Engaging Students with Project-Based Learning|
A central issue in teaching at the middle or secondary level is how to engage students in learning. How do we, as educators, get students to care about what they need to learn? The answer often has to do with making learning more relevant to the world in which students live today. Project-based learning offers teachers and students the opportunity to do just that.
Project-based learning (PBL) is a versatile method of teaching that organizes student learning around authentic problem-solving activities. Using a highly creative approach that focuses educational activities on real-world issues, teachers focus student learning on issues of interest to students and of relevance to the curriculum. As students become integral members of a project team, they explore, interpret, create, analyze, and solve problems they have shown an interest in.
Students are highly motivated by the project-based approach because they are engaged in every step of the process. The link between the learning task and the real world becomes evident as they work through the stages of the project. As students research and formulate solutions to questions, they adopt a sense of ownership and pride about their learning because it has relevance to the world in which they live.
PBL is popular among teachers because it is naturally predisposed to differentiated instruction. Projects can be standards-based and are often multidisciplinary. Students are typically organized into teams, which further requires them to self-monitor, communicate, and manage time and resources.
|Characteristics of Project-Based Learning
- Engages learners
- Promotes interaction and collaboration
- Employs essential research tools
- Utilizes technology
- Encourages authentic problem solving
- Applies and extends skills to new situations
- Integrates the curriculum
- Presents challenges
- Incorporates high expectations
- Validates assessments
Project-Based Learning Approaches
Project-based learning activities vary from classroom to classroom. Learning typically focuses on solving a problem that occurs in the school community or in the community at large. Environmental topics are popular in project-based learning, but virtually any dilemma that exists in the real world has the potential to serve as a focus for a project.
Some schools use non-traditional approaches to the curriculum and might incorporate projects into every course offered. Teachers from more conventional schools may choose to incorporate shorter and less extensive projects.
Regardless of the topic chosen or scope of the project, teachers must carefully define the parameters of the project as well as the skills and concepts to be developed in the activity.
Steps of a Successful Project
Planning a project requires some forethought and planning. Use the following steps to guide your process.
Project-Based Learning Benefits All Students
- Define the topic. Projects typically involve topics from the curriculum that have the potential for deep exploration. Topics can correlate directly to the standards. Brainstorm with and ask students what interests them. Consider school or local community problems in which students could see a need for studying. Be prepared to allow students to develop their own project questions with teacher support. Also, consider teaming with a teacher in another subject area.
- Clearly establish academic goals. Identify standards that could be met through the project and align the learning objectives to those standards. Be sure to integrate both conceptual learning and skill-building.
- Define the tasks. Teachers develop guidelines for how the project will be completed. Consider this an opportunity to communicate required tasks. It also should be used to give students guidance in the steps they should take to successfully complete the project.
- Establish time frames and due dates. If students are accustomed to a traditional teaching method, more time may be necessary to establish new routines of working in small groups with peers. Keep in mind that ambitious projects can take considerable time to complete. Teachers must balance the need to stay on schedule with the benefits accompanying PBL.
- Offer a choice of "products" that demonstrate learning. Teachers offer students a choice of "products" that they produce to document what has been learned. Products can include:
- Oral presentations for a variety of audiences
- Digital presentations
- Skits or dramatizations
- Training kits
- Web sites
- Bulletin boards
- Plans for creating a solution to a problem, such as a prototype for a new invention
- Create monitoring and feedback procedures. Provide students with scheduled and structured feedback mechanisms that occur throughout the life of the project.
- Develop authentic assessment tools. Possible evaluations include a grading rubric, peer assessment, a culminating essay, or a portfolio assessment. Always inform students of the grading tool prior to the onset of the project work.
- Develop project evaluation metrics. Decide in advance how you will determine the success of your project-based learning activity. Ask the difficult questions: what went wrong, if anything? How can I improve the project? Did my students meet the learning objectives? After evaluating the activity, revise it for future use.
PBL allows teachers to provide students with a more engaging and genuine form of learning that is based on learning standards. There are other benefits, however, especially for at-risk students.
Project-based learning has been shown to:
Increase attendance rates
Decrease suspension, and disciplinary referrals
The benefits to students are quite clear, but the good news doesn't end there. Teachers who have conducted successful project-based learning activities also report a high level of satisfaction with teaching.
Read More About Project-Based Learning
Project-Based Learning with Multimedia
This site, from the San Mateo County Office of Education, discusses topics, curriculum issues and examples of multimedia-based projects.
Start with the Pyramid
This article, from Edutopia, asserts that learning should begin with the project-based approach. The site includes a variety of examples from classrooms across the country that are involved in PBL.
This article was contributed by Mollie Crie, an educator with 22 years in the classroom. She currently teaches for Bedford County Schools in Forest, Virginia.