Project-based learning continues to grow as an educational trend, particularly because of its ability to prepare students for personal and career challenges beyond school walls. Unlike classic instructional models that have teachers instructing and students receiving instruction, project-based learning, or PBL, redefines the roles of teachers and students. Students pursue innovative solutions or answers to complex questions, while teachers facilitate the process.
The Buck Institute for Education’s website defines PBL as “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.” The paradigm is quite a departure from traditional instructional models, but levels of student engagement are noticeably different. Students have greater ownership of their learning and begin to view their projects as critical work. They are vested over longer periods of time, often blending multiple subject areas in order to create their products. The rewards for both students and teachers are unmatched.
Teachers begin planning a project-based learning experience by identifying their curricular goals and a project outcome that may best fit them. The outcome is often used as the assessment tool. As an example of curriculum application, students may be required to learn aspects of a home/host country, such as holidays, food, music, and traditions. A teacher may decide that students will create a video tutorial that teaches others about the home/host country. Students may be assessed on a rubric that specifies what should be included in their finished video product to demonstrate mastery of learning.
The more authentic a PBL project is, the better. Teachers should consider ways to make the learning experience relevant for students, whether it be to address a problem at the school or community level. Or perhaps the teacher creates a construct whereby the product will be used in another meaningful way. In the example of creating a video about home/host country, students can share these videos with students attending a school in another country in a cultural video exchange. Having an authentic purpose behind students’ learning efforts is key.
A project-based learning experience opens when a teacher creates a driving question with their students. The question is meant to kickstart the project while also being centered on curricular outcomes. Teachers must envision that by the end of their students’ pursuits, they will have acquired both the knowledge and skills necessary to meet educational objectives. Strong driving questions ask “how” or “why,” leaving space for a variety of outcomes and no single answer. In the example above, students may be pursuing an answer to the question, “How can we teach others about what makes our home/host country unique?”
After a driving question is established, students begin researching both the information needed for the curricular outcomes, as well as the skills needed to create the product. Teachers are critical facilitators during this phase, selecting reliable and useful resources for students, asking questions that will guide students in the right direction, and anticipating the micromovements needed to reach the final product. They are a live resource for students, as well as an active observer who intervenes as necessary and redirects students who need such support. In our example of discovering how we can teach others about what makes our home/host country unique, teachers will select appropriate resources for student research, provide support for documentation, and verify that students are discovering a variety of features about the country. Additionally, they must guide students in the skills necessary to make a video. Skills such as scriptwriting, voice projection, lighting, and props must be actively taught so students are prepared to design their project.
One of the most rewarding aspects of PBL is when students publicly present their completed projects. Teachers are encouraged to invite families, staff, other students, and community stakeholders into the classroom while students share their findings to the original driving question. During this phase, students learn how to publicly present, receive questions, and provide answers. They also learn how to manage feedback in the form of positive commentary and constructive criticism. The final product and its presentation afford a teacher assessment opportunities, as well.
The pride students showcase in their learning during this final step is what makes the long-haul of PBL so meaningful. While projects are often lengthier than expected and obstacles may emerge, there is no greater educational experience than teaching students how to apply critical-thinking skills in authentic ways. Beyond basic curricular goals, teachers facilitate an experience for their students that they will truly never forget.
By: Marissa Graff
KYIV INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL
3A Svyatoshinsky Provulok Kyiv, Ukraine, 03115
Phone: +38 044 452 2792 (93)
E-Mail : [email protected]