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15 Common PBL Mistakes | mistake #13: too much too soon

I have the best job in the world. On a regular basis, I’m given the extraordinary fortune to talk with teachers who are embarking on a PBL journey with their students. To dig into the smaller, everyday details of how to make this type of learning environment work. To answer the tough questions about sustainability, rigor, behavior management and then take the questioner further…that’s like chocolate to me! I can’t get enough.

Over the years of starting my own PBL school and learning in a baptismal fire, I’ve been able to find a way to talk with new or reluctant teachers about their concerns. Additionally, there are things that excited, energetic teachers might want to consider as they take their first steps into the PBL fire as well.

In the next month or so, I’ll be publishing a regular series to include 15 common mistakes that educators make and some solutions they might consider. Here’s the next one in the series:

Mistake #13:
Expect too much, too soon with no plans for adjustment.

Problem: This mistake is related deeply to Mistake #9  (mandating all teachers fully participate, right now). Not all teachers have the temperament for letting go of the traditional approach to teaching, meaning being the deliverer of high-quality information and ensuring all students are exposed to the same materials, equally. Not all teachers are willing to let go of what is mostly working for them to grab on to something that doesn’t have the 122 year track record that our current system does. And what happens when you find that your community didn’t embrace the change in the same way you thought they would, based on what was promised to them in the initial meetings?

Solution: Again, unless that’s a magic wand in your pocket, there must be some room built in for adjustment and growth as the teachers, students, parents, and community learn what this looks like in their world. They will help define it. And remember, there are many, multiple right answers for how how to do PBL right. Are the students (and teachers) learning by doing? Then you’re on the right track. Make it work so that we can have more student-direction, more real-world application, more community involvement, more content integration, more student-ownership. There’s always the next level of goal to attain, so start with manageable chunks.

Want to learn more about Project/Problem Based Learning and how to support it?


In 2006 with 12 years of traditional classroom experience and 2 days of formal PBL training in her pocket, Ginger Lewman started a middle school, grades 5-8, that was a 1:1 laptop and Project Based Learning environment. Five years later, the middle school had doubled in population twice and had expanded to include PBL in grades K-8. They were also in the process of opening a PBL high school the next fall. Ginger now works with school leaders in helping them learn how to support the PBL shift, and inspires their teachers to take the leap. Meanwhile, she also continues to co-teach with K-12 teachers in the training process, keeping her own teaching chops sharp and ready.  

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Written by GingerLewman

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