“Learning is not a spectator sport,” D. Blocher once claimed. That’s so truthful when it comes to project-based learning. There’s more to it than giving our kids a goal and then letting them go. PBL goes hand in hand with the 21st Century Fluencies. At its best, PBL is students working together on projects that they care about, taking ownership of their education, and becoming lifelong learners.

Effective project-based learning has these characteristics:

  • Real-World Oriented—A PBL lesson begins with a connection to the real world. It’s in the problem that must be solved. The research students do has basis in, or application to, real-world issues.
  • Relevant to Students—The lessons taken on by students have personal meaning to them. They are driven by quests that speak to their interests and concerns. In this way students also take ownership of their learning.
  • Highly Collaborative—This means structured groups and systems of responsibility and accountability. Students become team members and leaders. They bring the best out in themselves and each other. A sense of community is fostered in PBL.
  • Involves Knowledge Quests—Project-based learning takes the students on a learning journey. They dig for information and scour sources. They analyze and organize data. Best of all, they make wonderful new discoveries.
  • Media-Driven—In such lessons, projects involve media of every kind. From traditional to technological, the students have plenty of choices for their projects.
  • Creative— As students design their solutions and projects, they shine creatively. They awaken skills and talents they might not have known about. The freedom to be creative is a great gift for our students.
  • Assessment-Aligned—The assessments that happen in PBL are both teacher-and student-driven. Students check in with their peers and offer suggestions and feedback. The teacher becomes a guide through the process. Assessments happen often and constructively as the work progresses.

These attributes give us a lot to appreciate. They also parallel with the 21st Century Fluencies. Now we’ll discover how the fluencies are embedded naturally within PBL’s structure.

How the 21st Century Fluencies Fit in PBL

The following sections go through the steps of each of the fluencies. You’ll see how they apply to PBL as you go through them. As an added bonus, you’ve got some extra tools as well.

You’ll get to use a quick version of the free Fluency Snapshot for each fluency. These versions are the ones featured in the book Literacy is Not Enough. They’re slightly different in that they feature a calculable value. They’ll help you evaluate the proficiency you and your students have with each of the fluencies.

How They Work: Each snapshot has 10 statements. For each one choose a value you think represents how well the individual or group demonstrates that characteristic. Rate each statement from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). You can also have your students assess themselves and discuss their outcomes. Move down the list, add up your total, and multiply it by 2. This gives you a percentage you record in the box at the end of each list. You can now compare your results in each of the fluencies to find where focus and improvement are needed.

Solution Fluency

PBL is all about devising unique solutions to complex challenging problems. The very idea of solving real-world problems requires students to use the 6Ds of Solution Fluency:

  • Define: It starts with defining the problem. Students must know the challenge they face before they can proceed.
  • Discover: Next, students discover knowledge as they examine the problem.
  • Dream: Here they dream up and imagine a plan for their solution.
  • Design: This is the fun part—designing their projects.
  • Deliver: Now their final results must be delivered, and applied to the problem.
  • Debrief: Lastly, the valuable process of debriefing assesses the effectiveness of their efforts.


Information Fluency

As students work to solve a real world problem, they will be parsing through information where they can find it. The 5As of Information Fluency will really be put to the test.

  • Ask: Students must always ask good questions. They won’t be able to find good answers other wise.
  • Acquire: With the right questions, students will be led to various sources of information. This includes digital and non-digital sources alike. The Internet and other common resources will be involved here. Even professionals in the field can lend some expertise.
  • Analyze: It won’t work for students to just grab the top few search results. The information on the Web is largely unfiltered and from multiple origins. The data they collect must be analyzed, authenticated, and arranged well.
  • Apply: All the knowledge students have built has to be used. This is where they apply what they discovered to the actual solution.
  • Assess: Like debriefing, this is an important part of the learning. Students must be able to assess their products and processes effectively.


Creativity Fluency

How the project is presented will certainly need creative appeal. Music, graphics, and movement can all be used here. The imagination is freed using the 5Is of Creativity Fluency.

  • Identify: Students begin by thinking about the current problem. They begin considering what they might want to create as a solution.
  • Inspire: Next, it’s time for students to seek out some inspiration. They can fire up their imaginations from lots of sources. These include things like books, art, movies, videos, music, conversations, and more.
  • Interpolate: As they look at sources of inspiration, they’ll begin to see patterns. They’ll begin to piece ideas together. Ideas for possible solutions will germinate.
  • Imagine: This is the students’ “Aha!” moment. It’s when the previous two stages result in the birth of their idea.
  • Inspect: Now students consider if the idea is feasible. Will it actually work for their solution? Is there a timeframe and budget?


Media Fluency

This requires students to determine a platform for their solution and how it will be utilized. Students clarify their message and preserve its authenticity through whichever media they choose. They also manage the content’s flow, form, and alignment with their intended audience. This is all done using the 2Ls of Media Fluency.

  • Listen
    • Message: The student removes all distractions and considers the core message. What is being communicated? What is this video/song/image/ad trying to say? Can they put it into words? They must also consider if there is any bias, and separate fact from fiction in the message.
    • Medium: This is about considering design and aesthetic. It looks at how the message flows from beginning to end. The effectiveness of the alignment with the intended audience is also considered.
  • Leverage
    • Message: Students must consider the content, audience, and intended outcome of the message they want to convey. Who is their audience? What do they want to say? What is their intention with their message?
    • Medium: Once students clarify their message, they’ve got to choose how they want to deliver it. They must ensure the medium is consistent with their intended outcome. Reviewing also happens here as they determine afterward if their medium was the best choice.


Collaboration Fluency

Working as a team for a common goal to solve real-world problems is what builds community. In a global society, collaboration doesn’t happen just within a common physical space. Learning communities can connect through the Internet in a multitude of ways. This is demonstrated by the 5Es of Collaboration Fluency.

  • Establish: It starts by deciding the group, roles, responsibilities, and a set of guidelines. This can be outlined in a “contract” for all members. Next, the group determines the scope of the project together.
  • Envision: The team defines their purpose by looking at the challenge. Together they determine a goal and a preferred solution.
  • Engineer: A workable plan is now drawn out for the solution to begin. Here each team member’s personal strengths and abilities get their due.
  • Execute: Like other fluencies, the solution must be implemented in a practical application.
  • Examine: Similar again to debrief, but as a team. The members discuss the solution, their process, and what they could improve on.


Global Digital Citizenship

Encompassing all of the above is the Global Digital Citizen wrapper. Students express their concern for the environment, each other, and the world through project-based learning. Where can the 5 tenets of Global Digital Citizenship be found in PBL?

  • Personal Responsibility: This includes shifting learning responsibility away from the teacher and to the student. Learning ownership is a beneficial byproduct of project-based learning.
  • Global Citizenship: Part of this tenet is recognizing how technology has connected the world. This happens through virtual collaborations and team communications.
  • Digital Citizenship: Apart from understanding technology, students must also respect its power. Technology will always have a strong role in PBL in any modern learning environment. This is about appropriate and exemplary behaviour when using technology.
  • Altruistic Service: This is about caring for and serving others. Many of the PBL projects students take on will be aimed at practicing such values.
  • Environmental Stewardship: Students care deeply about their environment. It is one cause they champion frequently. This also shows through in what they choose to focus on with PBL. gdc-snapshot-fluencies

Exploring the Fluencies in Your Own PBL Projects

The Solution Fluency Activity Planner is made for fluency-based PBL. You can start planning your best learning adventures ever for free. Explore the Fluency Matrix to grade use of the fluencies right inside your unit plan.

Need some ideas for projects? We’ve got you covered there too. You can mine for ideas in our most popular free ebook series, PBL in the Classroom. Bring the best of project-based learning and the fluencies to your students!


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