During a recent workshop in Honolulu, I had a teacher ask me, "what is the best way to figure out how long a PBL project is going to take?" The simple answer is the more standards that you designate as "taught and assessed" standards the longer the project. However, the teacher replied that she wanted a more formulaic way to try and figure out how many weeks she would need so that she could calendar more accurately, which got me thinking.
When considering how long the project my take, obviously more standards means more time, but not all standards are created equal. Standards that are foundational to either a project or to later content acquisition will require more time to teach, assess, and practice. Standards that were supposed to be covered by a previous teacher, but weren't, may result in remediation time. As a way of answering her, I came up with the following method; Teach-Do-Assess
Teach means any activity or lesson focused on helping students acquire knowledge. This could be direct instruction, independent work, group activities, or any other instructional strategy you employ.
Do means turning the knowledge and understanding through practice or application. This is where students use what they have learned in a series of tasks or challenges, usually applying it to the project or product they are creating. In this manner, they play with and experiment with the knowledge, applying it to the challenge they are trying to achieve.
Assess is a formal checkpoint or grading activity where the teacher can take stock of the knowledge the students have gained.
Usually, each of these three phases takes about one class period depending on the method used. Sometimes they can be extended by outside of class work or are completed over a two-day period of time. However, there are additional considerations needed in order to accurately ascertain how long a standard will take to teach and assess properly.
Consider the Standard : Is the standard that you were adding to your project a foundational standard that builds upon another? If you are doing a park design project focused on teaching area and perimeter those are foundational topics that students cannot complete the project without a strong understanding. Therefore, you may want to designate additional days to teach, assess, and re-teach the concepts.
Consider your Students: Do you have students that have special needs? Do you have an abundance of the IEP or ELL designated students in your class? Is this one of their first PBL experiences? If any of these are the case, you are probably going to want to add an additional teach day to the Do phase so that you have the chance to perform one-on-one coaching or small group facilitation to help those students while others work on applying their information to the product.
Consider the Product: Some products that are technology heavy or otherwise require additional work time may require you to extend the "Do" phase.
Consider the Assessment: Depending on your assessment method, you may need additional time in the assessment phase. One-on-one coaching, or practice presentations may require additional days to complete as well.
So remember, when you are considering how long your project is, try to ask yourself how many cycles of Teach-Do-Assess you'll need to complete!