How to Plan a Multidisciplinary Project‐Based Learning Design


Project-based learning is a set of learning experiences and tasks that guide students in inquiry toward answering a central question, solving a problem, or meeting a challenge.[1] Educators and community leaders alike will learn to better define educational projects and better observe and judge student presentations of their projects by following the guidelines given here.

Part 1
Pre-Planning

Pre-Planning on How to Plan a Multidisciplinary Project‐Based Learning Design

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The first step is for the design team of teachers to develop a schedule of meeting days and times.  Designing the project will require at least six to eight hours of collaborative work time.

Pre-Planning on How to Plan a Multidisciplinary Project‐Based Learning Design

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Prior to the first meeting, each teacher should identify the content-area academic standards that will be the focus of the project for their course. Successful project designs should provide an opportunity for students to master the standards in a real-world way. Doing so will ensure that the time spent on the project is relevant and meaningful.

Part 2
Designing the Project

Designing the Project on How to Plan a Multidisciplinary Project‐Based Learning Design

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The first planning meeting should proceed with each teacher taking a turn to share their respective content standards. The sharing should include a brief unpacking of each standard to ensure clarity and understanding.

Designing the Project on How to Plan a Multidisciplinary Project‐Based Learning Design

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Teachers should spend some time brainstorming a topic or theme that will drive the project. The topic or theme must have relevance and meaning for the students. It should also offer an opportunity for students to develop knowledge and skills related to the content standards as well as an opportunity to hone 21st-century skills. Example: A design team of high school teachers located in the city of Detroit selected the following topic: Impact of advanced technology solutions on global warming.

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This essential statement or driving question will create the need to know for students. It will serve as a stimulus for motivating them to complete the project. Example: The Detroit high school teachers selected the following questions to drive their project design: Should governments be able to regulate negative impacts on the environment by mandating the use of advanced technological solutions like electric cars? Should the city of Detroit become an autonomous/electric vehicle friendly city?

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This could be one major product that will be developed across content areas. There could also be multiple products developed under the direction of each teacher. Or, there could be one major product with multiple supporting products. In any event, the product(s) should support the project theme and, in some way, provide a solution for the problem statement or an answer to the driving question. Example: Each Detroit teacher identified a major product that student teams were responsible for developing. English Language Arts: Students developed position papers on the subject supported by research. History: Students researched the history that influenced the global warming debate. Chemistry: Students built working batteries that generated electricity. Computer Science: Students assembled and programmed autonomous, battery-operated Lego vehicles. Geometry: Students built to scale a model city to power their Lego vehicles around.

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Designed for the purpose of engaging students in solving the problem or answering the question, each teacher will plan activities that lead to an integration of the topic across their content area. Activity design should include the following elements: Student task sheet – This is a comprehensive set of directions that serves to guide students through the procedure of what they are to do. List of checkpoints that guides students through any procedures or processes. Schedule of due dates for completed products or assignments. Rubrics to evaluate final products.

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Field trips provide a wonderful way to add “real world” support for the elements of the project. Guest speakers who can provide a perspective on the topic should also be considered. Example: The Detroit high school teachers took their students to the U of M-Battery Lab in Ann Arbor and to M-City, an autonomous car testing site.

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This should be a collaborative effort among teachers. Students should be grouped for the purpose of collaborating on the project activities. An essential component of project-based learning is the opportunity for students to practice working with a collaborative group of their peers. Groups should be heterogeneous based on achievement. This allows for students to have opportunities to support each other’s learning. Example: The Detroit teachers grouped their 10th-grade students into heterogeneous groups of four.

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This plan should provide a measure of how well students have mastered the standards. Include a plan for assessing team collaboration efforts as well as completion of the products. Example: The Detroit teachers assessed their student's research skills, writing proficiency skills, geometry skills, science knowledge, and computer programming skills. Student teams’ collaboration skills were also assessed.

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The purpose of the project launch is to excite and motivate the students to participate. This will also be an opportunity for the design team of teachers to demonstrate their collaborative support for the project. Plan a student-friendly and interesting way to introduce the project theme. This could be done by a guest speaker or an industry leader who can exemplify the area of interest. Example: For the global warming project, General Motors executives from the autonomous car department and City of Detroit City Council members were invited to be guest speakers. The guest speakers discussed how the theme of the project impacted their organizations and how the project could help their organizations to address the issue.

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Decide how you will evaluate the overall value of the project. This should include surveying the perceptions of your students and the design team teachers. You should also plan to analyze the overall achievement of the students to determine project value.

Part 3
Implementing the Project

Implementing the Project on How to Plan a Multidisciplinary Project‐Based Learning Design

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Make sure the launch includes a presentation of the first steps that students will be expected to embark on to complete the project.

Implementing the Project on How to Plan a Multidisciplinary Project‐Based Learning Design

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Connecting the learning across content areas is a primary goal of the project. Project work should be scheduled to take place in each teacher’s class and should be considered an integral component of the course syllabus.

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The implementation of successful project-based learning designs should culminate with student presentations to an authentic audience. Theme or topic experts will support authenticity. If the theme of the project is automobile manufacturing, then industry leaders from the automobile industry should be invited guess.

Part 4
Evaluating Project Value

Evaluating Project Value on How to Plan a Multidisciplinary Project‐Based Learning Design

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The last step is to assess the value of the project-based learning design. Survey your students using the instrument developed during the design process.

Evaluating Project Value on How to Plan a Multidisciplinary Project‐Based Learning Design

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Determine what changes need to be made before implementing again. This data can also provide direction for the next project design.