Project-Based Learning

Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a shift from traditional teaching, moving away from isolated lessons and into integrated, cross-discipline learning.  In many projects, the idea stems out of curiosity, as in classes at Newsome Park Elementary School where Billie Hetrick’s students wanted to learn more about Cystic Fibrosis, which impacted one of their classmates, or in Robert Lirange’s class where students wanted to create a business to “trade” on Wall Street (Curtis).  In other cases, such as Eeva Reeder’s geometry project where students design a high school for year 2050, the project is teacher created but student driven (Armstrong).

In project-based learning, the design follows three main components: planning, researching, and presenting.  During the planning phase, students and teachers create a guiding question and determine what will need to be done to complete the project.  The researching phase is when students do the work needed to answer the question, researching, synthesizing information, and developing new understandings about their topic.  The culmination of each project is the presentation, in which students deliver their findings to parents, peers, or community members.

During projects, the teacher’s role shifts to that of a facilitator, posing questions and ensuring the projects stay on course.  They design field trips and organize any outside help or speakers needed for the project.  As with traditional teaching methods, they ensure that standards are being met and assess student learning both cumulatively and formatively.  The students’ role is to work collaboratively to research and synthesize information. They decide how and where they are going to find data and information regarding their task.  Students apply their knowledge and create a new product or understanding as a result of their work in the project.  Finally, they present their findings and reflect upon (and evaluate) both the project as a whole and their contributions to its outcome.

In What is Project-Based Learning, the ideas of PBL is summed up nicely when stated that, “PBL asks students to investigate issues and topics addressing real-world problems while integrating subjects across the curriculum” (edutopia).  Student engagement increases through the use of technology along with, “doing real-life things, and doing it for a purpose” (Curtis).  Throughout the articles and videos cited here, students agree that they have more interest in project-based learning activities.  In the article More Fun Than a Bucket of… Worms?!, one student states, “If you find it yourself, it stays in your brain.”  The cross-discipline learning fosters an acquisition and transfer of knowledge in a setting that is most similar to the real world that students will be living and working in.

In my own education, I can remember two distinct time when my teachers constructed highly engaging projects for us.  These projects were not as advanced technologically as they are now, and we didn’t have student-determined questions which drove research, but the ideas are early PBL. In 7th grade, my math teacher created a project around the Indianapolis 500, where we were all assigned a driver and we watched the race and used data from our driver to calculate averages, means, modes, and average miles per hour over different periods of the race.  We determined the average length of pit-stops for our racer as well as the lifetime duration of tires.  In high school, I participated twice in novel study projects.  In both projects, books were chosen based off of a certain topic.  We, as a group, read the books and discussed their meanings and connections to our lives.  We then participated in a week-long trip where we met with any of the authors that we could and participated in events from the books. One trip was to the Pendleton Round Up (focus on Cowboy Poetry) and the other was to Whitefish, Montana to fly-fish and participate in a writing workshop with David James Duncan, author of The River Why.  Upon returning from our trips, we held a culminating presentation from our community where we showcased the authors’ and our own works.  I have been graduated from high school for 15 years and remember these moments of learning clearly, which supports the idea that project-based learning creates a knowledge understanding that far outweighs traditional teaching and learning.

I am looking forward to adding more project-based learning into my classroom during the 2014-2015 school year and subsequent years.  As my skills as a PBL faciliator strengthen, I hope to have my students use technology to collaborate with classrooms in our school, in our nation, and internationally.  Upon researching project-based learning, it is clear that it is a highly engaging and successful method of teaching and learning.

Sources
Armstrong, S. (2002, February 11). Geometry Students Angle into Architecture Through Project Learning. [web post]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/geometry-real-world-students-architects
Curtis, D. (2001, October 1).  More Fun Than a Barrel of… Worms?! [web post]  Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/more-fun-barrel-worms
Edutopia (2002, October 19). What is Project-Based Learning About? [web post]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning-guide-description

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