Project-based learning is a daunting concept to many, and it can be a lot of work to get started, but boy is it fun! Take a look at these young learners at the Auburn Early Education Center in Auburn, Alabama and see what I mean.
Five-Year-Olds Pilot Their Own Project-Based Learning
Wasn’t that video great! The students were so engaged and enthusiastic—and so busy DOING! There is no doubt that many, many teacher hours went in to setting up the activities and guiding students toward learning, but the teachers too, were enthusiastic. What teacher wouldn’t want to go to work every day if they could blend all subject areas into exciting student-driven projects? And think of all the standards being met across the curriculum!
Back to the video example of PBL. Where is the “learning” you say? Both the cruise ship to Africa and the trip to Brazil by plane required research in the classroom as well as participation in teacher-directed group discussions. These lucky students also got to go on a field trip—a rare hands-on, authentic experience.
The projects and reenactments required students to put what they had learned into practice, and to collaborate to build what they had seen and learned about. The creativity was there in every thing they constructed. Critical thinking was evident in their use of their creations and as play continued, in communicating to revamp the ways they used the materials, and in the “scripts” they developed.
The more students buy into this type of hands-on learning, the more they add. Those that have traveled bring their experiences and share it, mimicking the various workers they came into contact with. Did you see them checking passports? What about the captain at the beginning of the flight discussing turbulence? You can bet they spent time discussing what that word meant, and perhaps even acting it out. These experiences and activity-specific vocabulary build knowledge. I bet every kid in that classroom can explain the how and why of security checks, and the purpose of a passport. They also spent time counting passengers, writing, reading…the list goes on!
In real-world situations and in business, there is often more than one right answer or solution to a problem or situation. This is certainly noticeable in the STEM subject professions—science, technology, engineering, and math. The reality is that these subjects demand a great deal of creativity. The high achievers in these fields, often thought of as “geeks” or “nerds,” are actually some of the world’s most creative thinkers. They are the ones who wonder “what if….” and come up with new approaches and solutions to problems, and new inventions.
So what do we do to help our students be more prepared, creative, and yes, competitive, in the real world? Where are the new ideas and products going to come from? How can we help students be globally competitive in STEM subject areas as well as in real-world experiences? Project-based learning of course!
PBL may look or feel chaotic at first, but with proper planning, these cross-curricular, group-centered activities meet a myriad of standards while allowing students time to hone 21st century skills including the all important 4Cs—Critical Thinking, Creativity and Innovation, Collaboration, and Communication. What’s more, many teachers find that when students’ increased engagement in meaningful (to them), hands-on PBL tasks there are fewer discipline issues—now who doesn’t want a focused classroom filled with enthusiastic learners!
Project-based Learning—Where to start?
(www.edutopia.org) offers many insights into PBL in the form of articles, discussions, blogs, and shared ideas from educators. The video you just watched can be found on their site too!
Ted ED-Lessons Worth Sharing
(www.ed.ted.com) offers an array of lessons that be customized to suit individual classroom needs. Use the videos for ideas or present them directly to students.
You Tube for Schools
Buck Institute for Education
(www.bie.org) walks you through PBL and offers examples of PBL lessons and videos to use to get started.
Also, check out the article, Bringing STEM Into Focus by Jean Moon and Susan Rundell Singer at Education Week