In an attempt to better stay organized this summer, I’m going to attempt to blog throughout my projects. Instead of writing down everything I need to do on a legal pad, or some scratch piece of paper that I’m going to lose anyway, my hope is that a place like this might keep it better organized.
So this week, I’m looking at answering one group of questions:
Group 1: What is Project Based Learning?
- Define Project Based Learning. Describe the difference between Project Based Learning and Problem Based Learning.
- Why should teachers consider incorporating PBL in their classroom?
- What are the essential components of a PBL approach to instruction?
Group 2: What considerations are important when incorporating a Project Based Learning approach into the classroom?
- Describe qualities of a successful project.
- What issues must a teacher consider that are specific to PBL instructional strategies?
- What types of students will be successful in PBL environments?
Group 3: What are the current and potential issues surrounding the use of Project Based Learning in traditional or nontraditional schools?
- What do the numbers say? How many K-12 teachers/students/schools/programs are involved in the move toward PBL?
- Are at-risk students served by programs that incorporate PBL? How?
- What role does NCLB play in encouraging/inhibiting the use of PBL in traditional classrooms?
I’m going to roll with Group 2. I feel I’ve seen some good examples of PBL, but have also seen and talked to teachers who refuse to change, leading me to really believe in the “Adapt or retire,” mantra. Our students are missing things. Too often it feels like our students want to be spoon fed information instead of discovering things for themselves. Anyway, here’s my response to the second group:
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Project Based Learning as I’ve been a champion for some sort of “Genius Hour” club within the schools that I teach. I am also in charge of our robotics program and see a correlation between what students do in robotics to what they could be doing during Genius Hour, to what could even be done within their own classrooms. Project Based Learning is a tool to empower students with finding and presenting solutions instead of forcing them to memorize facts or take tests. Allowing students to take the journey through a project gives them ownership of the final product and allows them to build a sense of pride in what they’ve accomplished. Sure, you can hang a test with an A+ on it on the fridge, but give students a different way to present their projects, whether digitally or otherwise, and you may turn the unlikeliest of students into a lifelong learner.
A successful project will be able to solve a problem or answer a question. From start to finish, students will have been refining their research tactics, run into road blocks and find a way to navigate around them to reach a conclusion. If collaboration is necessary, students will be able to put aside differences to reach a common goal, thus developing their interpersonal skills. Presentation is also key; how will students present their findings? Who is their audience and did they successfully present their findings? If students need to present in front of an audience of not just their peers but people from the community or elsewhere, they build presentation skills that will aid them through the rest of their life. In the “real world,” one may be tasked to work with someone they hate to solve a problem they don’t understand. Are what we teaching students today preparing them for situations such as this?
Maybe the better question is, “Are teachers capable or willing to instruct students through PBL?” Instead of teaching from the same textbook or binder year after year, why don’t more teachers teach through PBL? Some teachers claim they “don’t have the time,” or “the district doesn’t provide adequate planning time,” or they don’t want to give the students the freedom they might need to do something on their own. Teachers become very structured and engrained with what they do. They argue that PBL doesn’t help students learn what is on “The Test,” because test scores are now part of a teacher’s performance review. There are also a few teachers who, for lack of a better word, are lazy. One of the issues with letting students go to work on their own is the concern for students staying on task. It takes effort by the teacher to touch base with every student and observe the work they’re doing. In some instances, being a facilitator to learning instead of a direct instructor is too much change for a teacher to handle.
For all of the difficulties in implementing Project Based Learning, I’ve seen some successes. A second grade teacher implemented “20% Time” to his students, which allowed them to research and present information about whatever they wanted to research. The students who thrive are the ones you’d never expect. I worked with a few using a green screen to present their information. They loved it and want more. That simple fact, “they want more,” is what drives lifelong learners. Those students have been presented with a task and have worked towards finding the answers and presenting those answers. They have done better in my technology class and within the second grade teacher’s class. They are building resilience and grit and know that if they’re presented with a task or a problem, they will be able to solve it, which is a skill that successful leaders of tomorrow will have.
D’Orio, W. (n.d.). The Power of Project Learning. Scholastic Publishes Literacy Resources and Children’s Books for Kids of All Ages. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3751748