Project-based learning peaked my interest when I reflected back on my school years and realized how much more engaged and in control I was in my own learning when I was involved in either an individual or a group project. I was also intrigued by this method of learning when I watched children in my daughter’s 2nd grade class present their power-point presentations on an animal of their choosing to the entire class and parents of the students in the class. The students were given free rein of which animal they wanted to research and present their project on and then were guided by the teacher in online research as well as creating a power-point about their topic.
Project-based learning is a method that has been around for quite some time but has recently gained more recognition among top educators. PBL helps today’s students incorporate knowledge that they already possess with knowledge gained through research and a variety of skills in order to teach problem-solving on a real-world kind of basis. When PBL is used in the classroom, students are in charge of their learning while teachers are there simply to help gently guide the process. Bie.org is a website full of information on project-based learning and how it works. I found this short video from bie.org to be very informative.
Understanding pbl requires more than just having a general knowledge of what it is; we need to understand what it teaches. In my time observing my daughter’s 2nd grade class present their projects, I found that project-based learning increased both inter- and intra-personal skills. The students not only had to do research on their own but also relied on each other to help them learn how to navigate certain resources online or to proof-read slides. Students utilize the strengths of their classmates to learn new skills and gain new knowledge. In this way, students learn cooperative learning skills, how to work in a team, and cultural pluralism. Students also are encouraged to use critical thinking as well as how to solve problems in a logical, methodical way and to use creativity in doing so. Self-confidence is built during this process since students are required to find information about their topic and to present it to the class. Because students are given some freedom in their topic or in how to conduct their research and formulate solutions, good decision-making is also taught. In doing research on their project students learn not only how to use technology efficiently but to also use it appropriately. Hence, students are learning responsibility.
I’ve discussed the benefits for students using pbl in classrooms and can see some definite advantages for these students but what are the benefits for teachers using this approach? Naysayers may point out that pbl doesn’t allow for enough time to focus on specific core curriculum but it all depends on perspective. For some, this may actually be an advantage since teachers can use multiple modalities to guide the project-based learning process. Similarly, teachers can utilize many different types of assessments throughout the project process and can cover a wide variety of issues within the project. This is known as an interdisciplinary approach which is very helpful in using pbl. Teachers of different subject matters may choose to collaborate and come up with projects for students that teach a number of different topics from different classes. Another way teachers benefit from using a pbl approach is that they are able to get to spend more time with students individually and to get to know them better. Student interests and strengths, as well as weaknesses, become apparent throughout the process. As teachers we are most satisfied with our own performance when students leave our classroom with a desire to learn. This is where pbl can be seen as a great tool. When students are allowed to be in control of their own learning they tend to be more excited about learning which in turn teaches them to become lifelong learners. In addition to these advantages, schools using pbl were found to have higher attendance rates, better cooperative learning skill levels among students, and higher achievement levels in students. Some top educators who promote pbl can be found on Twitter: https://twitter.com/betamiller, https://twitter.com/sr_tutor, https://twitter.com/CavinAmandacav.
Classroom organization may vary when using pbl depending on the teacher’s preferences but generally speaking a change must be made first and foremost in the way the teacher, students, and parents think about the children’s learning. A pbl approach classroom will appear to be much more interactive than traditional classrooms and therefore may appear to be quite noisy and unorganized. You will find students working both alone and in groups and will have access to computers and internet. Students may work better if seats are arranged in a circle so that they can all see each other but may need open spaces in which to work. A warm, welcoming environment with lots of natural lighting is also very conducive to learning in a pbl approach classroom. In a pbl classroom you may find students working on self-assessments as well as peer-assessments which serves to not only teach them self-improvement skills but also social skills and good work ethic. You will find students who are engaged and who are involved in teaching each other in a pbl classroom however, you may still see some students struggle to get involved and perform well on projects due to their learned habits. Teachers may also choose to use field trips to show how their project can be applied to problem solving in the real world. For instance, students studying the water pollution problem in Flint, Michigan may go on trips to water sanitation plants in order to learn about the process and see it in real life. Lastly, you may find students helping the teacher to prepare rubrics for these projects or setting expectations. For more specific ideas of what a pbl classroom “looks” like or “sounds” like you can visit http://bit.ly/2dhW0Wx and http://bit.ly/2cTrKla.
Teachers may choose to use different time restraints on projects but there are a few guidelines that can be helpful in choosing how to use time in the classroom when going with a pbl approach. First, and possibly most importantly, teachers should avoid stacking projects or large assignments. Make sure that students have plenty of time in and outside of the classroom to focus on their project. Second, it is important to set a specific number of days to devote to the projects. Depending on the general topic and the grade level of students, projects can last anywhere from a few days to a few months. However, it is necessary to be flexible. Students may become ill and have to catch up on project work, there may be inclement weather or disaster situations which may affect time restraints, or students may feel satisfied with the quality and completion of their project but you may not be as satisfied and may choose to extend the time given to complete the project. Finally, it is important to understand that project-based learning does not have to be used in the classroom 100% of the time. Teachers may choose to devote a certain amount of time to core curriculum in balance with using project-based learning.
For more information on project-based learning visit http://www.schoolimprovement.com/. You can also find lots of information on Edutopia’s blog at http://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning or on http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/, Lisa Nielsen’s blog about project-based learning.