Project-based learning

The concept of project-based learning is one that steers away from the traditional model of teachers providing students with information and then having students respond to that new information.  It is quite a restricting model when you think about it and does not allow for students to always grow and self-direct their own learning.  I have experienced project-based learning in some professional learning settings such as in the Intel Teach Essentials Online Course for Master Trainers and in some recent experience I’ve had with a new professional learning project.

A systematic teaching method that engages students in learning essential knowledge and life-enhancing skills through an extended, student-influenced inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks. (From http://pbl-online.org/About/whatisPBL.htm)

The potential for project-based learning (PBL) with technology is endless but how many educators embrace this opportunity with an innovative mind to improve their teaching and the learning opportunities for their students?  I would game enough to say its very few.  I myself did not readily use technology for the purpose of PBL as much as I could’ve as a classroom teacher, however, now I see the potential and I would love to readily rejuvenate my teaching with PBL.

So if PBL is about giving students a problem and then giving them room and opportunity to solve that problem, how could you do this?  I did try it once or twice in my classes as a Music teacher and I guess I posed a simple problem in that students wanted to start a band (hypothetically) so how would they do it?  What would they need?  It wasn’t a long or time-consuming project but I got some amazingly creative results like a full video from a group of girls who created their band personalities and identify and filmed an introductory video.  It was amazing!

In the Intel course I did, the focus was on some very broad questions, one overall driving question for the unit of work and then some smaller, lower-level questions that helped unpack the overall aim and problem being put forward.  I chose a question that was based on “How do you write a song for a small group?” and then there were other questions to help guide this further.  It didn’t succeed very well, I’ll admit it was not set up to really help students learn.  I gave them a problem-based activity but I tried structuring and controlling the activity too much rather than giving them personal freedom to discover their own answers.

What would I have done differently?  How would I have used technology?  I think I definitely would’ve used their iPods and iPhones more and got them to explore apps that would help them create a song that was multi-layered and relied on more than one instrument.  I could have provided more examples for them to be inspired by and I could have modeled the solution with my own completed example.  My students didn’t have much to go from and this didn’t help.

Another issue in doing PBL for me was getting students to record their work and what processes they were going through to solve the problem and provide a solution.  They did not record anything and so when it came marking time I had very little to go from.  But now I realise that I could’ve got them to use a project management or task management app on their iPods and iPhones as well to complete the work and show me what and how they did it.

There really is no end to the possibilities with technology I believe but it’s about being intentional and perhaps also just learning to let go of the traditional in favour of the transforming.  Check out www.bie.org for some excellent resources on PBL.

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