PBL Unit: Black Death

This term I decided to look at using PBL in my classroom. PBL can stand for project-based learning or even problem-based learning. The Buck Institution for Education (BIE) states that :

“Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge”.

I decided to use PBL in my classroom as a way of getting students more involved in their learning. Having conversations with my PLN have made me realise that student voice in the classroom is important. They need to take ownership of the learning. I have been testing out new ways of teaching with my Year 8 students as a way of improving student learning and outcome. Our school uses PBL as part of the Literacy and Numeracy Program and in the Year 7 Asia unit. Until now I’ve not really understood what it is about and how it can benefit my students. I did it mostly because “I had to”. Thanks to recent conversations I have realised that if properly utilised, PBL can help students develop a variety of skills that will not only benefit them during their school years but also in their future.

So when I was mulling over ideas in my head about how to “teach” the Black Death, I came across the discussions on Edutopia on how Project-Based Learning can help develop key skills like “questioning, inquiry, and critical thinking”. This made me realise that my students’ skills in these 3 areas are limited. They are 21st Century Learners and these vital skills are necessary along with collaboration. Therefore I put this idea to my teaching team and they agreed to use the PBL method for our History unit on the Black Death.

Having received my team’s consent I decided to get the ball rolling and start working the students without giving much thought to planning how we would incorporate the key skills in this unit. Given that we had just come back from holidays, I knew that we needed to do something with the students as we hadn’t had a chance to sit down and plan at the end of Term 2. However I realised that unless my team plans it properly we would be doing the students a disservice. We looked at the results of the Blendspace unit of work which showed that we needed to be more explicit in our teaching. Whilst PBL encourages students to be more independent in their learning, my students will require more guiding until they develop confidence in themselves.

Having come to this realisation, a team member and I sat down and created our own KWL chart using pen and paper. Doing this now, I think will help us as we progress through the unit. Our KWL chart didn’t focus on the students’s learning but on ours- we wrote down what we knew about our students. We planned what we wanted them to know and we what we expected them to have learnt at the end. It was time worth spent planning it rather than just doing things on the spur of the moment.

I’m excited about this project now that we have our plans in place. It’s already showing that it will bring unexpected surprises. I know what I want to get out of it and why. It should be an interesting experience and the students will benefit from it.






“What Is Project Based Learning (PBL)?” What Is PBL? Web. 21 July 2014. http://bie.org/about/what_pbl

“Project-Based Learning: A Short History.” Edutopia. Web. 20 July 2014. http://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning-history


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