Student projects: connecting teaching and learning goals
It is common, as educators, to find ourselves initiating or supervising a bunch of different student projects. In the IB, we have extended essays, internal assessments, personal projects; in national curricula, we have contact hours or thematic weeks dedicated to projects; in clubs, we prepare projects for competitions and fairs. In other words: projects are all over the place.
Students usually seem motivated, cooperative and gratified when implicated in a project. That’s definitely encouraging for us, but our educational purpose is not merely to “keep them happy.” What is usually missing from projects? A crystal clear strategy for activating teaching and learning requirements through project development. Curriculum or extra-curriculum goals should be addressed at all times, including both content and skills.
What is different about Project-Based Learning?
Engaging our students in Project-Based Learning is profoundly different from assigning a project to them. This is the distinction between projects served as “main courses” and projects served as “desserts” (Larmer & Mergendoller, 2011). Projects as a “main course” mean that our instruction is the project, while as “dessert” the project follows the instruction as an additional part.
PBL is a type of inquiry-based instruction. As any non-traditional teaching and learning strategy, it demands extra effort on our part to convert our lessons from teacher-based to student-based. It requires a different mindset and time to re-organize things – but it doesn’t have to be all-consuming.
Is it worth our time?
So, why do it? Let me give you an example. As part of my work as an educational consultant, I became involved with a STEM project competition. I started wondering about the qualities and logistics of PBL, mostly for formal settings. After my brief research, this seemed to be such an interesting subject that I decided to write a blog post about it.
Project title: Taking advantage of PBL. Driving question: How can I help educators empower their students as inquirers? End product: Blog post series. Milestones: Research, consult with fellow researchers, write, design, publish. Deadline: Thursday, 27 February. Feedback: Comments from educators.
Looking back at my project outline, I realized: this is how we work and live in the 21st century. Although getting our projects in-line is what we mostly do in real-life conditions, we often neglect to teach this project management process to our students. Brainstorming, organizing, reaching out, collaborating, troubleshooting and reflecting are all parts of a project – so, let’s give them the opportunity to practice that in advance in a safe classroom environment. It’s a skill that they will always remember they learned in our classrooms.
Introducing Project-Based Learning to your classroom can be your next project.
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Larmer, J., & Mergendoller, J. R. (2011). The main course, not dessert: How are students reaching 21st century goals with 21st century project based learning? Retrieved February 17, 2020, from Buck Institute for Education website: https://www.cisd.org/cms/lib6/TX01917765/Centricity/Domain/162/Main_Course.pdf