How to ACTUALLY Do Project Based Learning

By AJ Juliani, One comment

People talk about Project-Based Learning all the time. I’ve heard WHY we should do it hundreds of times, but often we miss out on the HOW to do it.

In today’s article and podcast, I share a recent interview with Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy, the co-authors of Hacking Project Based Learning.

In this interview, we grill Ross and Erin on all things PBL, including the nitty-gritty details on HOW to actually do this work in schools and classrooms right now.

The podcast is listed below (and you can listen/subscribe on iTunes or Google Play). But I also copied the entire transcript of our conversation, because I thought it was that practical and wanted to share it in written format as well!

Take a listen, or read the whole thing below, and let us know in the comments your questions about PBL!

How to Actually Do Project Based Learning (an interview)

*Questions are in bold.

A.J. Juliani:
Can you share a little bit about your background? Personally, and then how you even got started with thinking about writing a book about Project Based Learning? How does that happen? So, ladies first. Erin, go ahead.

Erin Murphy:
That’s usually the way it goes with us anyway. So, I had sort of a unique experience with my student teaching when I was college, where I had the opportunity to participate in this year long student teaching internship with Penn State University, State College area school district. And Apple, actually, at the time. It was a partnership between the three, and it was totally focused on Inquiry Based Instruction. And Project Based Learning. And Authentic Technology Integration. So I had this really awesome experience. I learned all about Inquiry, and that was sort of the expectation. All of our lessons had to look like that. And then, I got my first teaching job, and was sort of shocked that that was not what real classrooms look like. And people were very turned off by that being my approach to education. Or approach to teaching. So then, as I then moved into other teaching positions in different districts where I sort of had more latitude to try new things, it was sort of a trial and error of, okay, how do I make this work? I really believe in this. How do I make this work in a place where not everyone is doing this? So, I made a lot of mistakes. And I think that, that’s sort of part of what led us to the book. I’ll let Ross tell the whole book journey story.

Ross Cooper:
I was gonna tell about your mistakes.

Erin Murphy:
Oh, thank you. I appreciate that. I was the one fixing your mistakes. So, Ross and I, our history is that we had the opportunity to teach together, where I was the fifth grade teacher in a building, and Ross was the fourth grade teacher in the building, so I like to give him a hard time about me having to fix all the mistakes he made in the fourth grade.

Ross Cooper:
My PBL journey, actually, it started probably when I was in school. Elementary school, middle school and high school. And I was always like, one of those creative students. But it didn’t matter. It’s like, “Ross is creative. He’s this kind of smart, but this isn’t the kind of smart that you need to be for school.” And I think, you know, a lot of times when I was in school, and even now, we’re taught that there’s only one way to be smart. And in general, like, I was creative. I thought I was pretty innovative, but it just didn’t matter. And so, when I became a teacher, that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to become a teacher and an educator, was ’cause I really wanted to make a difference. And I really wanted to do things for students that a lot of my teachers did not do for me, save for a select few.

So, when I became a teacher, immediately, I kind of started, you know, I taught a little bit differently like, right off the bat. And of course, as Erin alluded to, when you teach a little bit differently … You know, I always say, if you’re not pissing anyone off, you’re probably not innovating. You know, that’s what I like to say. And so, I definitely pissed some people off, but even now, I truly feel like I keep the students at the center of all of my decisions, and what I do. And this was about a year or two into teacher where I was banging my head against the wall the entire year because I was trying to get my students to understand material. Fourth grade. Fourth grade students, wonderful fourth grade students, about 24 students, trying to get them understand the material from our boring Basal Reader that we had.

And then, it was not an easy year. Great students, but academically, they struggled a little bit. After standardized testing, I threw a project at them. It wasn’t necessarily PBL, it was one of those more traditional projects, but they were doing some research. They were creating Power Points. At the time, I was like, “Oh my gosh! Fourth graders are creating Power Points!” You know? And now, we know it’s not necessarily about the product, but it was still cool, none-the-less. As it was about 10 years ago. They were blogging, they were creating websites and things like that. But, my jaw really hit the floor when I saw what they were able to do when I raised the bar. ‘Cause when I raised the bar and said, “You can do this,” they jumped up and they hit bar. And not only did they hit it, but they jumped over it. And they surpassed it.

So, that really got me believing in the whole idea of projects, PBL, really just believing in our students and the importance of engaging them in relevant learning experiences, and from there, I just kind of refined what I did through District Initiatives that we had in PBL and STEM. Through reading Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, which was really transformational for me. And just really being in an environment and culture in my school district, where was afforded opportunities to take risks and keep moving forward and keep iterating to the benefit of my students.

Anthony Gabriele:
That’s great. And I think it’s always interesting to hear educators journeys and especially, how they get to a certain area that they’re passionate about and that they’re interested in. And obviously, the two of you wrote a book on Project Based Learning. And you know, as we try to share out these ideas and we’ve had your book at our school in a couple classrooms, that you both described making mistakes along the way, learning along the way. We hear a lot, “Well, I just wanna do this right. Like, I wanna do it. I wanna do it the right way.” We hear that a lot from our teachers. So, I guess, one of my questions to you guys is, is there one right way to do PBL?

Erin Murphy:
We get that a lot, and we actually reference, there was sort of a tweet or like a series of tweets that were sort of viral for a long time, that was like, “If all of your kids projects look the same way, then you’re not doing PBL.” And we realized that, that was a real stigma. Like, people thought, “Oh my god, I’m gonna do it wrong.” And then, that was a thing that kept people from trying to do Project Based Learning. And Ross and I kind of coined the term, “PBL Paralysis,” that’s what we call that stigma. That point where it’s like, “Oh my gosh, I’m gonna do it wrong,” or whatever the reason might be. And that keeps people from wanting to try Project Based Learning. So to directly answer your question, no, there isn’t just one way to do PBL. I think that it’s really about finding the entry point that works for you. Ultimately, kids are learning through the process. That’s sort of what differentiates PBL from just a traditional project. Ross, why don’t you jump in.

Ross Cooper:
Yeah, so I actually, I brought up a blog post on my phone that I wrote not too long ago, and it’s titled, “You’re Not Doing it Wrong, You’re Doing it Differently.” And basically, this was built on the premise that, since Erin and I came out with the book, we had some people say to us, “Man, all this time we have been doing PBL the wrong way.” You know, kind of assuming that our book was the Bible. And I was kinda that way, too, when I first started reading education books. Like, everything I read, it was fact. I wasn’t necessarily a critical consumer, and I didn’t start to become a critical consumer until like, five or six years into becoming an educator. And what I basically said in the blog was, I’m gonna read you the key line from it.

It says, “If we are quick to discredit our own actions because a so-called expert disagrees, then we’re not thinking critically about what we consume, and we’re not embracing our own iterative process. And I really think that’s true. So like, if we’re following a certain framework, let’s say like, our Hacking PBL framework, or Understanding By Design or anything like that, we could claim certain rights and wrongs because it’s our framework, right? Because we invented it. Or it’s an iteration of something else that’s out there. But if we’re talking about PBL in general, there probably are some rights and wrongs, but there’s also a lot of shades of gray.

So, for instance, a right and wrong might be something like, “You should give a whole lot of grades and not feedback. Grades will drive your learning.” Like, nobody’s gonna agree with that. We know feedback drives learning. When you give a grade, for the most part, learning stops. So that would be a right or wrong. But let’s say you’re talking about like, essential questions, there’s no, like, should you have an essential question? Probably. If you don’t have one, it’s not the end of the world. But I think most experts would say PBL should have some type of an essential question. But in regards to how you introduce that essential question to your students, there’s so many darn ways to do it, there is no right or wrong. So I think what we kinda have to look at is, like, especially when we’re planning, is like, what are those non-negotiables to keep in mind? Because that gives us a starting point. But under that umbrella, like, you have all this autonomy, where teachers get to exercise their creativity to make it their own. And more importantly, make it work for the students that are in front of them.

Anthony Gabriele:
So, you just touched on, I think, in my mind, what I heard was two good starting points. Right? If I’m new to this, and I wanna start, I’m thinking, “All right, I need to make sure I’m giving feedback throughout the process. And make sure I’m focusing on an essential question.” What are some of the strategies, let’s say for elementary, that you would suggest for a good starting point for teachers?

Erin Murphy:
So, something actually, that is great for elementary teachers that they’re sort of already experts at, and I sort of have taken this from my elementary hat and I’m using it now in the secondary schools that I work in, is the idea of a mini-lesson. So that, for elementary teachers, is something that they should feel really good about. This idea that like, “Hey, we mini-lesson because we know our five year olds can’t sit and listen to me talk for 42 minutes anyway.” So, mini-lessons are a critical piece of Project Based Learning, because that’s how we sort of insert the direct instruction in a way that does not completely obstruct the personal learning journey that a student may be on. So, something that I think that maybe elementary teachers may struggle with a little bit is control. So, I think that we, also, as elementary teachers, felt like because I have these five year olds in my room, I need to be really hyper-focused on exactly what they’re doing. So, we need to trust that as we sort of build our classroom routines, that then, they are going to be able to fulfill those routines and complete tasks or ideas that they may have set out in front of them, without our direct instruction or without our support along the way.

Anthony Gabriele:
So, what would you say to the secondary teacher who’s stuck on content? So, if it is controlled for elementary, right? And then, I’ve come from a secondary background myself, working in both the middle school and high school. I’m trained in Bounce literacy, and then, but I’m working K-12 now, so I’m seeing how the elementary world works, but also working in an AP, upper-level high school world, and knowing content, content, content is king. How do you make that argument to the high school teachers? The secondary teachers?

Ross Cooper:
So, I think one way to think about is looking at the order of how you teach. So, for instance, I’ve been in a good amount, you know, I’m in classrooms all the time in early elementary schools, middle school and high school, and I’m also in classrooms in other districts, and a lot times I hear something like, for instance, in a science class, you might hear like, “As a result of this experiment, you are going to find out X, Y and Z.” You know? And it’s like, man, when you say that, it’s as if you just took the inquiry and you threw it out the window.

So I always, I kinda say, like, take that direct instruction, whatever it’s going to be, and move it as far back as you possibly can. You know? And sometimes it’s tweaking the order of the way you do things. It could be very scary, mostly for teachers more so than students, to be honest, right? Because a lot of times, students, their experiences are limited by our comfort zones. But taking that direct instruction and moving it as far back as you possibly can. So for instance, you have that productive struggle, no matter what students are doing, and as a result of that productive struggle, let’s say, you know in the book we talked about creating like electrical circuits. Rather than saying, “Okay, here’s how you create one, now do it.” It’s like, “Here’s the materials. Here’s just enough information, so I’m not gonna cause massive anxiety. You go fumble around with it,” Right? And then we’ll talk about ways it’s created, and then we’ll have that direct instruction on the back end, where that research, kind of on the back end to hit home and make sure everybody understands what they need to.

But it’s a difference between covering, right? Covering the content, and uncovering the content. And sometimes that uncovering, it takes more time. But once students get it, then there’s that deeper understanding, and that whole, “drill and kill,” maybe on some of it, just to hit home, but it isn’t as necessary. You need some of it, but you don’t need as much of it because that deeper understanding is already there. I think the order is huge. It’s something to think about.

Erin Murphy:
And we like to push back on that phrase, “Content is king,” and sort of say that context is king. So very similar to Ross’ point, but this idea that like, okay, so your curriculum guide says that you need to teach Medieval Times. Fine. Why do kids need to learn that? What’s the context that you’re providing to your students in order to learn about that time period. So, it goes to the order that Ross was sharing, and also, you’re changing the order so that you can provide a new context for that learning experience.

Anthony Gabriele:
That’s great. Julie, wanna jump in?

Julie Devine:
Yes. So, if you had to write the book again, what would you add this time that maybe didn’t make the first cut?

Ross Cooper:
So, that’s a great question. Easy answer. And here’s a cheap plug, along with the book actually, we did a whole bunch of blog posts and other materials to go along with it, so this kind of answers your question. The book is 10 chapters, or 10 hacks, and I did 10 blog posts, one for each hack, or chapter, that kind of serves as an extension. And then, I packaged those like, as a PDF, like as an e-book, and it’s available on my website for free. So I’m not selling anything. It’s for free. All you have to do is give me your email address, or if you’re nice, I’ll send it to you. But that has some of the content in there. That doesn’t directly answer your question, but it’s something to think about.

Erin Murphy:
I would say-

Ross Cooper:
You know, some extra information.

Erin Murphy:
Yeah, and the thing that we probably get asked the most, or like, things that someone will say to us is, “You know, I really wish that you took a traditional project and made it PBL. I wish you did that in the book.” Which is interesting. That wasn’t necessarily the book that we set out to write. We set out to create a framework that sort of help people avoid the mistakes that we made when we were doing PBL. But you know, that is something that people have asked for, and maybe it’s something that will be coming. This idea of like, okay, how can I sort of upgrade my traditional project into a PBL experience.

Ross Cooper:
Yeah. It’s weird because people, like, a lot of times, they just want examples. Like, “Where do I get sample projects from?” And I try to shy away from that, because then it’s like, there’s a good chance you might just copy and paste it into your classroom. And I think it’s important to have an understanding of, you know, how things work the way they do and why they work the way they do, and understanding the, “why,” behind PBL and Inquiry, rather than just taking a cool idea and copying it and pasting it into your classroom. Because if you do that, and you’re a more traditional teacher, there’s a good chance you’re gonna take that PBL and you’re gonna regurgitate it as direct instruction. You know, there’s a very good chance it’s gonna happen. So, this whole idea of, people get like, “I just need a cool idea,” and I think there’s a time and a place for that, but I’ve seen that also being counterproductive as well.

Anthony Gabriele:
So, let me put you on the spot for a second though… Let’s say I am that teacher that’s sitting here watching this, thinking, “Hey, I really have a traditional project sitting in front of me, I know you’re not gonna do it for me, but you just said,” you know, “Help me understand the why and how and sort of the idea behind it.” What would be a couple ways you would start that explanation if I were sitting here and I wanted to take a traditional project I’ve got and turned it into a Project Based Learning experience?

Erin Murphy:
Yeah, so I think the first thing that happens with traditional projects is we get really hung up on the tasks that we want students to complete. Like, I want them to find three different colored apples, and various levels of that. Or, I want them to create a timeline of the Medieval Time period. And we lose sight of, what is the enduring understanding. What is the thing, what’s the high impact takeaway, the main thing that we want a kid to take away from this. Because ultimately, we don’t need them to remember the date of every battle of the Civil War, but we want them to understand what starts a civil war. What impact might that have in today’s world? So, we want them to focus on those high impact takeaways. So that’s probably the first step. That’s probably the first conversation that we have.

And then, you think about what kids you have in front of you. Which, is another reason Ross used the term, “Copy and paste projects.” A lot the reason that those end up being not successful is that those projects that you find posted somewhere on the website, are not taking into consideration the human beings that you have sitting in front of you in your classroom. So, starting with your enduring understanding, think about your kids and what is going to motivate them, and what is interesting to them. And then, I’m gonna pause there and let Ross jump in if he wants. I just did a lot of talking.

Ross Cooper:
No, I think you said it all. I think also, thinking about it, as Erin said, not always about the product. We have three different tracks that we created that we think kind of encompassed the majority of the projects that are out there. One of them is based on a product, but when we’re creating a product, everything could kind of, you know, we could do 20 … So, once again, in the book, we talk about [inaudible 00:19:46]. So that, could be anything. Could be a poster, could even be one of those hanger-mobiles. Whatever it is, but like, I know, hanger-mobiles, but like, that’s where people are. You meet them where they are. And, unfortunately sometimes, but like, as long as there’s creativity pursuance to make it their own. So, those hanger-mobiles are being graded on the understandings that students demonstrate, not necessarily, “Okay, there’s three facts, four opinions. There are titles in there,” you know, like a compliance checklist, or compliance rubric rather than a rubric that [inaudible 00:20:14] learning targets, and you want students to understand.

So, there’s a product track with flexibility for students to make it their own. Our problem track, which is, students are solving a problem that either we give to them, or they find on their own. So one of the things that I did, and that’s the whole idea of students becoming problem finders, not necessarily problem solvers.

Erin Murphy:
Just problems.

Ross Cooper:
And I’m reading about that now, actually, in Warren Berger’s book. I’m finally reading it. A More Beautiful Question, which is absolutely awesome. Definitely a great book to check out. But I did that with my fourth grade students one day. They all adopted an animal, and endangered animal, and did anything they could to help that animal to survive. So some of them did tag sales, some of them did fundraisers, some of them just hung up posters around the school, some of them published e-books. So, framing it like that also helps. And the other one is kind of more open-ended. It’s like, “Here are the understandings I want you to walk away with at the conclusion of the project. Okay, now hit these understandings however you want.” And that kind of lends itself more towards Genius Hour and 20% Time, which in and of itself could be even more open-ended. But you could scaffold those throughout the year. Start with product, then go to problem and then go to open-ended. There’s so many different ways you could do that. But looking at a more traditional project through that lens, it takes the abstract and makes it a little more concrete. And then people might be able to wrap their heads around it.

Anthony Gabriele:
So, I’m hearing a lot of terms that, you know, “Essential Understandings,” “Enduring Understandings,” it’s understanding by design, right? In curriculum speak.

Ross Cooper:
Yeah.

Anthony Gabriele:
How much of that framework and that backwards design framework comes into play in a way that, in your minds, it may help teachers build Project Based Learning experiences that can easily connect to, let’s say, State standards. Or, you know, standards that are expected from the district’s angle. How much of a role does UBD play in all that?

Ross Cooper:
Yeah, and I’ll jump in. I’m just gonna cut off Erin because I’m a huge UBD junkie, and I think that basically, when people talk about what resources to dig into for PBL, aside from our book, I mention UBD. Like, I think it’s absolutely phenomenal. Like I said, reading, going through it changed my teaching and it changed my outlook on how we could teach and how students could learn. And I think that backwards design process, which doesn’t start within that. It actually started with Ralph Tyler in the 1940s and then UBD is based off of that. It’s absolutely huge [inaudible 00:22:37]. I think the whole idea is, it’s not one or the other, right? It’s not, “We teach the standards,” or, “We have relevant learning experiences.” So, when you look at those enduring understandings and those essential questions, those will then, encompass your standards. Right? So, you start with your standards. Or you could start with a cool idea and make sure it hits your standards. But in some way, shape or form it should tie into your standards. And not just any standards, but if you’re gonna get really geeky, kinda like your priority standards, right?

So, your standards that really call for students to perform tasks that lend themself to higher order thinking. So we’re not talking about like, identify. No, you’re gonna identify something like, why would you base your project around the standard that calls for you to identify something. But more, something that would be like exploration. Or just something that really, looking at, you want students to accomplish. And then, that would serve as the basis of your project. So if an Administrator is like, “Why are you spending so much darn time on this concept,” it’s like, “Well, if you look in the standards, it calls for it.”

And I think that’s huge because nobody likes to talk about standards, but if we’re a little bit more intentional about what we do, we could then justify these PBL and Inquiry-based learning experiences, not as fluff, which a negative connotation at times, but it actually is the learning in and of itself because it ties back to those standards.

Anthony Gabriel:
Nice.

Julie Devine:
All right, so I have another question for you. What are some other hurdles or obstacles that teachers would have to overcome in order to actually do PBL?

Erin Murphy:
So, I think that another thing that we hear from teachers a lot is, you talked about finding their starting point, I think that that’s definitely one big thing, and I think the other thing that we hear probably the most often, has to do with grading. And how to assess Project Based Learning. And Ross kind of touched on this a little bit in the beginning when he was talking about what we grade, how we grade it. We developed a Progress Assessment tool, which is sort of our hack, if you will, on how to approach grading and assessment in PBL. And it’s really focused on those enduring understandings, and learning targets that we talked about. It’s a really great way to tie it back to, “Okay, this is stuff I have to teach. Okay, this is a really great way for me to teach it.” And it gives kids ownership over the assessment process. And allows teachers to really focus their feedback on what the kids are supposed to be learning. But overall, that’s probably the biggest hurdle. Like, how to grade it. How to assess it.

Ultimately, Ross and I like to promote not grading a project, so when you think about Project Based Learning, and we had said this earlier, the big difference between doing a project, and doing Project Based Learning is that in Project Based Learning, the kids are learning while they’re doing the project. So, the project itself is the instruction. It’s the instructional process. So, if you think about it, in a traditional classroom, you don’t assess your instruction, so why would you assess the project? So, there are ways to work around that where … my solution in my classroom was that I had my kids respond to our umbrella question or essential question for the unit. We used the word, “respond,” very carefully because there isn’t just an answer to an umbrella question. It’s more of a response. There’s more than one right answer, essentially. So, I would have the kids respond to the umbrella question in essay format, and then the kids needed to just record an answer and talk through it with me. And then that’s what I assessed. They were allowed to [inaudible 00:26:28] in their answer wasn’t something they needed to do from memorization. And that was sort of the, that was what I assessed as their project.

A.J. Juliani:
All right, I’ve got some rapid fire questions for you guys. You ready? Rapid fire. Project Based Learning, fun or not fun?

Erin Murphy:
Fun!

Ross Cooper:
Am I muted still? I muted myself. Am I good? No, it’s fun. It’s definitely fun, when done the right way.

A.J. Juliani:
Okay, rigor or vigor?

Ross Cooper:
Neither. Neither. I used to think rigor was cool and now I do not.

A.J. Juliani:
Okay, but can you explain in like 30 seconds, why?

Erin Murphy:
Well, I think we believe in production struggle. Like, we believe that kids need to opportunity to grapple with things that are really challenging. I think that rigor kind of had this negative connotations that follows it around. Like, we need to make kids close read every text that they have access to. So that’s why I think it’s basically a really good question.

A.J. Juliani:
Hey Ross, what were you thinking? You used to think rigor was cool?

Ross Cooper:
I think it’s the idea that we want students to enjoy school. You know, it’s not necessarily always about hitting them with this hard information. You know, the productive struggle should be there, but sometimes I think we just need to let go a little bit and realize that we’re teaching fourth grade. They’re nine and 10 years old. And sometimes that just puts things into perspective.

A.J. Juliani:
Do you think that Project Based Learning can work at any grade level?

Erin Murphy:
Oh yeah. I taught kindergarten and integrated Project Based Learning, and have worked with high school teachers are using it now. It happens.

A.J. Juliani:
And Ross?

Ross Cooper:
Yeah, I believe so. I mean, I think when we get the students, and I’ve been in our kindergarten classrooms. I was in a couple today. These students ask more questions than pretty much any other grade level. It’s just a matter of being able to harness those questions and that curiosity and put it towards what the students need to learn.

A.J. Juliani
So that leads me into my last question for you guys, what’s the tie in between Design Thinking and PBL? Like, where do you see that? Because a lot of the folks at Innovative Teaching Academy are super into Design Thinking, and I think that they mesh together but I’d like to hear your thoughts on it.

Erin Murphy:
I guess I, hmm, that’s a great question. So like, we talk about Design Thinking a lot-

A.J. Juliani:
Saved the best for last.

Erin Murphy:
And I, yeah, I like it. I like it. You did say you were gonna make us think. So, I think the biggest thing is that we Project Based Learning is like the big picture. It’s like the whole year. And then, the Design Thinking sort of sits into it as the students are solving problems within the year. So I guess, gut reaction, that’s sort of how I see a connection. I also see, and Ross and I have talked before about the idea that Design Thinking can also go into, how do you prepare your students for a Project Based Learning unit. So like, let’s Design Think the classroom. Let’s Design Think how we’re going to monitor our homework completion. I don’t know. Like so, kids can solve all sorts of problems that kind of prepare them then to do a whole Project Based Learning unit.

A.J. Juliani:
Gotcha. I like that. Okay, Ross. Let’s see if you can beat that. Because that was a really good answer.

Ross Cooper:
No, I’m gonna beat that. I don’t even think Erin knows what Design Thinking is. Has she even, have you read Launch? Have you, no, so I just-

A.J. Juliani:
Haa. Hashtag Launchbook.

Ross Cooper:
Yeah. I’m still waiting for John Spencer the Launch Cycle for me. Create like a video. Anyway, so I actually just finished, no joke, I read Launch again, a second time, a couple weeks ago. And in looking at it, so like, I’ll give you a concrete example because I actually read the book, and Erin didn’t. If you look at the end you’d see about the rollercoaster activity, so I think that in and of itself, as I’m looking through that, that really is a Project Based Learning activity, very much like I did with [inaudible 00:33:07] with my students. It really is. I think PBL takes it and frames it in a broader context. So then, you’re just adding things to it. Like, what’s the assessment component? How might you grade it? [inaudible 00:33:19], what’s the essential question? What are the enduring understandings? So, it’s almost like a piece of the puzzle. It’s like that awesome hands-on activity that you’re gonna do for the consumer, but then you’re kind of dressing it up as a PBL unit, and just adding more components to it that are more PBL-like.

I think that’s kinda what it is, it’s almost like a smaller component of PBL, but the more I look at it, it really is PBL. It just needs a little bit more to be all out. Like as far as an instructional unit.

A.J. Juliani:
Yeah. One of the things that I want … the reason I brought this question up for you guys is I was thinking about the connection because we’ve had this whole month where we’ve been talking about like authentic learning and Project Based Learning. And this question has come up quite a few times. My perception on it is that Project Based Learning is a school thing. It’s a learning thing, right? Where Project Based Learning in and of itself, the term is something that you would do in a specific learning environment. You know what I mean? Like, it’s not, it’s Project Based Learning for a reason because the ultimate goal is to kind of get to the learning. Where-as, Design Thinking, you’re gonna learn though the process, but that’s not the goal. The goal of Design Thinking is to have empathy and solve a problem for that-

Erin Murphy:
Right. I see.

A.J. Juliani:
Can they mesh together? I think, if you’re looking at a Venn diagram, a lot of times they overlap. A lot of times PBL’s the bigger one and Design Thinking’s in it. But it’s an interesting question because you guys know, and all of us in here know, people just like throwing out terms. Like, let’s just, we’re gonna throw out Design Thinking and PBL, all this type of thing. And not really thinking about the intersection between them and how to purposely, I think, use both.

Ross Cooper:
So, you’re saying basically, PBL almost like taking the PBL stamp and stamping Design Thinking with it.

A.J. Juliani:
Yeah, a lot of people are trying to do Design Thinking projects, right? And so they become, like I know one of the worst things about PBL is like, “Let’s teach a whole unit in a traditional method and then have PBL at the end of it.” Right? It’s like going and playing Oregon Train one day out of the week in elementary school, because that was the fun learning activity. Where-as-

Erin Murphy:
That was our tech.

A.J. Juliani:
Yeah right? But I think when I read your guy’s book, it was more like, “No, no no,” which, I’ll give credit to The Buck Institute, they wrote a great article called, “The Main Course, Not Just the Dessert.” And I think that’s kind of what your book spoke to, which is PBL is the main course, and can be the main course. It’s not just the dessert. I think Design Thinking is a process that helps you get through the main course when it’s actually authentic learning and authentic assessment, which I think is key.

Ross Cooper:
I think, I’m gonna add one more thing. I think one of the drawbacks with Design Thinking in general, and not the framework or the structure, I think, but maybe the misconception is that it’s always tied to a product. And I see that a lot. And you were very on the Launch book that it doesn’t have to be. But just like PBL, you don’t necessarily have to be tied to the product to search with empathy for the consumer and that could be solving any type of problem. Which, could then be encompassed by PBL. But I do think we need to talk about the perceptions out there. PBL isn’t necessarily as synonymous with products as Design Thinking is.

A.J. Juliani:
Agree. I agree. Yeah, well I thank you guys so much for coming on and taking your night. 40 some minutes to chat with us and provide some answers and resources. Those of you in the Academy watching this or listening to this audio or reading this transcription, guys, these are two awesome, awesome educators who are really doing it right now. Right? I mean, they are doing the work right now in schools, and I think that just speaks to the measure of how much they wanna make an impact on kids. So thanks again, Ross. Thanks again, Erin, so much for coming on. I appreciate it.

Erin Murphy:
Absolutely. Thank you.

Ross Cooper:
Thanks for having us.

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