Archive for March, 2009

Project-based learning (PBL), defined by Sylvia Chard as the “in-depth investigation of a real-world topic worthy of children’s attention and effort” (Curtis), is the ultimate ‘respecter’ of our students’ time and trust. Proponents of PBL differentiate between ‘knowledge’ and ‘learning’. Knowledge consists of acquired information, skills, and concepts; learning is what students can do with their knowledge (Epps).

(Please click thumbnails to view videos.)

PBL is a way to ensure that students gain both. Attaching new knowledge to be acquired to familiar contexts helps students ‘make meaning’ and improves retention. “Freely crossing disciplines” and simulating real-world roles in the classroom (Edutopia Staff, 2008) ensures deep learning — i.e. the ability to transfer knowledge and apply it in new contexts. This approach to teaching “inspires” (locus is in the learner) rather than motivates (locus is in the teacher) by capturing students’ interests with challenging and thought-provoking questions or problems to be solved.

Pedagogical justifications for project-based learning include the following:

(a) It is a systematic approach that focused more on what the students will learn and less on what the teacher will do in class. PBL puts the onus on students to engage actively in their education. It helps them “develop confidence and self-direction” as they take responsibility for both group and individual work (Edutopia Staff, 2008).

(b) “Successful learners start with a pool of ideas they already understand and embeds new ones into the pool” (Abbot). Likewise, through PBL students integrate new skills, learning abilities, and attitudes into their pre-existing pools (as per the “Transfer-Meaning-Acquisition” model of Wiggins & Tighe). PBL fosters growth in both the cognitive and affective domains by drawing students up their respective staircases shown below.

(c) If our mission “is not [just] to help students get good at school, but rather to prepare them for the world beyond school” (Wiggins & Tighe), then by putting them into situations that mimic the real world, PBL helps them generalize what they learn inside a classroom to life beyond its four walls.

Skills important in both the academic and real worlds — organization and research, communications with co-workers and adults, working as part of a team, time management, giving and using constructive feedback, personal and social responsibility — are all developed as students learn by doing. PBL also “provides teachers with an effective way to integrate technology into the curriculum” (Edutopia Staff, 2008).

(d) PBL recognizes that “the search for meaning takes a different route for each student” (Brooks & Brooks). Where more linear, traditional models may leave students who struggle languishing at the lowest level of knowledge acquisition (especially in subjects such as math) and never give them a chance them to try higher order tasks, PBL is also more inclusive.  It provides for greater differentiation by challenging the notion that students must learn all the important facts and basic skills before they can . . . apply what they do know in more complex and authentic ways (Wiggins & Tighe).

(e) Because assessment and evaluation are performance-based and participatory, both are more meaningful and lead to real change in the students (Edutopia Staff, 2008; Epps). Confusion is avoided because the expectations for learning and the criteria by which quality will be judged are established at the outset.

(f) PBL leads to improvements in student performance. This is a point of agreement among educators, parents, students, and community members (see last week’s readings and videos) and is also borne out by numerous studies using standardized tests and other assessment instruments. (Edutopia Staff, 2001).

(g) Finally, project-based learning challenges teachers to grow professionally. If we are going to start from the premise that for students just knowing information is not enough — i.e. that they want to move from knowing to understanding — then we ourselves have to understand not only what knowledge we want our students to acquire, but also why and how it will actually be of use to them. (Epps) Taking on the challenge of developing high quality PBL experiences must involve us teachers in serious reflection and refinement of our practices thereby keeping our work “dynamic and open to change” (Gore & Ladwig). We can then become strong role models for our students because we will value for ourselves this complex process in which we want them to engage.

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Sources:

Abbot, John. Building Knowledge: Constructivism in Learning. Video posted by changelearning in YouTube, 2008. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F00R3pOXzuk

Brooks & Brooks — assignment reading

Curtis, D. Start with the Pyramid: Real-World Issues Motivate Students. Article in Edutopia, 2001. http://www.edutopia.org/start-pyramid

Edutopia Staff (2001) — assignment reading

Edutopia Staff. Why Teach with Project-Based Learning?: Providing Students with a Well-Rounded Classroom Experience. Article in Edutopia, 2008. http://www.edutopia.org/project-learning-introduction

Epps, Beverly Office Chat: Understanding by Design (with Dr. J. St. Clair at University of Mary Washington, VA). Video posted by jstclairatumw in YouTube, 2008. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBt_GjOYXYM

Gore, J. and Ladwig, J. Professional Learning, Pedagogical Improvement, and the Circulation of Power . Paper presented in Melbourne, 2004. https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/proflearn/docs/pdf/qt_gor04814.pdf

The Learning Process. Diagram (#2 above) of Affective Domain, Dynamic Flight Inc, 2003. http://www.dynamicflight.com/avcfibook/learning_process/

Smythe, K. and Halonen, J. Using the New Bloom’s Taxonomy to Design Meaningful Learning Assessments , Diagram (#1 above) of Cognitive Domain, APA ONLINE, 2009. http://www.apa.org/ed/new_blooms.html#

Wiggins & Tighe — assignment reading

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This blog prompt provides three examples of teachers who successfully used PBL (project-based learning) with their students. The variety of approaches implies that there is no right way to introduce PBL into one’s teaching practice as long as sound design principles are incorporated and the roles and responsibilities of teachers and students are clarified.  The most striking property that these examples had in common was the educators’ dedication to making learning come alive for their students. They effectively turned education into an active process that lived inside their students. As a result,  these young people could no longer label this school work as ‘low priority’.

I. Design Elements

(a) Starting point is a broad, open ended question that is thought-provoking and of real importance to the students

Whether it was a problem to be solved or a concern or natural phenomena to be understood in greater depth, the teachers drew the students into the process by activating their interest and their curiosity. The students wanted to learn more.

(b) Strong underlying organization and broad scope; “knowledge to be aquired is embedded in the doing of the project”  (CENGAGE Learning)

The teachers knew going in which skills and concepts they wanted their students to learn or practice and to apply. Careful incorporation of state academic standards, a broad structure divided into phases or the use of pre-prepared assessment rubrics all showed the extent to which these PBL experiences had been thoroughly planned ahead of time. Cross-curricular elements promoted connections among skills and concepts not possible when subjects are taught in isolation. The projects were expansive; they stimulated thinking and the development of ideas that went beyond the basic content and obvious issues.

(c) Classroom becomes a microcosm of the real world as students “make active investigations”  (CENGAGE Learning)

This was handled not only by taking the students out for field work but also by bringing the world into the class. Research was done online; experts were consulted; judges and parents were invited to view final projects in order to provide feedback and show appreciation for the students’ work. As well, there was a great emphasis on group work. The goal here was to give students the opportunity to improve their ability to work together through team work and discussion. No student could undertake a project of this scope alone. They had to collaborate to turn their ideas into reality.

(d) Assessment occurs continually as the projects evolve; this process is “participatory and reflective” (CENGAGE Learning)

The teacher and students together assessed to what extent the groups were or were not meeting the criteria given them at the beginning.  Feedback was constructive and supported the students’ efforts to adjust their work as their understanding of the tasks deepened. Becasue the work occured in an environment that was supportive, students could openly reflect and incorporate new ideas into their work so it evolved and their learning deepened. accordingly.

(d) A variety complex work products are required so the students must apply information and represent their learning in a variety of ways (CENGAGE Learning)

In each of these examples the students demonstrated their learning and shared their findings through the production of several artifacts and a final presentation. Although the  educators in all three examples stressed the importance of using technology as a way for students to produce better quality work, there were also ‘old school’ such as display boards and drawings.

(f) Final evaluation is authentic

The final evaluations were based on criteria known by the students are the outset.  As was shown in the architecture project, this was based on the extent to which the students had demonstrated their understanding and application of content and skills and also whether they had fulfilled or surpassed initial expectations regarding collaboration and creative  problem solving.

II. Roles and Responsibilities

In order for PBL to work the teacher has to learn to wear several hats. The students have to shift from a passive to an active learning mode.

Once the overarching question to be answered or problem to be solved has been determined, intensive pre-planning is undertaken by the teacher who selects the curricular objectives and academic standards that will be met,  decides what artifacts students will be required to produce to demonstrate their learning, and determines how the students’ work and learning will be assessed and evaluated. The teacher also creates the timetable for completion of various tasks and stages. This must all be in place from the outset.

As soon as the project is underway, something of a role reversal occurs with the teacher stepping into the background role of keeping the activity perking by asking challenging questions and the students taking the job of coming up with the answers. The teacher has to know when to step in and when to keep out. It becomes the students’ responsibility to take on the inquiry proces, develop their projects ideas,  and to demonstrate their learning.

Taking on the real world roles of researchers, scientists, and architects, the students have to figure out what they need to learn and where to get that information. Several exemplary work products and final presentations have to be created with teammates, so students must actively negotiate planning decisions and give each other feedback and support. They have to manage their time to keep on schedule. Because PBL demands more of them than simply providing information, the students are required to take on the more complex, higher order tasks of problem solving and synthesizing in order to come up with their conclusions.

The teacher remains at their side — challenging their initial ideas and stimulating them make their work more comprehensive, helping them resolve their struggles with group dynamics, and providing guidance and technical assistance with development of the work products. The teacher ensures that assessment is ongoing, collaborative, and constructive. The final evaluation may also be a collaborative effort with input gathered from outside judges and parents, peers, and the students themselves (through self-reflection), but is still managed by the teacher.

III. Increasing Engagement, Learning, and Transfer

Worried about poor quality test results and the inability of their students to apply their learning to new situations, the teachers in the three examples turned to PBL. Results surpassed expectations.

The final learning was described as “deeper” — with many learning outcomes interconnected and transferable to new contexts. Educators, parents, students and community members all became convinced that with PBL students were more highly engaged in and enthusiastic about their school work. Students spoke articulately about their work on film. Even the student who admitted that he was challenged by working with peers whose ‘learning styles’ were not the same as his own felt the experience was positive. There was no need to fear standardized tests or final exams; at the end of it all the students knew their stuff.

In project-based learning, the improvements in the students’ attitudes and learning stem mainly from: (a) the fact that they become personally invested and care about their learning because it has real world implications that they understand and appreciate,  (b) the intensive pre-panning on the part of the teacher which ensures academic expectations will be met, (c) the collaborative nature of the process, (d) the ongoing nature of assessment and the authenticity of the final evaluation.  The teacher sets the stage for learning to occur, but the students do the work so they “own the learning” at the end.

Motivation is intrinsic to the PBL experience. Knowing someone real will be receiving or viewing their contributions and presentations, students become more focused and produce higher quality work. Knowing their feedback and contributions will be missed if they don’t show up for class, they do. As they develop their projects, the students learn and apply skills to solve the problems that arise and draw from strategies acquired in other contexts to fulfill their tasks. Student discussion around such questions as: ‘What do I already know? What do I need to know? How can I find that information?’ puts them into control of directing their own learning. Student reflection regarding questions like: ‘What did I learn? How has that changed my perspective and understanding? What would I do differently another time?’ promote transfer not only of content but of of process skills.  By making our own classrooms into a microcosm of the real world, we too will be able to instill the skills and attitudes that foster lifelong learning in our students.

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External Source:

Design Features of Project Based Instruction , Project-Based Learing Homepage, Online Study Center of CENGAGE Learning (cc Houghtin Mifflin Company)

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This blog prompt provides three examples of teachers who successfully used PBL (project-based learning) with their students. The variety of approaches implies that there is no right way to introduce PBL into one’s teaching practice as long as sound design principles are incorporated and the roles and responsibilities of teachers and students are clarified.

I. Design Elements

The project-based learning design elements common to all three examples can be grouped into several broad categories.

(a) Hands-on, Hearts-on, and Minds-on

The most striking property that these examples had in common was the educators’ dedication to making learning come alive for their students. They effectively turned education into an active process that lived inside their students. As a result,  these young people could no longer label this school work as ‘low priority’.

(b) Organization and Scope

All three teachers started with a question or topic of interest and importance to the students whether it was a problem to be solved or a concern or natural phenomena to be understood in greater depth. The students wanted to learn more. The teachers knew going in which skills and concepts they wanted their students to learn or practice and to apply. Careful incorporation of state academic standards, a broad structure divided into phases or the use of pre-prepared assessment rubrics all showed the extent to which these PBL experiences had been thoroughly planned ahead of time. Cross-curricular elements promoted connections among skills and concepts not possible when subjects are taught in isolation. The projects were expansive; they stimulated thinking and the development of ideas that went beyond the basic content and obvious issues.

(c) Real World Connections

The work was made real for the students by its connections to the world outside the school. This was handled not only by taking the students out for field work but also by bringing the world into the class. Research was done online; experts were consulted; judges and parents were invited to view final projects in order to provide feedback and show appreciation for the students’ work.

(d) Demonstrate Learning

Each of these examples required all students to demonstrate their learning through the production of several artifacts and a final presentation. These included ‘old school’ display boards or drawings, digital tools such as powerpoints and videos, and the sharing of findings through an oral presentation. The educators in all three examples stressed the importance of using technology as a way for students to produce better quality work.

(e) Teamwork and Social Skills

There was a great emphasis on group work. The goal here was to give students the opportunity to improve their ability to work together through team work and discussion. No student could undertake a project of this scope alone. They had to collaborate to turn their ideas into reality.

(f) Ongoing feedback and assessment

Assessment occurs continually as the projects evolve. The teacher and students assess to what extent the groups are or are not meeting the criteria given them at the beginning.  Feedback is constructive and supports the students’ efforts to adjust their work as their understanding of the tasks deepens.

II. Roles and Responsibilities

In order for PBL to work the teacher has to learn to wear several hats. The students have to shift from a passive to an active learning mode.

Once the overarching question to be answered or problem to be solved has been determined, intensive pre-planning is undertaken by the teacher who selects the curricular objectives and academic standards that will be met,  decides what artifacts students will be required to produce to demonstrate their learning, and determines how the students’ work and learning will be assessed. The teacher also creates the timetable for completion of various tasks and stages. This must all be in place from the outset.

As soon as the project is underway, something of a role reversal occurs with the teacher stepping into the background role of keeping the activity perking by asking challenging questions and the students taking the job of coming up with the answers. The teacher has to know when to step in and when to keep out. It becomes the students’ responsibility to develop their projects and demonstrate their learning.

Taking on the real world roles of researchers, scientists, and architects, the students have to figure out what they need to learn and where to get that information. Several exemplary work products and final presentations have to be created with teammates, so students must actively negotiate planning decisions and give each other feedback and support. They have to manage their time to keep on schedule. Because PBL demands more of them than simply providing information, the students are required to take on the more complex, higher order tasks of problem solving and synthesizing in order to come up with their conclusions.

The teacher remains at their side — challenging their initial ideas and stimulating them make their work more comprehensive, helping them resolve their struggles with group dynamics, and providing guidance and technical assistance with development of the work products. Evaluation may be a collaborative effort with input gathered from outside judges and parents, peers, and the students themselves, but is still managed by the teacher.

III. Increasing Engagement, Learning, and Transfer

Worried about poor quality test results and the inability of their students to apply their learning to new situations, the teachers in the three examples turned to PBL. Results surpassed expectations.

The final learning was described as “deeper” — with many learning outcomes interconnected and transferable to new contexts. Educators, parents, students and community members all became convinced that with PBL students were more highly engaged in and enthusiastic about their school work. Students spoke articulately about their work on film. Even the student who admitted that he was challenged by working with peers whose ‘learning styles’ were not the same as his own felt the experience was positive. There was no need to cram for tests; at the end of it all the students knew their stuff.

In project-based learning, the improvements in the students’ attitudes and learning stem mainly from: (a) the fact that they become personally invested and care about their learning because it has real world implications that they understand and appreciate,  (b) the intensive pre-panning on the part of the teacher which ensures academic expectations will be met, (c) the collaborative nature of the process, (d) the ongoing nature of assessment and the authenticity of the final evaluation.  The teacher sets the stage for learning to occur, but the students do the work so they “own the learning” at the end.

Motivation is intrinsic to the PBL experience. Knowing someone real will be receiving or viewing their contributions and presentations, students become more focused and produce higher quality work. Knowing their feedback and contributions will be missed if they don’t show up for class, they do. As they develop their projects, the students learn and apply skills to solve the problems that arise and draw from strategies acquired in other contexts to fulfill their tasks. Student discussion around such questions as: ‘What do I already know? What do I need to know? How can I find that information?’ puts them into control of directing their own learning. Student reflection regarding questions like: ‘What did I learn? How has that changed my perspective and understanding? What would I do differently another time?’ promote transfer not only of content but of of process skills.  By making our own classrooms into a microcosm of the real world, we too will be able to instill the skills and attitudes that foster lifelong learning in our students.

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