Teaching and Learning in a Project-Based World – #5 Monitoring Project-Based Learning

In the previous installment of our series on Project-Based Learning (PBL), we described how to break down project-based instruction and work towards a successful launch. In the current post, we explore Stage 2: Monitoring PBL.

Project-based learning (PBL) is “a student-centered form of instruction which is based on three constructivist principles: learning is context-specific, learners are involved actively in the learning process and they achieve their goals through social interactions and the sharing of knowledge and understanding” (Kokotsaki, Menzies, & Wiggins, 2016).

All features of PBL point us in the same direction: projects are students’ business and teachers are merely their facilitators – this is good for both sides. It is our “bad habit” as educators to be extremely involved in their knowledge construction: we accelerate this process because we want to help them end their quests “in safety,” or because we run out of time and can’t wait until they get there on their own.

We should think of ourselves as supervisors of this whole process: we monitor and we intervene, but students’ projects are not ours to complete. What we can do is make sure that they team up effectively, plan their schedules efficiently, and encourage them to come forward with any issues promptly.

Stage 2: Monitoring PBL

Here’s how:

1. Group formation

Teamwork can uplift the benefits gained by project-based instruction under one condition: teams should consist of students that can bring different perspectives and skills to the table. Since the project involves many different aspects starting from the concepts, and up to the development of the end-product, all students may contribute in some capacity.

Student collaboration in the PBL context can enhance differentiated learning. On the one hand, each student can take advantage of their personal inclinations and establish connections with their favorite subjects. On the other hand, they can perform better if we allow them to progress at their own pace (Wurdinger, Haar, Hugg, & Bezon, 2007).

2. Organizing calendars

Students setting realistic timelines and deadlines for implementing their projects is essential for achieving their mid- and end-goals. Separating their overall work into stages and assigning specific jobs to each teammate promotes students’ time- and self-management skills. They can and should take full responsibility for this process that will affect their projects at large.

We may suggest a time buffer, a wider spread of tasks or a heads up on time-consuming processes to help them map out their calendars. But of course, as they get their calendars in-line, they can always consult us.  We can also offer an opinion on optimal ways to set up these project calendars and remind them that we will keep track of their progress through it.

3. Report sessions

We should set specific dates on student calendars in which all teams should briefly report their progress. This is our chance to sum up the goals they’ve already accomplished, linking them to specific project milestones. During these sessions, students can discuss any issues that came up during the implementation of their projects, and exchange ideas based on their experience so-far.

At this point, we can attempt a small intervention to their PBL: we can summarize the content and skills that should have been acquired up to this point, so we’re confident that our curricular goals are on track. Doing so provides us an opportunity to turn their attention to noteworthy “knowledge gaps” they should address in order to pursue their project objectives more effectively.

To sustain the inquiry-based character of PBL and keep your distance from traditional lecture-styled sessions, you can set a Topic on the 100mentors app and prompt your students to submit their questions. When students generate focused questions, they climb the mountain of inquiry; formulating these questions and exposing them to the world is a major step towards reaching an answer.

Especially for PBL, which establishes connections between school subjects and the real world, our students can benefit greatly from answers gathered from experts all around the globe. We can give them the opportunity to make their project journey even more meaningful by giving access to 4000+ of these experts with 100mentors.

Check back for our next post, in which we’ll describe stage 3: evaluating PBL!

Sources

Kokotsaki, D., Menzies, V., & Wiggins, A. (2016). Project-based learning: A review of the literature. Improving Schools, 19(3), 267–277.

Wurdinger, S., Haar, J., Hugg, R., & Bezon, J. (2007). A qualitative study using project-based learning in a mainstream middle school. Improving Schools, 10(2), 150–161.

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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