What is Project-Based Learning?
As the name says on the tin, ‘Project-Based Learning’ is a teaching method which prompts students to undertake either a challenge, a carefully-manufactured real-life problem or a longer-term research task. The end goal, in the form of a presentation or a public product, should be the result of independent or collaborative work over a couple of lessons or weeks.
What does research say?
John Dewey’s theory of ‘Learning by Doing’ proposed the idea that children learn best when they interact with their environments. Dewey argued that taking an active part in the process of their learning is more effective than when the child is being a passive recipient of knowledge, even with the most charismatic, entertaining or knowledgeable instructor. As a side note, this knowledge was quite liberating for my own teaching practice as I have spent my initial years in teaching worrying what students thought of my 'performed' explanations and I always compared myself to teachers who could win their students over simply with their infallible sense of humour. This, the idea that being a sage on the stage is not enough for students to learn, is somewhat liberating and has re-focused my energy on facilitating learning opportunities for my students where they play an active part in their learning.
Dewey further argued that for education to be at its most effective, children should be given learning opportunities that enabled them to link present content to previous experiences and knowledge. ‘Learning by doing’ will involve students trying and failing, making mistakes and learning from them. How did we all learn to ride a bike or walk? By practicing it, often, and often without a lot of success at first!
This does not mean that the teacher does not have an important role to play. Chris Hooper, in the PPD he delivered on ‘Project-Based Learning', outlined that in order for the project to be successful, we need to consider the following conditions:
-Present the students with the right level of challenge to allow them to learn new skills.
-Equip students with the knowledge to complete the project prior to it starting.
-Make it clear in the prior learning that this information is vital for their ability to complete this project.
-Set the project in a familiar context so that the desired learning presents itself.
-This learning may need summing up formalising after the completion of the project.
Rosemary Keyworth: "The project was intended to allow students to explore the historical context (WW1) for the novel they are studying, Private Peaceful. As the focus in lessons is on the creation of the narrative, I felt that this element of studying a text would be better suited to a HS. They were given 2 weeks to complete the project, a list of topics to include, a range of useful websites and were allowed to present their information in as creative a way as they liked. If they did something like making a cake, they were asked to present written work as well. We then presented the work in a lesson: students laid out their work next to their feedback form, on which they had explained their project. Students then circulated giving positive feedback to each other. To finish, students were asked to evaluate their own work."
One student baked WW1 cupcakes and decorated the box with researched information about WW1...what a treat!
Another student made medals out of clay...
This student created a collection of WW1 letters stored in a beautiful red box.
During the project hand-in lesson, the students were led to the library where they admired each other's work whilst completing the above feedback sheet. The atmosphere was simply electric and it was clear how much the students enjoyed this project.