Doing projects in the classroom is not a new concept. In fact, many of our fondest memories from school include the diorama we glued and glittered to perfection, based on a book we read or depicting a time from history. Project oriented learning focuses on the final product versus the process. This is indeed fun and has a place in the classroom, but do we remember much from that assignment?
There is a distinct difference between doing projects and project based learning. If done properly, project based learning, or PBL, can make learning exciting by motivating a deeper understanding, a drive to go further, and hold stronger value in retaining information by making the experience real to the student because they decide the direction, do the research and problem solve along the way. PBL inspires students to make connections to their world, sparking curiosity; they remember what they learn because the path is meaningful to them. Curiosity drives PBL and in the words of a supporter of creativity in education, Sir Ken Robinson states in his TED talk, “curiosity is the engine of achievement.”
I would like to focus on what makes PBL different from the dioramas of our past. The project is teacher-guided and this effort from the teacher occurs before the project starts with background lessons providing excitement and interest. With PBL, students are given the topic and they decide the direction and the focus of their research. They develop a driving question and how it will be answered. PBL offers an opportunity for varied assessment along the way and empowers students to show and explain their motivation for their project and how well they know and can speak about their topic. In comparison, a typical project oriented lesson of the past would use the project as the culminating activity, often done at home, following a set of directions that have been used for years. There is not much room for students to make choices or guide the direction of this type of project, which can leave students feeling like it is just more work.
Most PBL requires team work, which is an important skill that we teach at Morgan Park Academy beginning at a young age. With this model, students also learn how to build a team and utilize the strengths. PBL supports our belief in the education of the whole child by providing a wonderful mix of varied challenges, personal support, and hands-on work, coupled with a meaningful learning experience. In order for PBL to be successful, teachers must trust the students, and in return, parents need to trust the teachers. From our youngest learners in Lower School to Upper School seniors, the opportunity for learning is open ended with endless potential. PBL could be the single most significant and influential change in the direction of teaching and assessment by ultimately strengthening students’ problem-solving skills and placing the focus on the process rather than the product.
By Annie Melville
Ms. Melville is our Lower School principal.