girl celebrating with confetti in the air

The following is an excerpt from the second edition of our book, PBL Starter Kit: To-the-Point Advice, Tools and Tips for Your First Project in Middle or High School (PBLWorks 2017), authored by me and Dave Ross. The book features an overview of PBL, nine detailed Gold Standard PBL project examples from grades 6-12, and chapters on designing your own project: Getting Started; Planning and Preparing; Managing Your Project; Reflect and Perfect. The suggestions below could also apply to K-5 grades.

This excerpt is a good reminder at this point in the school year, when projects will be wrapping up and it’s time to celebrate what students have accomplished. Note that this is about more formal celebration after the culmination of a project; informal celebration happens whenever it’s called for, as we note in describing the Project Based Teaching Practice, “Engage & Coach.”

Celebrating Success

Before you ask students to work some more—which is what it will feel like when you ask for evaluation and reflection — take a moment to celebrate at the end of the project. It helps show that PBL mirrors life in the workplace.

Almost everyone celebrates the completion of good work. Office workers go out to dinner, politicians cut ceremonial ribbons, nurses and doctors hug patients and salespeople high-five their boss. Sports provide lots of examples, such as when athletes parade down Main Street and trophies are awarded. The completion of a project in a classroom should be no different. The celebration can be formal or informal. Here are some ideas.

Ways to Celebrate a Project

  1. Invite audience members to stay around after presentations for a reception, to talk informally with students and offer praise.
  2. Invite school and/or district administrators who were aware of the project, or outside experts, community members and parents who were involved, to visit your classroom and offer congratulations.
  3. In a whole-class activity, tell your students how proud you are, with specific examples. Then ask them to add more ideas to a list of “What We Are Proud Of.”
  4. Let your community know. Get a local reporter for a newspaper, radio or TV station to cover your project and tout the results. Arrange for project work to be displayed at a local government office, business, public library, museum, gallery, community center, etc. 
  5. Conduct an “awards ceremony,” but be careful not to make the “losers” feel like losers even though they worked hard. You could give a variety of awards, which could be serious (“Best Solution,” “Most Creative Solution,” or “Hardest Working”) or not so serious (“Best Dressed for Presentations,” “Least Number of Times the Teacher Was Asked ‘Can We Have Another Copy of That Handout We Lost?’” or “Future Dot-Com Entrepreneurs, for Best Use of Technology”).
  6. Create an archive or “memorial” of some kind. Students could create a display of their work, contribute words or phrases to a signed “This Project Was...” poster to go on the classroom wall, assemble images and writing in a scrapbook, or place project artifacts in an online archive. These memorials could be kept with pride all year, shown to parents, visitors, administrators and colleagues, and to other students as helpful examples of what good PBL looks like.

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John is an education consultant and writer. He was the editor in chief at PBLWorks for many years.