What is PBL?


What the PBL? 

Hey, y'all. A lot of acronyms get thrown our way as teachers. The trouble comes when multiple ideas are using the same set of letters to describe them. We have PBL, PBL, and PBL right now, and they all mean slightly different things. Allow me to clear up some of the confusion.

1. Project-Based Learning

You've probably heard the most about project-based learning. With this PBL, students are given a task, like plan for a camping trip or setup a playground, and they follow a set of tasks to see their project to completion. Many times these projects are hypothetical, but sometimes students actually get to see the fruit of their labor in the for of a school dance or carnival or something. Project-based learning has a clear end goal in mind and is largely directed by the teacher or resource being used. 

In practice: Students are designing a zoo. They must list the animals they want in their zoo. Then, they must create a map of their zoo so that each animal has enough space. Maybe they have to figure out how much it costs to feed and maintain each animal, or design advertisements for their zoo, or create a sign for the zoo. Each step is mapped out for students and in the end, a complete zoo will be ready for visitors. 

Project-based learning does not take the place of traditional lesson, rather it serves as a culminating project or cross-curricular activity. If your students need lots of guidance during independent work, you may want to start here. 

2. Phenomena Based Learning

Phenomena based learning focuses on a science topic. It's what the Next Generation Science Standards are based on. Students explore topics like electricity or weather and learn all about it. There are a handful of specific objectives in mind and students should be able to demonstrate a certain level of understanding at the end of the unit. Phenomena based learning is teacher directed, meaning there are lesson plans and specific activities and lessons to go with the unit. 

In practice: Students are learning about weather. They go outside and look at clouds. They track the weather on an app and transfer the daily highs, lows, and precipitation in their weather journals. They learn about types of clouds and which ones produce precipitation. Younger students may learn about what type of clothing is worn in different types of weather, while older students may learn about how weather affects the climate in certain areas. 

Unlike project-based learning, phenomena based learning is the lesson. 

3. Phenomenon Based Learning

Phenomenon based learning is a little different. With this PBL, students can explore any topic--weather, electricity, civil rights, Thanksgiving, oceans, etc--and learn about all aspects of the topic. There is no specific end goal in mind. PhenomBL is student-directed. Teachers provide a topic and guide students in their exploration, but do not necessarily teach a specific lesson on the topic. Weird huh? 

In practice: The topic of study is plants. Students have already completed an overview unit on plants taught using traditional methods. Students have learned about the plant life cycle, what plants need in order to grow, and different ways humans use plants in the world. Now, students are taking on Phenomenon based learning to further their interests. 

Students may use their reading skills to learn more about different plants around the world or how certain vegetation is used in different places. They may use math skills to measure the height of trees around or track the growth of the plants they just planted, and calculating for change over time. They may use their science skills to take a closer look at the different plant parts--maybe even down to the cellular level. Or possibly experiment with different types of plants. They may explore the different types of forests in the world or even the effects of deforestation on the environment. And they may use social studies to learn about ways people use plants, how produce gets from farm to table, or even explore the working conditions of people who work in the agriculture industry. 

It all depends on what the student wants to learn about. It's largely an open-ended research topic where you, the teacher, serve as a coach and mentor in your students' explorations. 

PhenomBL does not take the place of traditional lessons, rather, it adds a new depth to it. It naturally differentiates based on student learning levels, providing voice and choice over what students learn. And I've found that students who may typically struggle in traditional learning environments thrive during these kinds of units. They are able to take charge of their learning and feel empowered, excited, and competent. 

If you're looking for more information on Phenomenon based learning, you can check out this free guide here. For resources to help support you in implementing your first PhenomBL units, check out these tools here. And check back often as more resources are always being added to the store. 

If you have any questions about any of the PBLs, send me a message and ask! I'm happy to help answer questions and provide support as you embark on this new teaching adventure! (It really is a game changer!)

I hope you have an awesome week and I'll talk to you soon. 

Stay cozy, 

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