Empower Students by Giving them Voice! –
PBL Part 4

Image by klimkin from Pixabay

The Philosophy

It does not matter if you are the rogue teacher trying to implement a PBL philosophy in your classroom or the school principal adopting a PBL model for the campus. Truthfully, it does not matter. You are doing it because you believe you will have better student performance outcomes. I am writing a series on project-based learning to help you understand how this all works. The stories about Timmy, Jessica, and Tammy are part of each article. Let us share in their journey.
Hidden under piles of research and various speaker keynotes is the philosophy of engagement – meeting students where they are. Day after day, your motivation for teaching wains because you feel restricted by standards, your students do not see the value of learning, or both. We need to change the way we teach. We need to reach our students where they are. If you were to ask them –

‘What do you want to learn about today?’

– how would they respond? 

The answer to this question may not be exactly what you want to hear. 

However, you reached them where they were. And now you have an idea as to what is on their mind.

Probing Question

Exciting Learning Process

Social Sharing

Timmy, with the assistance of his teachers, parents, and classmates, got right to work trying to understand the problem of homelessness in his community. After pushing through the Probing Question and building a plan of action once he completed the Inquiry Landscape (see previous articles), Timmy was ready to explore the issue. He found that homelessness was a problem in many areas of the country (USA), and was a growing concern for residents, business owners, and public officials. By using his favorite online search engine, Timmy found some interesting facts.

People viewed homelessness from different perspectives. Often, community residents simply ignored the problem. Yes, they viewed it as a problem. However, it was often viewed as someone else’s problem that either got ignored or was so overwhelming that the people who could do something often did not know how to approach the problem effectively. For this reason, the problem keeps growing and growing.

Then Timmy came across an online news article that discussed a possible real-world solution to the problem. The program was called Built for Zero. The program that supported this movement was gaining ground. And the program was becoming more successful every day.

Jessica started a LinkedIn profile with the guidance of her teacher, father, and community supporters. Her classmates did the same. As part of the process, Jessica needed to become part of the entrepreneur community. This meant making connections with the local Chamber of Commerce and building relationships with other entrepreneurs in her community and across the globe. This was one of the starting points to opening a business – she needed to learn how others did it before jumping into the action. She was overwhelmed with the number of things she needed to learn. Still, she felt excited about the process all the same!

Tammy was at home in the outdoors. She always carried around a backpack with her equipment: binoculars, tweezers, a net, some plastic bags, and a notebook. She wrote down everything she witnessed. Life was exciting now that she was older. She could go further with her bike and cell phone. Tammy made the most of her resources exploring her neighborhood or area camping grounds. She started a YouTube channel, a vlog, and began sharing her explorations with the world.

Bringing it Back to The Classroom

“Flip the classroom just a  little.”

As the teacher, you may be inclined to control the project-based learning activity for several reasons. Foremost in your mind are the standards you are required to follow. Standard guide your instruction and classroom activities. In many ways, teachers feel restricted by the content and learning objectives which constitute their classroom. That means we need to flip the classroom just a little. With standards in mind, we can create a more productive learning experience for our students. We will use standards to guide our actions, not restrict them.

How can we use standards to guide our classroom instruction but still give students some leverage to have ‘voice’ and ‘choice’ when creating project ideas for project-based learning? Although there is no easy answer to this question, I offer some creative and useable suggestions.


“Giving students a ‘voice’ and a ‘choice’…”

Consider the needs of your students. Getting students engaged is important. In the traditional context, schools were run by administrators and the classrooms managed by teachers. This was good for the factory model of education. In the 21st century, this model does not work. We need to become better collaborators with our students. We do this so that students gain a sense of ownership in the learning process. It also makes learning relevant to their world view.

If we are going to blame the COVID-19 pandemic for something, we can blame it for forcing educators and administrators to evaluate traditional teaching models to determine their usefulness. In virtual and hybrid learning environments where contact time with the teacher is minimalized, keeping students ‘wanting’ to learn is challenging. There are too many distractions across all social media platforms. Giving students a ‘voice’ and a ‘choice’ in project ideas engages students and piques their interest in learning more.

Image by DarkmoonArt_de from Pixabay
Image by Наталия Когут from Pixabay


“students age 6 to 16 see the world through the computer…”

Leverage students’ time online. Now that students spend more time online, they are exposed to more of the real world (for all that is worth!). Even now, my ten-year-old daughter can tell me about the Mandela Effect. The Mandela Effect is a problem for old people like me! The point: students age 6 to 16 see the world through the computer monitor. This is a limited field of vision. Youtubers and other social media influencers have an impact on what and how our youth experience the world. As educators and parents, we can change that influence through focused PBL activities.


“..Being allowed to express ourselves is the first step…”

Even though the project options can be created by students, teachers still manage the overall learning experience. That means teachers work with their students to carefully set expectations.











What can I do to guide my students in real-world learning?

How can I embrace the project-based learning model to better prepare students?

What are your project options that line up with curriculum standards?

What would you like to learn more about?

What real-world problem correlates to standards?

How can we create a learning model that engages students?

What is the probing question?

What should the project focus on?

What are the questions developed from the Inquiry Landscape?

How can we narrow the focus so that we can collect usable information?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay


I am always under the impression that our youth still want to learn. Just as I indicated in a previous blog, students start out young asking all types of questions. For a review, please read my article: Why is the Sky Blue?

I think our innate skills shine forth when someone – a teacher, parent, mentor, or coach – allows us to be just who we are. Being allowed to express ourselves is the first step in giving students both ‘voice’ and ‘choice’ in project-based learning.

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