By Catherine Shaw
Project Based Learning (PBL) is the latest trend in teaching. You may be new to teaching or a veteran teacher but chances are you have heard of this method. Since we are striving toward meaningful, engaging and relevant learning, PBL offers an exciting path.
I am not an expert, but when exposed to this way of teaching, I was excited. I have always tried to encompass many subjects into a unit of study. Seeing the big picture and wrapping the learning around a central idea was easy for me to grasp. It just made sense since in the real world people have jobs and they perform many different, yet related tasks to master that job. They write reports, read documents, apply skills, report to a boss, work on a team and produce a product. To me it just seemed obvious that this is a terrific way to set students up in a real world scenario.
As our school really began to dig into PBL, we had to learn the difference between Problem Based Learning and Project Based Learning. This was a huge Aha moment for many of our staff.
A combination of ideas works for Second Grade, which we have explored for a number of years now. One thing we discovered was having a good Driving Question will make all the difference in the world. Just taking an Essential Question is not enough to drive the learning and motivation. When students have an excitement about the question and gather ideas about how to answer that question, they are more willing to engage in the process. Another idea is to have the question impact a community in and around the school. Here are few of the PBL Driving questions we have had: “How can we inform new families to the school what kind of severe weather to expect and how to stay safe?” (Weather unit) “How can we explain to someone how to get to our house from the airport?” (Geography unit with How to writing-landmarks) “How can we convince our parents that we would like something?” (Economics unit) How can we explain to students what goes in the Recycle Bin? (Earth Day).
Over the years, we have had different members of the community come in to ask the questions or lead the kickoff. This was very authentic as they charged the students with the learning and were part of the outside community. They had a deadline to meet just like the real world.
The learning starts with a kickoff. The “Guest” asks them to provide them with a product for their use. The Guest can be someone from the community, another teacher from another school, a professional in the community or a parent from the school. Teachers can write a script for the “Guest” in order to help them facilitate the Driving Question. Next, students dialogue about what they know, what they may need to know and pose questions about the subject, and how they are going to learn about the topic in order to answer the question. Categorizing the questions and areas they see that would go together organizes the work. Students can work in groups, setting agendas and checkpoints for their learning.
The Buck Institute for Education has a multitude of Rubrics www.bie.org/resources along with suggestions for ways to get started. This is authentic learning at its best. The whole day is used for learning instead of dividing learning into compartmentalized subjects. All disciplines are woven into the design of a PBL unit. The best part about PBL is that students learn beyond the standards. Students learn life skills like collaboration, respect, responsibility, perseverance and critical thinking. The teacher sets checkpoints along the way help to monitor work and hold students accountable for work.
Writing time includes working on notes, collecting information, gathering materials. Reading has much more interest when it is student driven. Math is used
along the way as students may have to calculate the cost and needs of
materials and put together proposals for funds.
Students have a feeling of pride and accomplishment when the work is completed. They have made something for the community, or school. Their work is not lost as just another assignment and they have seen a meaningful and challenging task to completion. Presentations are shared with community members or parents.
If you have not tried creating a unit using Project-Based Learning, I would highly encourage it. I have found a new energy and love for teaching as I have explored this methodology. You may have to let go and let students take charge of their learning with help along the way. Isn’t that what all educators hope for?
Euler, Grant., Cole, Lindsey., Lin-Jeffrey, Sharon. (2017) Project-Base Learning
Progression Workshop, Jefferson County School District.
Catherine Shaw is currently a Second Grade Teacher at Bradford K-8
South in Littleton, CO and is a board member of JCIRA. She has
been teaching since 1992 starting as a Paraprofessional and then as a Licensed
Colorado educator. Shaw earned her master’s degree is Reading and
Literacy in 2008. From the time she was in fifth grade, Shaw knew she wanted to be a teacher and has been living that dream for the last 20 plus years. Catherine.Shaw@jeffco.k12.co.us