PBL AND DESIGN THINKING IN FIRST GRADE
Beth Lopez, Glenda Forgie, Freny Dastur, and Scot Hoffman
“Allow events to change you. You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that
happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events
and the willingness to be changed by them (Manifesto, n. d.)”.
Starting with Interest
In August after several conversations about Project-Based Learning (PBL) we decided to form a
professional learning community or PLC on project based learning at ASB. In October we opted to
volunteer to prototype the PBL Model developed by the R&D PBL Task Force. As often happens, our
interest led us on a worthwhile learning journey we couldn’t have scripted beforehand.
Fast forward to a Friday afternoon in November and one last meeting with Suzie Boss, author of Bringing
Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World and Thinking Through Project-Based Learning: Guiding Deeper Inquiry. Suzie had just helped us grow and develop a project sketch for a
project we called Powerful Communities. We envisioned a Social Studies based unit where students would
use critical thinking, communication, and collaboration to explore, understand, and solve a tide of
conflicts that were affecting the day-to-day friendships and therefore learning in our first grade
community. After consulting with Suzie, we decided to pursue a Project-Based Learning approach that
incorporated a design thinking process to meet the standards and benchmarks for our units as well as
equip and empower students to make a difference in our community.
Project-based learning is like any other instructional approach with its focus on teaching important
concepts, content and skills. Where PBL differs, is its emphasis or bias toward learning through authentic
real-world projects. In PBL, teachers architect the foundation and the constraints of the unit and develop
a compelling driving question that provides the form, focus and impetus for students to construct their
own understandings and drive their own learning through collaborating, planning, gathering feedback,
reflecting, and revising their inquiries as they strive to produce meaningful work and answer the driving