How to Increase Student Buy-In for Project-Based Learning

project based learning.jpg

Tips for project-based learning:

  1. Connect it to their lives & their future

  2. Always provide exemplars

  3. Teach students how to regulate their emotions

A few years back, a good friend of mine introduced me to history-based Live Action Role Plays (LARPs). Once I got past my initial thoughts of sci-fi fans waving homemade swords at one another in a field, I recognized the potential of classroom LARPs. As a U.S. History teacher, I thought this could be an amazing way to engage students in project-based learning. Instead of reading about events, such as the Boston Massacre, Great Depression, or Cuban Missile Crisis, why not provide some structure, assign them roles, and observe.

I spent hours planning my first U.S. History LARP. In the lesson, students would evaluate different points-of-view, economic data, and public opinions, all in order to better address and understand the challenges of the Great Depression. The lesson culminated with students writing a newspaper editorial from their character’s perspective, making sure to address the alternative perspectives, while persuasively pitching their plan for how to deal with the depression.

When the day finally came for the LARP, I was excited to see how the lesson would go. I read how studies indicate that project-based learning “increases long-term retention of content… improves problem-solving and collaboration skills, and improves students’ attitudes towards learning.” Brimming with optimism, I entered the classroom only to learn that my students’ reactions was not exactly what I had in mind.

“We have to work in groups?!”

“I hate having to move around!”

“What if we don’t want to do this?!”

While I’m sure I could have introduced the new activity better in order to get higher investment initially, I believe most of the pushback came because students simply didn’t want to try something new. This got me thinking: if students are anti-anything-out-of-the-ordinary, how do I integrate new, effective teaching techniques into my classroom?

Here are three ways I increased student buy-in for LARPs and all other new activities I brought into my U.S. History classroom:

How to improve project-based learning

  1. Connect it to their lives & their future

    The more I was able to connect the skills needed in the LARPs and projects to the real-world, the more students bought-in. For this reason, I began making all the LARP roles actual jobs students were interested in. For example, in certain LARPs I created the role of local police officer because I knew certain students were interested in law enforcement as a career.

  2. Always provide exemplars

    I wish I could say this doesn’t take a lot of prep work, but it does; however, it does get easier over time if you save student examples from previous years. Showing them different examples of projects dramatically improved students’ ability to conceptualize what they need to do.

  3. Teach students how to regulate their emotions

    When I first introduced LARPs into my history class, my students’ reactions reminded me that we, as teachers, have to teach emotional regulation. Students were anxious about trying something new, so they shut down. Given that I had not prepared them to regulate their emotions, I should have expected the responses I received. For this reason, I now incorporate mini social & emotional lessons into my U.S. History lessons each week to ensure students are building stress management and self-regulation skills.

To learn more about ways to help students regulate their emotions, check out ASSET Education’s curriculum of bite-sized social & emotional learning tools.

If you’re interested in learning about how Denmark is leading the charge in bringing LARPs to the classroom, check out this article and see how LARPing addresses Common Core standards.


About the Author

Brent Modak followed the example set by his grandfather and entered the classroom first as a middle school teacher before moving up to teach high school history. As a member of the ASSET team, Brent helped develop the curriculum and led in the implementation of the program across all of ASSET’s partner schools. When not teaching Brent enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife and newborn baby, Lewis.


Get Access to Our Stress Reduction Curriculum Now