Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Project-Based Learning

As a project-oriented person, I was excited to learn about Project-Based Learning (PBL). If you haven't heard of it either, it is exactly what it sounds like. Students learn through the practical creation of a project. Naturally, the projects have to be complex enough to include development of reading and writing skills, math skills, and various social skills as well as learn things about science and technology and society.

PBL involves collaborative learning, meaning students have to make use of collaboration and communication. Further, since there is a project, and the project has a goal and a process to achieve that goal, students have to engage in problem solving, which involves asking questions and coming up with a variety of answers, critical thinking, and creativity/innovation. If there is one thing that schools consistently do not teach, it is creativity and innovation. But with PBL, these things are explicitly taught and assessed.

But here is the bottom line: with a project and a goal to achieve, students are able to see the need to gain certain kinds of knowledge, to understand concepts, and to develop and apply necessary skills in order to achieve the project's goal(s) and create the project products or services. All of this makes it more likely the students will themselves seek out what they need to know, meaning they will be more likely to retain the knowledge. It is also hard to say, "I'm never going to use this knowledge," when you are learning it to use for your projects.

Suppose that you had students put on a play. You would have them read some plays to see how playwrights construct their plays. Then you could have them collaborate first on writing the play. That would mean the students would have to learn to write well -- and poorly written sentences will become very clear when the students read them aloud. This will result in revisions to clean up the play, to make it something you want to perform in front of people. Students would spend time discussing the plot and the characters, and would likely discover the importance of plot and character -- and well-written dialogue. Motivation of the characters introduces elements of psychology. And if the story is based on a historical figure, the students could do research into the time and place and people of that time period.

A historical time would also result in investigations into the architecture and dress of the time, since sets and costumes have to be made. The sets would have to be designed -- meaning math would be needed for all the measurements necessary to create the sets. Math is also needed for creating costumes, since you have to measure your actors to fit them and make some basic calculations to make sure everything fits properly.

Then there would be practice, acting, directing, etc. Putting on a play is fundamentally collaborative.

And we must not forget that the play must be advertised and sold, so students would also be introduced to elements of economics.

We can see the extent to which such a project encompasses practically everything students need to be learning. We have reading, writing, arithmetic, history, psychology, and economics, just to name a few -- and this is ignoring some of the practical skills, such as carpentry and sewing and management. Who wouldn't learn in such an environment?