Tips for Project-Based Learning with Teens

Remake Learning Fellow Will Penman & out-of-school educators suggest keeping things relevant, giving youth ownership, providing clear feedback, and supporting peer critique

Following up on my work as a Remake Learning Fellow in 2013, I recently gathered about twenty Pittsburgh educators for a set of roundtable discussions on the challenges of developing effective project-based out-of-school learning programs. Based on the findings of our conversations, I worked with a graphic designer to synthesize the insights I gained into an infographic that can be useful to anyone developing or leading a project-based learning program.

4 Tips for Project-based Learning with Teens

4 Tips for Project-Based Learning / Infographic created by William Penman & Alyssa Fogel

Infographic created by William Penman & Alyssa Fogel. Feel free to download, duplicate and share.

This infographic is meant to be a resource for other educators that can be easily shared and quickly read. The first panel, in gray, gives credit to the people who participated in the roundtables, while each of the colored panels has a different common problem and solution. Consider using them as part of your personal preparation to teach, or incorporate them into your training program for new teachers.

1. Rarely do students respond to, “Okay, now write a story!” without any context. Create authentic ties between lessons and life.

This set of tips deals mostly in the preparation phase—work that an instructor does before entering into the teaching environment. Scaffolding students takes hard and consistent work. As one tip says, “increase continuity through continued planning.”

2. Teacher-imposed timelines can chain students and teachers to the calendar at the expense of the learning process. Balance outcomes with student ownership.

In the roundtables, we found that timing was an especially contentious issue. On one end of the spectrum, the instructor knows best and knows what needs to happen when in order for the project to be accomplished; on the other end, students gradually find roles themselves and complete a richer project at their own pace. It’s a constant balancing act that requires both the instructor and the students to be reflective and carefully consider how to balance deadlines with the learning process, according to the program’s teaching style and the students’ maturity level.

3. Broad teacher feedback can prevent students from understanding specific root issues. Develop clear and precise feedback.

This challenge deals with a silent sleeper—not knowing that you’re being unclear. Most teachers identified it in themselves at an earlier point, but only knew it at the time by the symptoms: students having chronic difficulties applying terminology and getting the “feel” of the work. These tips focus on mentorship as a way to get a second pair of eyes on your work with students.

4. Gathering and managing input from a large group can be challenging. Teach students to diagnose each other’s problems.

This set of tips is the flip-side to broad teacher feedback. We found that often, students give each other dramatically different pieces of advice than teachers do. This interaction among youth can be as much of a teachable moment as much as instructor feedback. Keep pushing students to watch each other and themselves critically and revise their own methodology.

Which tips do you identify with? Who do you know who would enjoy this infographic?

We’ve spent a lot of time developing it; please feel free to spread it around!


Published May 23, 2014