Making the switch to project-based learning

PBL helps educators boost student engagement by focusing on the learning journey—not the end product
By: | January 9, 2020
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Rachelle Dene Poth is a foreign language and STEAM teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, and a featured speaker at FETC.

Rachelle Dene Poth is a foreign language and STEAM teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, and a featured speaker at FETC.

A couple of years ago, I realized that I had not been doing authentic project-based learning (PBL) in my classroom. After reading Launch by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer, and Pure Genius by Don Wettrick, I realized that I had only been assigning my students to do projects based on learning—very different from authentic, high-quality PBL. With PBL, students become more engaged in learning because they have more choice and control in what and how they learn and how they demonstrate what they learn. 

As educators, we need to strive to open up opportunities for students to broaden their perspectives, and we must connect our students globally. PBL is a great option for doing so and for addressing the four C’s: critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity. 

Why PBL?

PBL allows educators to learn right along with students and places students in the lead with experiences that will build the skills they need for the future. Teachers may select a PBL theme or, as I do, allow students to choose. 

In my Spanish classes, for instance, we have explored Global Goals. Students used the site as a guide to select what to study. Then, they devised plans to help solve problems.

My students have also collaborated with other students locally and globally. Edmodo helped us to find partner classrooms in Argentina and Spain; Flipgrid and Synth allowed us to create and share videos; and Padlet gave us a space to post questions. 

PBL is an iterative process requiring reflection, which makes it a good method to guide students to become more independent learners and to develop a greater motivation for learning. We can help students by focusing on the process of learning and not on the final product. As educators, it is important to reflect often on our own work and to model this practice for our students. There is always something to learn and room to grow.


Read: 4 ways to promote a learner-driven classroom


How to get started

Making the switch to PBL might feel like a big task to take on, but there are many resources available, such as blogs, books, webinars and videos. To get started, I recommend looking at PBL Works from BIE (Buck Institute for Education). I also recommend Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss; Hacking Project Based Learning by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy; and Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie.

Focus on the learning journey

My students were excited about learning with PBL—even though they struggled at first with not being told exactly what to create as a product of learning or where to look for information. 

As educators, we should continue finding ways to create unique, authentic and meaningful opportunities for students to explore their interests in a way that connects them and prepares them for whatever they decide to do in the future.  

We should continue finding ways to create unique, authentic and meaningful opportunities for students to explore their interests.

We have to help students focus less on the end product and more on the learning journey—where they can decide what to explore, discover new information, become more curious, and engage more in learning. Being an educator does not mean that we are experts. We are constantly learning and should be seeking new ways to bring knowledge and different learning experiences into our classrooms.


Rachelle Dene Poth is a foreign language and STEAM teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. She will be a featured speaker at DA’s FETC 2020.

 


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