In developing new approaches to teaching/learning, it would seem to be important to remind oneself what the purpose of learning is. I loved the quote from Eeva Reeder (Geometry Students…) when she says, “…the whole object of schoolwork is attainment and refinement of problem-solving and life skills.” It was interesting to see in all the articles and examples that PBL is a great fit with achieving those objectives.
The examples of projects from the articles had several factors in common. They all allowed the students to “study” topics that were pertinent and interesting to them. For instance, the children studying cystic fibrosis because of a classmate’s condition, and allowing high school students to design a high school, including elements that they would find desirable. In all cases, the teacher was not the all-knowing expert—rather the guide allowing the students to discover and process the information themselves. The projects all encouraged collaboration as students worked with partners, teams, and the entire class on pieces of the project. The projects required creativity (on the part of both teachers and students), and critical thinking skills. The projects progressed as questions were made and answered. They also all required time management and organizational skills to keep students on task as they progressed through all steps of the project. Lastly, all projects interwove numerous academic skills/subject learning and research. Students were reading, writing, making math calculations, using map skills and technology. The three phases of Project Based Learning were part of the structure of each project: (1) Engaging the students and discussion of topic, (2) Data gathering, field work, and compilation, and (3) presentation.
In PBL, teacher is organizer, guide, and fellow collaborator. They must do their homework in advance to ensure that the project has value and conforms to state standards. We have to know what we are trying to achieve with the project learning. Students are investigators (data gathering), collaborators (with partners/team), organizers (compilation), and creative and critical thinkers. Students are highly engaged in these projects because 1) the topic is of interest and relevant to them, 2) the learning is hands-on which accommodates learners of different styles and needs, 3) the learning is flexible, so students can pursue different avenues as they discover new information, 4) they can experience a positive experience that boosts their self confidence and keeps them engaged, 5) learning is real-world based which makes it have a purpose. I found the comment from one of Cathy Huemer’s first grade students (Newsome Park…) to be particularly insightful: “If you find it yourself, it stays in your brain.”