PBL and Remote Learning
23 Mar 2020

PBL and Remote Learning

I think we all know the world of education just changed dramatically. Due to the spread of COVID-19, schools across the nation have shut their doors. For the foreseeable future, teachers must embrace the new reality of virtual classrooms. It’s a brave new world with a steep learning curve, and there are bound to be more problems on the horizon. Still, despite these hardships, many educators are rising to the occasion. If curiosity, collaboration, and critical thinking are the keys to learning, then there’s never been a better time to put them into practice.

So, where do we begin? How can we combine the merits of project-based learning with the new reality of social-distancing? And how do we ensure our students stay physically and emotionally healthy while under quarantine? For that matter, how do we keep ourselves healthy and maintain a positive mindset? Here are just a few things for educators to consider as we step into a new week:

Trust Your Students

In an article for PBL Works, educator Ben Owens reminds teachers that this crisis is affecting the whole classroom, not just teachers and students individually. As such, we need to work with our young learners when developing a new system of learning.

“You should also be intentional and proactive in thinking about how the normal routines in your PBL classroom will be replicated in a virtual environment. Use this time as an opportunity to get student input regarding clear expectations, protocols, and norms everyone will follow if the decision is made to go virtual. Items to consider might include frequency and agendas for team meetings, ways students can upload work and demonstrate mastery of learning targets, sign-ups for one-on-one check-ins with students, and when and how whole-class instruction will occur.”

Just because we’re practicing social distancing doesn’t mean we can’t still practice the ideals we’ve been trying to nurture in students regarding collaboration and team relationships.

Keep a Journal

There’s no denying this is an interesting moment in modern history, so it’s not a bad idea for students to record these days for future study. Encourage them to spend a few hours each morning writing in a journal. Have them record any major events that took place that week as well as any thoughts, wonderings, fears, or hopes they might be experiencing. You can even assign them reading from famous journals like The Diary of Anne Frank for context. This exercise won’t just build their writing and reading skills; it will also serve as a useful catharsis for any stress or anxiety they may be feeling.

If your students feel comfortable, you can even look at their journal entries as something to share as a community. Have your students read selections of their writing over Zoom, Flipgrid, SeeSaw, and Class Dojo. You could even promote a “Grand Reading” that will take place when the class reunites as a way of giving them something to look forward to.

Learn by Doing (and Making Mistakes)

We often tell our students that mistakes are part of the learning process. We shouldn’t fear failure because it’s how we grow and develop our knowledge. Well, now it’s time to practice what we teach! In an article for Edutopia, Stephen Merrill encourages teachers not to be daunted by this new style of teaching. This will take time and testing, but we can learn by doing:

“Start by being reasonable with yourself. It is, in fact, impossible to shift to distance learning overnight without lots of trial and error. Expect it, plan for it, and do your best to make peace with it.”

Take time to experiment with different ideas. Consult with other teachers. Try, fail, then try again. Everyone is in the same boat, and many of us think we’re incapable of something until we actually do it. So, if one method of virtual PBL doesn’t work out, dust yourself off (wash your hands!) and try again.

Remember Kindness

More than anything, remember to be kind. This is a scary, stressful time for everyone, and if your lessons can err on the side of compassion, do so. The gesture can go farther than you might think. Read alouds have quickly become a major source of entertainment and inspiration in the last few days. So why not let your students join the fun?

Have them perform a reading from one of their favorite childhood books and share it with classmates from a younger grade via your school’s social media. As their teacher, you could even start the trend by performing a reading from the likes of Poe or Emily Dickenson. Follow up these readings by asking questions like, “What emotions did the book conjure from you?”, “What do you believe was the author’s intent?”, or “Why did you choose to read from that book? Does it have any special significance?”

If your school has a large social network, you might want to consider hosting a charity stream for organizations the American Red Cross or Feeding America. This won’t just bring your students together; it will also show them how they can still make a big difference while stuck at home!

What about you? What strategies are you employing for PBL and remote learning?