Project Based Learning: Education for the Future
Love ’em or hate ’em, “projects” are part of education. Nearly everyone with a high school diploma has at least one vivid memory of stooping over a science fair entry, squabbling with a “partner” over best approaches and fair share of work, or being asked “Are you sure your mom didn’t put this together for you?”
Project based learning, though, is something different—and it’s not, as you might think, simply a curricula approach that uses projects instead of tests as the primary evaluator of what’s been learned. Project Based Learning (PBL) is a system (or a philosophy) that uses teamwork-based projects to help students develop skills for long-term success, “success” defined as being an effective contributing member of society. As the nonprofit Buck Institute for Education puts it, PBL is based on “highly complex methods of creating and publishing student thinking.”
PBL emphasizes the process at least as much as the product: interpersonal skills and creative thinking are high priorities throughout. It focuses on projects relevant to well-known contemporary issues: no “When will I ever need to know this?” protests here. It gets the school actively involved with the larger community; nearly every project includes a final presentation to an outside group. Often, a PBL class becomes an active part of a larger community revitalization project or a professional conference.
Another difference between Project Based Learning and traditional “projects” is that PBL brings project work directly into the classroom. Instead of handing out parameters and saying “I’ll collect your projects in two weeks,” the instructor stays on hand throughout to answer questions and offer assistance (though the wise instructor will refrain from jumping in too quickly and will let the students figure most things out for themselves). Besides ensuring an easy way for group members to coordinate their work schedules, this keeps hands-on materials convenient and provides increased opportunities for immersion in project-relevant environments.
Shady Oak Primary School has adopted the PBL approach, this decision was made to ensure that our students are prepared for the 21st Century. Current education trends are antiquated and are not equipping students with the necessary skill sets. Moving forward, students need to master their ability to communicate, problem solve, collaborate and think critically. Project Based Learning is committed to ensuring that these four concepts are included and evaluated during each and every project. Our students love this approach and the sense of ownership and accomplishment it brings to their learning.
In summary, the key advantages of Project Based Learning are:
- Students actively develop their creative and interpersonal skills throughout, rather than seeing everything as a means to a “find the right answer” end.
- Students get directly involved in their larger community’s issues and challenges.
- By working on “common turf,” project teams develop a greater sense of camaraderie and mutual support.
- All of this translates into developing skills vital to the larger world.
Sample PBL projects:
- Develop a town walking tour for the local Chamber of Commerce.
- Read and analyze traditional folktales from around the world, then create one of your own and turn it into a play for a community drama festival.
- Come up with a plan for countering the pandemic of negative news, and present it to a group of communications professionals.
- Describe an ideal society that draws from the best features of civilizations past and present.
- Start a community garden to furnish fresh produce for a food pantry.
- Make a collage on “the global history of civil rights” for a special museum exhibit.
(For more information, email Debbie at DElder@ShadyOakPrimary.com to set up a strategy session to see if this approach is for you and your students.)