Saturday, August 24, 2019

Why Project Based Learning? #EdChat

Schools are starting up all around the country and teachers are starting to get into the swing of lesson planning and exploring their own pedagogy. I was lucky to spend part of my Summer working with teachers from coast to coast on implementing Project Based Learning into their curriculum. For those who have never used PBL in their classroom, the change can feel a bit overwhelming. I understand  this because I know I was overwhelmed when I made the switch myself many years ago. One of the biggest questions I get from people is the simplest one. Why?

There is some great research on the impact of PBL in the classroom that Edutopia as collected. Check out those articles and share them with others who wonder about the value of PBL in the classroom. I've taken a look at the research and have taken my years of experience using PBL in the classroom and come up with 5 major aspects of PBL that I feel make PBL so great for the classroom.

1. OWNERSHIP is key. When students have a sense of ownership over any assignment, they tend to work much harder. Students know that the work will be represented of their own ideas instead of just following the directions word for word that the teacher has provided. When the students understand that they have control over the work that is going to be completed, they are also more likely to take risks and push themselves. It is important for teachers to let students know the value of ownership and how it can impact the work they are doing. This is a scary part of PBL because the traditional dynamic has teachers in control of everything. Letting go of that control leads to amazing leaps in learning for the students. OWNERSHIP is a major factor in the value of PBL.

2. CREATIVITY is the another major part of the PBL and is closely linked with OWNERSHIP. When students are free to explore learning in ways that are meaning to them, it opens a world of creativity that they have not previously known in class. My move to PBL allowed for students to really express themselves in creative ways I had not expected. Students have created movies, graphic novels. written and performed songs, created amazing photography pieces, coded games, and even performed interpretive dance! The students were given the time and respect to create something that demonstrated understanding of the curriculum and they did not disappoint. Allowing the students to create gives them a bigger sense of OWNERSHIP.

3. Another part of the PBL is COLLABORATION. While not all examples of PBL in the classroom will have collaboration, the projects that allow for it are amazing to watch. Students coming together to collaborate on a variety of projects is an awesome thing to see because they are strengthening their collaboration skills. There is a give and take between students as the work to create their project. Students are allowed to work with their strengths and support their peers who might need help in other areas. Students will learn from one another as the build a project that is best for everyone in the group.

4. Depending on how you set up your project, CRITICAL THINKING, is also an important part of PBL. Some people just assume that drawing a picture is to showcase something a student learned is all PBL really is and not much is truly done by the student. This could not be further from the truth. The best assignments for PBL are the ones that have driving questions that push students to dive deeper into the content than one covered in class to find the things they want to explore the most. The analysis by students done on their own is some of the best I have ever seen when it occurs during PBL. Class discussions are a great starting point for understanding and analysis, but PBL allows students to choose areas that were not covered in depth in class and show why they are still important to the overall concepts that are being discussed. It takes so much critical thinking and analysis to do this correctly and that is what students learn over a full year of PBL in a class.

5. Lastly, Project Based Learning can be FUN! It seems obvious, but I have seen many projects that are very tedious. They have kids go through the motions and leave very little room for FUN or CREATIVITY. Projects are a chance for students to break the regular routine of reading and writing in some classes. Most kids are excited to do a project because they finally see it as a chance to express themselves in a format other than a test or essay. The FUN comes from the freedom students feel. Working with their friends (COLLABORATION), taking charge of their learning (OWNERSHIP), solving real problems (CRITICAL THINKING) and allowing students to create (CREATIVITY) all lead to the students learning in a FUN environment.

It is great to work with teachers and help them go through the process of creating PBL experiences for their students. Just in a small group of teachers across the curriculum, ideas started to generate about possible cross-curricular projects and how students can be more engaged with long and short term projects. PBL not only sparks the creativity of students, but of their teachers as well. I encourage everyone to consider exploring PBL and maybe introduce it a spot for students this semester and see how it goes. It's the start of the year, so let's try something new.

If you have any questions about implementing Project Based Learning in your classroom or across a building or district, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I'd love to see how I can help make it happen for you and your students. You can also check out my new book, Beyond the Poster Board, to see how I broke down all of the different types of PBL and how they can work in your classroom.

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