In educational circles, I often run into PjBL or Project Based Learning. The more I learn about it, the more I love it. I really wish others would get on board with the idea. We need a pretty serious shake up of our educational system if we want to truly reach students. This philosophy has been producing some great results.
The basic idea is that projects use “technology and inquiry to engage with issues and questions that are relevant to their [students] lives.” So instead of students going to English, then Biology, then Economics, they work on a real life project that involves all three subjects into one. This way students aren’t attending compartmentalized classes, but integrating multiple ideas, just like the real world. It’s a radical idea for most schools and districts, but one that is definitely gaining steam.
Beyond all the educational journals, I have my own pro/con list.
- Assessment is focused on competence rather than traditional testing. Instead of testing on random questions or standards, teachers look at whether each individual student mastered the skills included in each project. This gives everyone a much better understanding of the learning that did or did not happen.
- Long term. These projects are one day or two day experiences. They can last a few weeks, a few months, or an entire year. This allows for students to become invested in their project.
- Interdisciplinary. Student often think of each class as separate entities. They would get mad at me when in U.S. History I would reference Economics or Psychology. It’s all related, like a swirling vortex in my brain. Projects allow students to make connections between all the subjects.
- Student-centered. No more does the class sit in neat rows directed to the teacher at the front of the room. They are grouped. They are in various places around the room. The entire class doesn’t look to the teacher, b ut the students look to each other.
- Organize and manage own time. PjBL doesn’t use the teacher or even the class period as the focuser of time. Instead, student groups work with each other to manage the project. Students have to learn time management and organization. This way students are taking more responsibility for their own learning.
- Publicly presented product or performance. The end product of the project isn’t a paper that no one by the teacher reads. It’s a presentation or product that the entire community shares in. It has more meaning.
- Take on social responsibility. Often times the projects chosen have aspect of social responsibility, something that could result in a better life for the group or community. Teach social responsibility and standard skills in one… best possible outcome!
- And the most important pro of all… ownership of learning. Most of the time, students learn the material for the test and then proceed to forget everything afterwards. Projects last longer. When students are directing the work, they invest more and remember more. The experience stays with them because they were the owners. It was their project, not the teacher’s or the school’s.
- Reliance on subjective rubrics. When competence assessment is a much more accurate way to assess, it cane be difficult to set up. There is no longer a right answer and a wrong answer. Instead the teacher must look at the students’ individual progress. Rubrics must be created, but they are in their very nature subjective. Teacher A may not be looking for the same things as Teacher B. One way to fix this problem would be to have multiple teachers heading each project. Then you have variety of rubrics of which to get a more accurate picture.
- Planning time. Comprehensive projects take planning. This is not something that someone can think up in a day. Hours or even days should be spend in the early planning stages. I have heard of my schools using the teacher orientation days before the year starts to get a preliminary plan. Maybe set up the bare framework for three or four projects. Then the students start the year and get to choose which project they want ot pursue. Even after a project is chosen, the teacher needs to stay ahead of the class in terms of anticipating resources and/or problems. In this way constant planning is needed.
- Example projects. The best way to teach a student is to model. The example projects don’t even have to be your own. Find a short video or webpage about another school’s large scale project. Giving examples allows students to see what is possible and how to proceed, especially if this is the students’ first large project.
- And finally… student motivation. This doesn’t seem ot be a problem once the program has been implemented. It may take a bit of convincing to get students on board for the first project, However, I cannot think of anyone who would truly prefer compartmentalized classes to a integrated student led project. That just sound awesome to me.
The cons really aren’t cons. They are more like cautionary points. If there is enough time and planning, project based learning can be very successful. My dream job, teaching high schoolers at a school that focuses on PjBL and supports the teachers. Now that would be heaven.