The Muppets Guide to Project-Based Learning (PBL)

One of my goals for this upcoming year is to create a project-based learning (PBL) unit for my World History class. In order to wrap my head around this concept I have been lurking in different Twitter chats and reading articles about PBL. Still, the concept seemed foreign to me. It wasn’t until I was running this morning and my mind was a million miles away (an estimate only) thinking about the new Muppet movie that things began to connect.

The Muppets is actually a movie designed around PBL!

The Muppets were given a project – to save Muppet Studios from its impending destruction. They had to work both cooperatively and independently to accomplish this. Just like my students bring different talents to the table, so do the Muppets. Like Walter (a new character introduced in the film), my students need to develop skills in order to be successful.

When viewed through the six steps for implementing PBL as depicted by Edutopia (Thank you for being an amazing resource!), it is apparent that Jason Segel, Muppet movie star and screenwriter, has an appreciation for PBL.

Step 1: Start with an Essential Question

Create an open-ended question that initiates and focuses student learning. (For more on how to write an effective question, visit this Edutopia blog post)

For the Kermit, his initial question was specific and urgent – How can we save Muppet Studios? Muppet Studios has been sold to Tex Richman who claims that he will turn the run-down studio into a museum but will actually tear it down to drill for oil. When Kermit hears of this plan he (after a song) makes plans to get the gang back together to put on a telethon to raise the $10 million needed to repurchase Muppet Studios. If we take a step back, we realize that the essential question is actually “How do we honor our past?”.

Step 2: Design a Plan for the Project

When designing a project, it is important to have the students be a part of that design so they can feel ownership over the project.

Kermit the Frog is excellent at ensuring that every Muppet feels a part of the process. While Kermit is the leader, he makes sure that all of the Muppets are involved in the decision-making of the event. Together, they tackle numerous obstacles to put on a telethon – getting a network to air the show, a celebrity guest to host, clean the studio, put together the acts for the telethon. It is amazing how a simple task (host a telethon) has so many steps to it – but they accomplish it all while occasionally singing.

Step 3: Create a Schedule

Have the students create a clear time table that they will be held accountable to.

In order to do this, the Muppets had to create a schedule to ensure that all of the work was accomplished before the deadline to repurchase the studios. The group decided that they had to devote most of their time to accomplish this. Some tasks did seem near-impossible and would often lead to other tasks – but they worked together in order to complete them.

Step 4: Monitor the Muppets and the Progress of the Project

Discuss students’ roles within the project and check in on their progress along the way. Create and share with them how they are going to be assessed.

Not every Muppet had the same role in this project. While Piggy excels at singing, Scooter plays a behind the scenes role ensuring that the show runs smoothly. When Kermit notices that Walter is hesitant about performing, he attempts to motivate Walter explaining how important it is and how Walter is needed for the successful completion of the telethon.

I imagine there is a deleted-scene in which Kermit had met with the group and had them create individual goals for this project that they would later be assessed on. It, apparently, did not make the final cut.

Step 5: Assess the Outcome

Give students group and individual feedback and allow them to self-assess their own progress.

While the Muppets put together an impressive show, they did not raise the money to save Muppet Studios. Individually, they did learn a lot from this experience. Walter learned that he was a Muppet, rather than a man. He also learned that he could and should share his impressive whistling talent. Miss Piggy learned to forgive. And Kermit learned that he should not sit on the sidelines in life. He had to be a participant.

Step 6: Evaluate the Experience

Take the time to pause and reflect upon the experience as a whole to share overall feelings of how the project went and how it could be improved.

While not depicted in the film, the Muppets got together afterwards to debrief the experience and discuss ways that they could have improved. Kermit handled this masterfully and ensure that the Swedish Chef did not monopolize the time. They realized that they need to double check the all equipment prior to the event (the “money board” inaccurately said that they had raised about $10 million, but in actuality it was about $1 million) and make sure that they have enough acts to fill the allotted time. While the group did not raise enough funds, they did raise awareness the Muppets which eventually saved the Muppet Studios (Tex Richman’s brain injury also played a role in this). When reflecting upon their essential question, “How do we honor our past?” they answered, “by celebrating it and making it relevant to today’s world.”

Here is a great explanation of PBL that I found inspiring this morning:

For me, it has been a worthwhile experience researching and writing this post. I now have a better understanding of what it means to put together a project-based learning unit. I will be putting my first one together during April break!

If anyone has any tips or examples they want to share, please do. And I’ll continue to lurk Tuesday nights at 9EST for #PBLchat – where people get together to discuss and share resources about project-based learning.

I’m a Muppet of a man (or a very manly Muppet). From FAO Schwarz Muppet Workshop ~ build your own! At http://bit.ly/IkNFO8

Related post ~ Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and the Common Core

About Michael K. Milton

I teach students Social Studies at Burlington High School. When I became a teacher, I believed that students would frequently give me apples. This has not happened (not even a Red Delicious ~ a name which is a misnomer). However, my school has given me a MacBook Pro and an iPad in an effort to right this wrong (I assume). I'm very lucky to work in a 1:1 school.
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11 Responses to The Muppets Guide to Project-Based Learning (PBL)

  1. Diane says:

    Well done Michael. Very well written! I love the way you linked The Muppet Movie with PBL. I am also very interested in PBL and am like yourself atm doing alot of research on this newer style of teaching and learning. All the best with your planning. Once again great post. I really enjoyed reading it!

    • @42thinkdeep says:

      Thanks for your compliment, Diane! I had a blast writing this yesterday and am very much looking forward to planning my first unit. I’m very nervous but excited to try this out. Good luck with your research!

      -michael

  2. aimee says:

    This is great. Using this as a model, I might try having students analyze films in the same way. it might give them some clarity during the PBL process. I imagine them referencing their chosen movie throughout an entire unit/project. V. cool – thanks for sharing.

    • @42thinkdeep says:

      That’s a great idea! I bet if students saw the method behind the PBL movement it would help their buy-in. The Harry Potter series would be a great lense to look at PBL through (my mind is stuck on the Tri-Wizard Tournament for some reason).

      Thank you for your comment!

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  4. I can totally see the thought appearing as you are mid-run. It’s like when the world’s best lesson ideas are born in the shower, or 5 minutes before they return from lunch. Great parallel- who doesn’t love muppets?

    What topics are you tackling PBL style this week? Curious…I am diving in as well…

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  8. Julie Rodriguez says:

    This is a brilliant example to explain PBL. Teaching this way encourages students to cooperate together towards a common goal, even though they have individual tasks. It also better prepares students for college and the work-world, where groups of individuals often do projects requiring collaborating. I also thought the video, explanation of PBL, was easy to understand and relatable to students. I loved the connection to the familiar, well-loved Muppets! :)

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