Teaching and Learning in a Project-Based World – #1 Why bother with Project-Based Learning?

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. Here’s how I organized my project:

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.

Ready to read part 2?

In it the second installment of our PBL series, we’ll explore what sets PBL apart from traditional project instruction.

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Sources

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

Pepy is an IB Diploma Programme Physics and Mathematics teacher, with an MA and PhD in Education. She is currently a Post Doctoral Researcher in teachers' education and also teaches at the University of Patras. As the Educational Consultant at 100mentors she empowers educators to turn theory into practice with educational technology solutions.

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