7 initial steps when planning an integrated PBL project

I noted the following seven initial planning steps that a group of teachers followed when collaboratively planning for integrated PBL:

  1. Each participating teacher identifies the key learning standards for their content area and grade level.
  2. Each teacher drafts an appropriate assessment on these standards for their content area. This step is meant to help focus on the essential skills needed to demonstrate mastery on the standard.
  3. In a group, each teacher talks through their own standards explaining them to the rest of the group so that they all have a general understanding of the content knowledge and/or skills required to demonstrate proficiency on the standards. The teachers also address what they need to do to get students to demonstrate proficiency on these standards.
  4. The teachers then discuss natural ways that the standards overlap. They look for possible thematic relationships among the standards of the different content areas.
  5. The teachers develop an end product focus for the project by answering a guiding question such as “What is it we are trying to solve/create/develop …?”
  6. Each teacher then determines what they need to do in their own class in order to bring students to the end product while meeting their own content area learning standards.
  7. The teachers co-develop an overall instructional timeline for the length of the project.

Thinking of classsrooms

A blog post on Edweek.org caught my attention today. The author, an educational architect and futurist, noted that far too many discussions on educational reform assume the maintenance of a “failed system” (Nair, 2011, ¶3), which he suggests is the average American classroom. He argues that this “relic, left over from the Industrial Revolution” (¶4) needs to be reconfigured, both physically and pedagogically,  to better suit the instructional demands of teaching and learning in the 21st century. He suggests that the following universal design principles need to be considered to help foster engaging learning opportunities that focus on 21st century skills:

  • personalized
  • safe and secure
  • inquiry-based
  • student-directed
  • collaborative
  • interdisciplinary
  • rigorous and hands-on
  • embodying a culture of excellence and high expectations
  • environmentally conscious
  • offering strong connections to the local community and business
  • globally networked, and
  • setting the stage for lifelong learning.

As I think about my research, I admit that there is nothing new in this list. It does serve, however, as a good reminder. I think that the ideas can help drive successful organization and instruction as we consider a new high school. I still believe that we can consider how, where and with whom students learn best; that teachers would want to work collaboratively on integrated projects; and that the community can serve to resource and support students’ learning opportunities.

I acknowledge that direct instruction is still an important and research-supported instructional strategy. We need to acknowledge its effectiveness and include space for direct instruction to take place. However, the idea of a learning commons continues to rise as an important consideration as a learning space, too, and one in which the design principles above can be implemented easily for student learning.


Nair, P. (2010). The classroom is obsolete: It’s time for something new. Accessed August 2, 2011 through Education Week.