Sunday, June 15, 2014

Project Based Learning - What are the considerations?

As teachers are incorporating Project-Based learning instruction into their classrooms, they need to help students know and be aware of their own conceptions and help students develop learning strategies to use. Lecturing to students and stressing learning for the right answer is a simpler and more familiar process for teachers then project-based learning instruction.  

Students who will be successful in a PBL environment need to use learning, problem-solving and metacognitive strategies.  Students will also need to have an understanding of what those strategies are and when to use them.  A teacher then needs to model and scaffold this process if a students isn’t using or understanding the strategies necessary so that the PBL environment can become successful.  In turn, teachers need support in these environments in learning how students learn.  Students should have an understanding of the problem before the beginning of a project.  Knowledge of 21st century skills and knowing how to collaboratively work with others can be critical skills that influence success for PBL with students.  It is also extremely helpful if they are motivated, self-directed and an active participant in their own learning. The teacher needs to know the student’s level of understanding about the problem before the project, during the project and what the student learned as a result of the project.  Teachers need to be able to document the student’s learning informally as well as formally.

Many educators promote mastery of content instead of promoting inquiry of knowledge, which is PBL in nature.  Creating a PBL classroom environment that encourages an open-mind set, an inquiry of knowledge, and a place where mistakes are encouraged is difficult.  But risk-taking, using cognitive and metacognitive learning strategies can bring a deeper understanding of content in those PBL environments.  Learners thinking beyond one solution and beyond “the correct answer” is a PBL attribute.  Educators providing real-world connections can support these learners in this environment.

Technology plays a big role in a successful PBL classroom.  It can provide the motivation for students, give them accessibility to information needed and allow for them to authentically showcase their learning in a meaningful way.  However, the teacher again is a key factor.  The teacher needs to be able to understand the process and be able to guide the students and model their learning.  organize that process so that students understand steps necessary in their learning journey.  

Students need to be able to evaluate their own thinking, processes and products in a successful PBL environment.  Teachers then need to provide explicit support for this reflection process so that students can find their errors in the steps they followed, understand why and be able to move forward with their learning.  

Blumenfeld, P. (1991). Motivating Project-Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting   the Learning. Educational Psychologist, 26(3/4), 369.
Harvey, S., & Daniels, H. (2009). Comprehension & collaboration: Inquiry circles in action.  
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Rice, Kerry. Making the move to K-12 online teaching. Pearson Education, Inc., 2012.