Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Project-Based Learning

When thinking about assessments, we think of tests, quizzes, homework, worksheets and projects.  Projects used to be a “once in awhile” assignment, sometimes in partners or small groups, which was graded with a rubric or scoring tool.  Due to the time it took to complete, it was not the regular teaching method.  In recent years, there has been a lot of research into the benefits of project-based learning and the literacies that it develops.

Project-based learning (PBL) is defined as a teaching methodology that encourages students to gain the skills necessary so that they can solve a problem, investigate an engaging or complex question, or meet a challenge.  It fulfills standards, gives a real-world context to their learning, allows for self-reflection and continued revision, and is individualized to the needs, skills, and preferred learning of each student.  Differentiation is automatic with project-based learning!

My personal favorite part of project-based learning is when group members help each other with questions and answers as they work through their idea together.  With that said, it has its pros and cons:

  • differentiation and student choice
  • student focuses on the skills they need to learn
  • student uses their strengths to help group members
  • collaboration
  • critical thinking
  • student voice is heard
  • students practice social skills
  • students use information, media and technology literacy skills
  • students accept the idea that their first idea might not be the best and revise and refine their work throughout
  • teacher is a guide to the students
  • focus on feedback rather than grades
  • final product has a global audience beyond the classroom
  • not all members of a group contribute equally
  • absent students miss collaborative time
  • miscommunications in a group dynamic
  • teacher cannot be with every group at once
  • time-consuming to complete and to grade

Project-based learning can support the best parts of hybrid or blended learning - a small amount of direct instruction that is supported with equal amounts of collaborative and independent work.

When deciding on project-based learning units, use this guide to help you decide if you are implementing it successfully.  Please also note that in many cases, technology is a helpful tool that will create these opportunities for your students, but it is only a tool and it is not always the best one.  Can you believe I said that?!  It’s true, though.  I love e-mail, but I also love hand-written notes.

As we saw in our last post, lots of teachers across the district are already using PBL and reaping the benefits of it:
  • our gifted learners do a combined research and art project with Megan Munyat and Deanna Dincher
  • our 8th grade ELA students design and advertise a new app idea during their propaganda unit with Pam Cooper and Jen Allen
  • our AP History students created an infographic about the presidential candidates and their positions on a number of election topics, then created a screencast on it and published it to YouTube with Amy Swartz

For more information on project-based learning, check out these resources by Edutopia.

To brainstorm project ideas, see your librarian!

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