Reflect on the Learning -
PBL Part 5

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Time for Reflection

In project-based learning, you add time for reflection. Students go from knowing little about something to subject-matter experts in several weeks. Although that may seem like an exaggeration, it should not be. Your students crafted questions, engaged in reading, researched a topic in depth, spoke to experts in the field, and produced a deliverable product. They are almost ready to present before you, the community, and industry professionals. Before you have them step into that role, allow them to think back and reflect on what they learned and how that learning changed them. To do this, I will focus on four specific areas. But first, I will once again visit with three students. Each one of them, along with their peers, is a changed human being. They have been empowered with knowledge. They are ready to change the world!




Timmy was not sure what he would find, or find out, when he first started researching the topic of homelessness in his community. But when his teacher asked him to reflect upon what he learned, he said he was shocked. First, he talked about the large number of people that were homeless in his neighborhood. The number was much larger than he expected. The people he saw on the street corners represented a small portion of the people he saw in the shelters.

Second, Timmy learned that the homeless were not limited to a specific race, age, or religion. Kids were homeless! He saw teenagers, college students, and those who were disabled. He even recognized an elderly lady that attended his church on Sundays. What he thought about the most, though, was the number of children. He wanted them all to be adopted.

Third, he learned that he could help. He learned that the shelters were run – mostly – by volunteers. With that, he started volunteering at one of the shelters several Saturdays a month. He learned how to keep the shelter clean. Then he learned how to help prepare meals.

His teacher prompted a bit further. She wanted Timmy to think about more than just the facts. What did he learn about himself? Timmy thought for a moment, then said ‘work’. He learned that running a shelter and taking care of other people took work.

He also said he learned about responsibility. When he volunteered his time, his name was written on the schedule. Once on the schedule, the shift manager expected him to show up and be ready to work. At first, Timmy felt weird doing work for someone other than his mom and dad. However, after a few Saturdays, he felt comfortable with his duties and responsibilities. He also said he felt good about the work he did at the shelter.

Jessica remained excited throughout the research project. When her teacher asked her to reflect on what she learned, Jessica was quick to respond with a smile on her face. She began talking about her experiences working side-by-side with her father. He was the starting point for her research. After talking about her father, Jessica then jumped into talking about her LinkedIn experiences.

After making professional connections on LinkedIn, she learned how to start posts, upload videos, and write articles. With support from a friend, she developed a website. Using LinkedIn, YouTube, and her website, she developed quite a following in a short period of time. She posts blogs and vlogs throughout the week, keeping her connections and followers up to date on her doghouse projects!

As her teacher continued to press her about the overall experience, Jessica was able to think more critically about the last month and a half. Jessica had much to say. Most importantly, she stated how she grew personally. Jessica felt closer to her father, gained a deeper appreciation for what he did, and better understood how entrepreneurs risked a lot to become successful. She also gained a new respect for those across social media platforms. Keeping content fresh and relevant was hard work. Jessica’s teacher praised her, and her classmates, for all the diligent work they put into the PBL activity!

By the end of the project, Tammy was ready to give her presentation to the class. More than that, she was ready to talk about her neighborhood ecosystem. She had made positive, professional connections with local scientists and academics. The local community college was able to provide professional, and scientific, support, for her efforts. However, before the day of her big presentation, Tammy’s teacher asked her to talk about her learning experiences over the last few weeks.

Tammy explained how she was given the opportunity to talk to local scientists and professionals from the National Science Foundation. Everyone she met was helpful in helping her understand how ecosystems change over time, with and without the impact of people. Animals, and all of life, adapt to changes in their environment. Although the current changes in her neighborhood were forcing a drastic change in the natural habitat, scientists were working diligently to create new natural spaces for the local animals to adopt as their new home.


“Flip the classroom just a  little.”

In project-based learning, the learning is more than just absorbing facts. Students should be able to reflect upon the process and how the overall experience impacted them and those involved. Typically, the reflection process will focus on four key points.


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

As with any learning experience, we have to respond to the questions students will ask. Why are we learning this? Why is this important? What’s the point? As the teacher, reinforce the idea that adults ask the same questions. We always need to remind ourselves that our actions have a purpose. Always keep the project’s purpose statement visible to students. When students get off track, ask them to state the purpose of the research project. Remember, when I talked about the probing question earlier on in this series, I indicated that the probing question had two purposes:

  1. Get the students interested.
  2. Get the students focused.
Image by ThePixelman from Pixabay
Image by Chuck Underwood from Pixabay


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

After the probing question was introduced, you engaged your students with a series of questions and answers. I called this the Inquiry Landscape. Educational professionals give this process various other names. Still, this is where you help students focus their energies by narrowing down the scope of the project. Now that the project is ending, students should be able to reflect on the experience.

Have your students talk about what they did – the process of researching, talking to professionals, and engaging with others in collaborative discussions. This was the learning process. It should be something that the students can appreciate. With your help, guide them to help them understand how each step was necessary to achieve the result.


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

Now we get a little personal. As educators, we hope that students are personally impacted when they are given the opportunity to interact with their world. The project-based learning activity is that medium to become involved in their community, become an agent of change, or simply become a voice for a purpose. This is an awesome opportunity for students to express how they were changed from the activity!


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

The final point of reflection is the learning take-aways. Each student will see and talk about the experience differently. This is expected. Give students the opportunity to reflect appropriately. Also, give them the opportunity to add their own voice to the topic.

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay


In the next article, I will discuss how to map the PBL experience to standards and assessment.

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