By Christina Luce, Grade 6 ELA Teacher
I think one of the strengths of Project Based Learning (PBL) is that the process–the project itself, not the product, is the learning. As students work through the project they engage in learning important knowledge and skills. They develop problem solving strategies, as well as the ability to collaborate and to improve their communication skills. Throughout the project there is an extended process of both asking and answering questions, and drawing on expertise from a variety of sources. For boys in particular, project based learning provides them with so much of what they desire – challenge, mastery, and meaning. As Dr. Dixon explains in his book, challenge works as a learning tool with boys because they crave it. Boys want opportunities to demonstrate mastery, and the sense of significance and meaning. All of this can be accomplished with a carefully constructed project base learning opportunity.
Background: PBL engages students in exploring real-world problems and challenges. Students see the connections between what they have learned in one discipline and its application to another. It allows significant opportunities for active learning and collaboration. Project learning promotes critical thinking and decision making, and it helps to teach persistence. Students are motivated and engaged, and often seek out additional resources and information on their own. These are precisely the learning habits that we need to form in all of our students, and cultivate more specifically in our male learners.
In the Classroom: About a month or so ago, the idea to change up an architecture project that was designed to assess student understanding of geometry concepts came to me. The standards assessed remained the same, but I wanted to incorporate the project with what the students were studying in English language arts, social studies and science. I wanted students to see the connections between different disciplines. I believed that if students took more responsibility for their learning and applied the concepts and skills they had learned in all their classes, they would demonstrate deeper understanding and greater levels of engagement. I approached my colleagues about trying thematic and project based learning for the last month of school. We decided to use the Middle Ages as our backdrop, and address our content standards through PBL. Students are presently researching and writing papers on the Bubonic plague, how it spread and its impact on life in Europe. They are researching medieval manors, creating scale-drawings (floor plans) and building models of castles. This upcoming week students will be challenged to design, build and launch a trebuchet providing them with an opportunity to learn through experience about technology in the past.
Benefits: The use of PBL has been very rewarding. I have observed students exploring, making judgments, and interpreting and synthesizing information in meaningful ways. There has been improvement in many students’ abilities to work with their peers, and the level of excitement and engagement is nothing short of amazing. When I asked a group of boys what they would change about the project they were completing they replied, “not a thing!” but they also recognized how this method had stretched them as learners and explained how much they had learned about group process, time management and persistence. This is definitely something that I am going to try to incorporate more often.