Shawne Kearney’s Passion for Project Based Learning – POP9

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Brandon Krueger
Brandon Krueger
Kevin Mulryne
Kevin Mulryne

We welcomed back Shawne Kearney this week to share some more kernels of wisdom. Shawne is a Master Teacher and New Teacher Support Provider and Mentor and is currently teaching 4th Grade in Sonoma State, California.

Shawne Kearny
Shawne Kearney

A teacher for over 20 years, Shawne also now teaches adults at Sonoma State University where she specialises in project-based learning and classroom management.

What is Project Based Learning (PBL)?

This is a teaching method by which students gain specific knowledge and skills. They work for an extended period of time and investigate a complex question, problem or challenge.

  • Launch with a bang – stimulate student interest
  • Come up with a driving question – a challenging problem
  • End with a culminating event – with public audience – so students can shine and reflect on their work

What are the top strategies teachers should consider when contemplating PBL?

1. Know your standards.

2. Choose a problem or challenge which is highly relevant to your grade and students and which you are passionate about yourself.

3. Start small – it’s a paradigm shift to start PBL in which you give students more control so start with a 2-week project

4. Teach the ‘4 Cs’ explicitly before you ask students to solve a challenging problem – Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking and  Creativity.

The Buck Institute for Education has a large amount of helpful resources for teaching the 4 Cs.

The challenges of PBL

Shawne says one of the biggest challenges is students collaborating and giving feedback to one another. She believes this is one of the reasons some teachers avoid PBL. It takes time to encourage students to overcome their ‘learned helplessness’. They need to develop the stamina and endurance to cope with creating a project which may fail several times before finding success.


Shawne has rubrics which help students evaluate themselves and give kind and considerate feedback to their group members. The students can see themselves advancing on this but the real power is the feedback they receive from their peers which is far better than anything she can give them. She sees students’ use of language in this feedback improving dramatically and they practice it so it doesn’t seem so unnatural.

Shawne on Twitter

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