Do you use Project-Based Learning (PBL) in your homeschool? When I wrote Five Keys to Our Homeschooling Life, I listed ‘life skills’ as one of the keys. We try to incorporate life skills as much as we can into our homeschool and in the back of my head, I have thought “Is this ‘project-based learning’?”. You see, as a box checker, to-do list crosser-offer, I figured there was an exact definition and accompanying steps to ‘project-based learning.’
So, I did some research and developed this step-by-step guide for us to really maximize project-based learning in our homeschool. I am super excited to start using this method of schooling more, especially as my oldest son heads into the middle school years. At the end of this post, there is a free printable to get you started, too!
What is Project-Based Learning?
In project-based learning, your children work on a project over an extended time period. This could be a week, a month or an entire semester. The project involves a real world problem such as planning a family vacation, building a piece of furniture, determining the benefits and costs of different light bulbs, sewing clothes, building a small sailboat, creating a budget, etc.
Or the project could involve answering a complex question such as ‘Should the US have fought the Vietnam War?’, ‘Is there evidence for global warming?’, or ‘Am I responsible for taking care of other people?’. Your children then demonstrate what they have learned by creating a product and/or organizing the information into a presentation.
The goal is for children to develop deep knowledge of a content area and to improve their planning, critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills.
Your role is to guide your children through the project and provide the level of support they need based upon their age and skill sets. The project will replace a chunk of other “school time” rather than being something additional in an already busy schedule. I have trouble letting go of our typical schedule and have found summer, time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, or a break in the spring to be the best times to implement project learning.
The Steps to Project Based Learning
1. Develop a ‘driving question’.
First, the child or adult introduces a topic. The child must have interest and want to keep the project going, as he will be working on it for an extended length of time.
For example, my youngest son loves to build box forts and plan how to live out in the woods. This could be just a fun thing he plays around with on his own or I could provide the support below to maximize his learning about this.
From the topic, you will work together to develop an actual question to be answered. In this example, it might be “What do I need to live outside for 24 hours in the summer?” To keep the question focused and ‘real world’, it should contain a personal pronoun such as ‘I’ or ‘we’.
2. Determine the knowledge and skills needed to answer this question.
This is where you connect the project to academic learning as well as real life skills. As the parent-teacher, you will play a big role in helping determine what your child needs to learn and how much of a teaching role you will have.
If the project is math based, such as creating a budget, think about what math skills are needed and whether your child needs to learn any new skills or review learned skills at the beginning of the project.
For a science or history based project, you may want to present an overview of the topic, define key vocabulary and teach key concepts before turning your child loose to do their own research.
If the final project will be written, you may need to review writing skills that will be needed. In the above example, we could spend time learning about habitats and what a human body needs to survive and thrive.
3. Determine what resources are needed to complete the project.
Help your child develop a list of resources they will need such as books, videos, web-sites, magazines, or podcasts. The resources needed may actually include people. Your child may need to interview someone for his or her knowledge. Or you may require someone’s physical help if higher levels skills such as working with power tools is needed.
4. Determine what steps are needed to complete the project.
How will the resources listed be obtained and used? What materials will be needed? Who will need to be consulted? What will the finished product look like? Depending on the project, this may be a written list and/or it may include pictures showing the design of the finished project. This plan should be kept in a place where it can be referred to and revised on a regular basis if needed. This could be a notebook or it may be a whiteboard or wall space in the work area.
5. Keep a journal for reflecting and revising.
A key way to keep the project moving along is to check in every day your child works on the project and reflect upon what was accomplished. You can keep a journal where you write down what your child did that day to work toward the end goal of the project.
Your discussion should include any problems that occurred and what was done to solve them. Also, think about and discuss whether the original project plan needs any revisions. Are new resources needed? Have new tasks arisen that need to be completed? Always make sure that everything fits with the original driving question so that your child does not go down too many rabbit trails. As your child becomes more experienced with project-based learning, she may start completing the journal each day.
6. Present the final project.
Plan an audience for the final project presentation. Will it just be family present? Maybe invite friends and extended family? Or is there a local science fair your child can enter his or her project in? A local business that would want to hear a product pitch? The type of project will help determine what is appropriate.
Download the Planning Guide
Our FREE planning guide will walk you through these steps to create your own project plan, give you 56 different topic ideas to get you started, and provide you with examples of driving questions and final products for a few of those topics. Get started today:
Buck Institute for Education: This institute is dedicated to supporting teachers in providing project-based learning experiences to their students. It is definitely classroom based, not homeschool-based, but there is still a lot of good, detailed information, including a database of projects to give you ideas.
Project-based Homeschooling: This site is definitely geared toward homeschool families and has some good information.
Performing in Education: This site is authored by a teacher and again leans toward a classroom setting, but she does have a lot of resources to get you started.