Student in ETAP 623 Fall 2019

STEM and Gifted Support teacher in the Philadelphia suburbs. Working on my master's in the CDIT program.

Teaching with Mistakes and Project-Based Learning

This course aims to help educators implement projects for learning that allow students space to use inquiry and trial where mistakes are expected and establishing a culture and system that treats mistakes as learning opportunities to improve students' understanding and success.

Learning Outcomes

Learners will be able to:

  • identify examples of project-based learning and inquiry in the classroom
  • Describe necessary and beneficial elements of project-based learning
  • Create guiding criteria for open-ended project assignments
  • Utilize project-based learning in lessons

Needs Assessment

1. Instructional Problem

Project-Based learning has been very popular over the years and only seems to be increasingly so. According to the Bucks Institute for Education, Project-Based Learning (PBL) “is a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects.” It is a teaching style that is very attractive to teachers, but also poses many challenges in addition to its benefits. PBL has been popular because of many reasons including increased student engagement, deeper learning, clearer sense of purpose, and connection to authentic tasks and jobs just to name a few (Bucks Institute for Education). However, it requires teachers to be in less control of the classroom and gives students enough freedom that there is a real risk of them going in the wrong direction, not finding the right conclusions or simply being disorganized. Meanwhile, assessment becomes less straight forward and more difficult (Boss, 2012). However, PBL gives students the opportunity to learn in an authentic way that allows them to see the practical use of their knowledge and apply it or discover it rather than memorize it.

Another major movement in the education field right now is the Growth Mindset, pioneered by Carol Dweck. Growth Mindset is the belief that intelligence and skills can be developed as opposed to a Fixed Mindset that these things are permanent and unchangeable (Dweck, 2006). I have paired these 2 fields together because some of the risks and challenges of PBL can be mediated by having a Growth Mindset. Growth Mindset helps to leave space for failure so if students are completing a project or inquiry task and do not succeed, they can maintain the correct attitude and explore their mistakes to deepen learning.

I personally believe mistakes are the best way I learn something because it is memorable to me when I mess something up and then I have walked away usually learning how it does work and how it doesn’t which gives me a better true understanding of how it works instead of just knowledge. To manage a PBL classroom, teachers must establish guiding structures for the students to follow to maintain focus. One way of doing this is the Design Process which is often thought of as the Engineering Process, but I prefer calling it the Design Process because it can apply to multiple subjects. It is usually portrayed as a loop with space for identifying needs for improvement and going back to make them and try it out again. This is the perfect opening for allowing for mistakes and provides guidance to any task without having to be specific therefore giving students space for exploration.

2. What is to be Learned

Learners in this course will learn to implement project-based learning into their curriculum to most effectively teach their students by using inquiry, hands-on learning, and authentic tasks. They will explore how to cultivate a classroom mindset that sees mistakes as learning opportunities and take the greatest advantage of them possible to increase student learning and how to manage open-ended or unpredictable tasks.

3. The Learners

This course is meant for current or pre-service teachers who are interested in utilizing project-based learning. The majority of learners should be elementary level teachers. They will learn about encouraging a growth mindset and facilitating projects largely using the Design Process. This could help teachers of any subject area.

4. Context for Instruction

This will be an online course that students will complete asynchronously on their own time and in any location of their choice provided they have access to a computer and an internet connection. Students will have to work largely independently and without instant feedback.

5. Exploring the Instructional Problem and Solution

Participants in this course will study the benefits and challenges of PBL and ways to structure it in the classroom. They will also learn about The Growth Mindset and the role mistakes and failures play in the classroom. They will evaluate PBL and non-PBL activities and propose improvements as well as create materials and design an activity of their own.

6. Goals of this Mini-Course

My primary goal with this course is to help teachers become comfortable with Project-based learning, which requires a looser structure in the classroom. Student work is open-ended and unpredictable which can be hard for teachers and necessitates creative strategies for moderating the lesson and maintaining structure and focus. This course will help teachers understand why it is worth it to use PBL and to deal with the challenges by facilitating a Growth Mindset, making failure acceptable and organizing the task to focus students.

Performances Objectives

1. Learners will define project-based learning, inquiry learning, and growth mindset

2. Learners will describe the benefits and challenge of PBL.

3. Learners will evaluate and critique lessons for optimal use of PBL and Growth Mindset

4. Learners will create lesson plans that incorporate PBL.

5. Learners will create lesson materials to provide guidance through projects and encourage a Growth Mindset

References & Resources

Bucks Institute for Education (n.d.). PBLWorks [website]. Retrieved from

Boss, S. (2012). The Challenge of Assessing Project-Based Learning. District Administration, 48(9), 46–50. Retrieved from

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY, US: Random House.