When planning a PBL scope and sequence for the year should you repeat projects from previous years or start from scratch? I think there are definitely times when you should repeat projects.
The most important reason to repeat a project is when you find a great community partner that you want to build relationships with that person or organization. You can organically grow that project year after year. As you and your community partner better understand each other the opportunities for students to go deeper and do more focused work improves. So I definitely would repeat projects that have strong community partners centered around meaningful work.
Another reason to recycle a project is that although your students change yearly your core content does not. It makes sense to reframe and refocus certain projects, but it does not make sense to start over from scratch every year. One way to do this is to adjust the project. We like to mix up entry events, DQ’s, and final products sometimes. Other times we keep them the same. A local, national, or world event can create a different way to frame a project so that it stays relevant, while keeping most of the workshops and assessments the same.
The projects that we switch up the most are the ones that seem to fall flat. My most difficult topic is the Spanish American War. It seems small, insignificant, and irrelevant to today. In three years we have tried three different approaches: the first time we had students make Common Craft style videos. The second year we had students debate Manifest Destiny vs. Imperialism as America’s motivation in different countries around the world.
This past year we ended up combining the Spanish American War with 9/11 monument project. What didn’t change in all three of these projects is that we had students consider how early American expansion was a continuation of Manifest Destiny. We contrasted the language of Manifest Destiny with our imperialistic actions. We then continued to look at American foreign policy through the rest of the twentieth century through this lens.
Each year I feel like it got better, but to be honest I think I will be re-doing it again next year. So I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to approach project planning. Sometimes you repeat and sometimes you start over. But even when you start over you can still use many of the same resources and workshops by just reframing the entry event, purpose, and audience.
Note: This was inspired by excellent thoughts from this John Spencer post.