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The 3Cs of Quality Entry Events for PBL

First impressions matter, and they are long-lasting. There’s an abundance of research that supports this assertion but, as a child of the 80s, the most compelling argument I heard came from the shampoo company Head & Shoulders and their famous commercials that always ended with the tagline, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Well, it turns out that pearl of wisdom applies not just to our hair care choices but also to project-based learning. Each PBL journey begins with an entry event, which is the all-important first impression for students.

What Are Entry Events?

An entry event in project-based learning can feel like an opening scene of a thrilling movie. It’s the key moment that grabs your attention and leaves you eager for more. More concretely, a quality entry event is an initiating experience that is carefully crafted for students to provide clarity, spark curiosity, and foster commitment toward the project. Let’s unpack those three characteristics a bit further, and explore a free tool, as we seek to launch entry events that leave a lasting impact on students.

A Quality Entry Event Provides Clarity

A quality entry event “sets the horizon” and serves as a compass that points students in the right direction. The project’s purpose shouldn’t be a secret, and it’s key for all entry events to provide students with a clear understanding of the project’s learning goals, the challenge or problem they’re seeking to solve, and the knowledge and skills they’ll practice and acquire along the way. Furthermore, entry events clarify the “why” behind the learning, the impact students’ work might have, and the criteria for success. The first "C" of quality entry events lays the foundation for learning and sets the stage for the remaining two Cs: curiosity and commitment.

Entry Event Considerations With Clarity in Mind

  • ​​Invite an expert related to your project topic to speak and share insights. They could also provide clarity about the project’s real world connections and potential impact.

  • Engage students with a role-playing activity that simulates an issue related to the project. The immersiveness of this experience can help students better understand the various dynamics and complexities involved with the challenge they will address.

  • Provide students with a case study or scenario that resembles the problems or challenges they’ll face in their project. This can support students in understanding the problem they’ll seek to solve and the skills they’ll need to succeed.

A Quality Entry Event Catalyzes Curiosity

A quality entry event in PBL has the power to inspire a sense of wonder and intrigue with students. By creating gaps in knowledge, shattering expectations, and building a bit of suspense, entry events can encourage students to ask questions, explore possibilities, and embark on a journey led by discovery. While it is critical to share information during an entry event that provides students with clarity, as our first “C” establishes, it is equally important to help them realize the need for the information in the first place. Chip Heath, co-author of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die describes this sentiment best: “We need to shift our thinking from "What information do I need to convey?" to "What questions do I want my audience to ask?” The art of this approach hinges on our ability to provide students with a sufficient amount of information and context while allowing them to recognize that there are still gaps in their understanding.

Entry Event Considerations With Curiosity in Mind

  • Present students with intriguing data or surprising statistics related to the project's topic. This can spark wonder and prompt them to examine the underlying reasons or implications.

  • Introduce a “mystery box” filled with intriguing objects, clues, or artifacts related to the project's theme. This can inspire students to explore and generate questions.

  • Show a thought-provoking video that raises important questions, presents contradictory perspectives, or challenges common assumptions. This can ignite curiosity and elicit further investigation.

A Quality Entry Event Fosters Commitment

Engaging students in PBL requires more than simply capturing their initial interest. It also involves nurturing a sense of commitment that maintains their motivation throughout the project. Some of the best project launches can establish emotional connections and relevance that lead to student ownership and perseverance in facing challenges. Experienced PBL educator Telannia Norfar succinctly describes entry events as “a way to capture the kid’s heart so that their mind will follow.”

Entry Event Considerations With Commitment in Mind

  • Provide students with an opportunity to interview stakeholders and gain empathy. This human touch can establish deeper connections to the values and challenges associated with the project’s topic as well as a drive to solve the problems others face.

  • Plan a field trip that gives students firsthand experiences around a local topic or issue related to the project. These encounters can establish a strong “why” behind the learning and a stronger connection with the work they’ll pursue.

A Final Note and a Free Tool!

It’s key to note that entry events in PBL are not intended to be merely one-and-done moments, but rather the launch of a transformative journey. By intentionally integrating all of the 3 Cs into our entry events and carrying them throughout the entire project, we can avoid what my colleague Kristyn Kamps refers to as the “sugar high and crash” that can come from isolated, disconnected experiences. So, let’s remember to consider how we continually provide clarity, captivate our students’ curiosity, and foster a deep commitment to the work.

As you plan for quality entry events, please use our Project Launch Planner. You can download it for free or get the Google Doc template.


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