I’m an advocate for Project-Based Learning and I know it!
I’m in the process of writing an article about Digital Media, Project-Based Learning (PBL), and Creativity. As I assemble the article I’ve realized that I am a devoted advocate for PBL and find it difficult to imagine any other way to approach a classroom project. Working to implement this instructional model in almost forty high schools in Connecticut I’ve received a lot of kick back, many of the concerns relate to the ambiguity that surrounds assessment and knowing exactly what activities the students will be doing. It’s certainly uncharted territory for some educators who have spent most of their careers at the front of the classrooms telling their students what they will learn, and how they will learn it. I don’t belittle this practice – it’s understandable given that the educators teaching in this way experienced the same system when they were at school. Also, when we consider ‘Blended Instruction’, which is another instructional approach that I value outside of class projects, traditional ways of teachers are incorporated and blend with more recent styles that usually involve some form of technology or PBL. In fact to illustrate this point, I’m currently teaching a History of Digital Culture class that has no end project. While I certainly plan to incorporate videos, films, lots of discussions, and facilitated debates, nearly every lesson so far has begun with a traditional lecture that usually lasts 10-15 minutes. I’ve actually enjoyed telling the story of the origins of our digital world and plan to expand on this approach when I teach the class again next semester. Could this class be turned into a project-based learning environment at some point during the semester – absolutely! However, given that nearly every one of our classes in the program incorporates Project-Based or Experiential Learning, I’ve opted to be a little more traditional than usual, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with this. I believe an educator should apply multiple methods of instruction into their work, this is what makes educators so creative. What frustrates me is when I come across a teacher who is convinced PBL is not for them, it’s something that is only applicable to an elective, or a class that doesn’t receive the same scrutiny as one that involves a state-wide examination on its content. I respectfully challenge this disbelief. Respectfully because I haven’t taught one of these subjects, but I challenge it because I’ve seen it successfully implemented in multiple schools, and supported to some capacity this effort through the integration of digital media and PBL. I’ve seen phenomenal projects created in a high school Earth science class turn into mobile apps, video games, eBooks, etc., impressive documentary films and Web sites created in a history course, and even sat on discussions on how PBL can be implemented to teach Math.
With the movement toward teaching 21st Century Skills fully underway PBL is going to receive greater, and greater attention from Middle School right up to University. I know the Common Core is causing havoc for some around the country but it appears to be interpreted differently from district to district, and I believe those at all levels that use these changes to catapult PBL to the front of their agenda are more likely to excel under the current regime.
For those of you who feel its not for you I’ve shared my top five reasons for implementing PBL to try and convince you otherwise.
- 1. Great for nurturing creativity! No predetermined outcomes, allows students to construct their own tangible outcome in the form of an original digital media product that can be shared and valued outside he classroom.
- 2. Engage and develops 21st Century Skills. There’s nothing like a group project to engage communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creative thinking skills.
- 3. The deeper understanding and appreciation for the content happens independent from the teacher as students identify what they most value and connect with.
- 4. Teachers never experience the same thing twice. As long as predetermined outcomes remain absent new students will always come up with new ideas providing the creative thinking is nurtured and encouraged.
- 5. It’s more closely aligned to a real-world experience. When students graduate they will not receive clearly defined problems and support from their supervisors. This is why I get particularly annoyed when I see this practice occurring with soon-to-be graduates from higher education institutions.