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Ditch Busy Work, Turn to Project-Based Lessons

For decades, the classroom has been regarded as a place where teaching activities occur between moderately consenting participants (there was no other choice). We clap as our students graduate with honors, but we send them to a world that they are ill-prepared for. 

They have limited knowledge in critical thinking, reasoning, visualizing, planning, and reaching conclusions. Their communication skills are wanting, and they lack personal and social responsibility. We never taught them these things. 

Project-based learning (PBL) strives to ensure students thrive in their personal and professional lives by combining fundamental learning (math, science, reading, and writing) with real-life skills like research gathering, synthesizing information, problem-solving, working with high-tech tools, and time management.

PBL recognizes that children learn differently and possess far more capabilities than we give them credit for. It allows them to use all modalities to research, resolve problems and communicate solutions. This combination produces rounded students who now manage their learning processes under the guidance and mentorship of skilled teachers.

Characteristics of PBL

PBL differs from the usual school projects in that the latter typically happens after teachers cover the topic. Contrastingly, PBL picks a project topic to serve as a unit that teaches students important skills. Teachers assume a coaching role rather than an instructing one. 

PBL's top differentiators from other learning methods include:

  • It's interdisciplinary. Students tap into content knowledge and skills from several academic domains to facilitate inquiry and solution-building.
  • It's rigorous. Students don't just cram information to pass exams. They study to understand and apply this knowledge, plus the skills they've picked up to research and solve problems. 
  • It's student-centered. Teachers move from lecture givers and content-deliverers to facilitators and project managers. Kids master how to work independently, turning to the teacher for support when the need arises.

What outcomes should the educator be aiming for? Objectives may vary depending on the teacher and learning institution, but common objectives may include the following:

  • Integrating knowledge and skills across disciplines for more complex investigations, analysis, and solution building
  • Autonomous learning, alongside self-evaluation, encourages students to look beyond their perceived knowledge, skills, and ideas.
  • Learning teamwork and collaboration in tackling complex questions prepares the student for work and social environments.

Benefits of PBL

Implementing PBL in classrooms has plenty going for it, including:

  • Creating opportunities for in-depth learning to develop important skills that may come in handy in readiness for college or work environments.
  • Equipping students with skills like critical reasoning, creativity, collaboration, and effective communication that are essential in their future careers.
  • Encouraging a multi-disciplinary pedagogical approach. Learners stop viewing subjects in isolation and start making relevant connections across them.
  • Improving students' attitudes towards school and education since the learner is invested in their project and enjoys working on it.
  • Mirroring real-world learning to inspire students to understand concepts deeper in preparation for the future. Feedback from their educators teaches them to handle challenges and revise plans.

Applying PBL in Your Class

There are plenty of resources teachers in elementary, middle, and high school can access to help them implement project-based learning methods. 

Here is a five-step guide:

  1. Spell out the end you're aiming for before you begin. Think about the content you want your students to grasp by the time they finish the project. What skills do you expect them to gain? 
  2. Help your students generate questions. Identify what your students believe they know about the project topic and record these responses on a visual. Model your own thinking (and questioning) to help them develop their own.
  3. Help organize research. Organize engaging opportunities for them to engage with the topic. Plan field trips to places they can get real answers, invite subject matter experts to speak to your class, and get students to research online, read books, or experiment. 
  4. Encourage your students to think like experts. Let students identify an aspect of the topic that interests them most and let them zero in on it. Get them to find out all they can about this aspect so they can share it with the rest of the class.
  5. Help the students present their findings. Guide your students toward organizing the information they've gathered and will present. This stage requires creativity, collaboration with classmates, and practicing communication skills.

PBL is the Future of Education

Project-based learning helps regenerate interest in education and instills the skills students will need in adulthood. You can implement it at any stage of learning to help your students apply the knowledge they've received in real-life situations.

Written by Evelyn Maina
Education World Contributor
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