students should be able to see the relationship between standards and transfer concepts and skills in the classroom to the world outside the classroom walls. Rather than learning in a decontextualized way, Common Core demands that students have ongoing experiences to learn about the world through reading and understand the relevance of what is taught.

PBL Connection: In PBL, key culminating products are complex in nature and enable students to demonstrate understanding of a blend of concepts and skills. Well-crafted Driving Questions are both understandable and inspiring to students and provide a meaningful, authentic context for learning. Projects motivate students to learn because they genuinely find the project’s topic, Driving Question, and tasks to be relevant and meaningful. Entry events powerfully engage students both emotionally and intellectually and make them feel invested in the project. This provokes students to dive into inquiry and gives them a reason to read, write, listen, and speak about the topic of investigation.

Big Idea: I facilitate meaningful conversations. 

Common Core requires a shift from teachers doing much of the talking to creating conditions in which students can engage in meaningful conversations in which they learn how to use evidence for claims, listen carefully, draw meaning, and evaluate others’ reasoning.

PBL Connection: Collaboration is a requirement in PBL. Students work in collaborative teams that employ the skills of all group members and often interface with people beyond the classroom.

Stay tuned for part two of the PBL and Common Core blog series. Part two will address key considerations related to products, rubrics, scaffolding, text complexity, and formative assessment to fully align PBL units to Common Core.


Hangout with PBLWorks: Common Core and Project Based Learning

John Larmer and Sara Hallermann discuss the shifts in teaching required by the Common Core Standards and how they connect to PBL. For example, CCSS asks teachers to move from daily lesson planning to long-range unit planning - much like in PBL, where the project IS the unit - and to move from teacher talk to students engaging in conversations based on evidence for claims - as student teams do when developing their answer to a project's Driving Question.

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