Students engaged in project-based learning (PBL) activities "work in groups to solve challenging problems that are authentic, curriculum-based, and often interdisciplinary" (McGrath, 2003). Project-based learning is a component of an inquiry-based approach to learning. In this approach, students create knowledge and understanding through learning activities built around intellectual inquiry and a high degree of engagement with meaningful tasks. Within the context of this inquiry-based approach, projects take the role traditionally afforded to assessments such as tests and quizzes. Projects are designed to allow students with a variety of different learning styles to demonstrate their acquired knowledge. Therefore, a well designed project-based learning activity is one which addresses different student learning styles and which does not assume that all students can demonstrate their knowledge in a single, standard, way.
A classic project-based learning activity usually involves 4 basic elements: (1) an extended time frame; (2) collaboration; (3) inquiry, investigation, and research; and finally, (4) the construction of an artifact or performance of a consequential task. Within this basic framework, students and teachers can adapt activities to showcase and assess understanding.
That's certainly the theory, but it is quite reasonable to ask what exactly constitutes a good PBL activity? What does it feel like to do one as a teacher or a student? How can you, as a classroom teacher, identify a particularly good PBL activity for your students?
Through the following task, you will explore project-based learning from the perspective of how such activities support different student learning styles. You will investigate several different sample projects -- appropriate for a range of grade levels and subject areas -- and consider the feasibility of implementing such units with your students. After this exploration, you will be in a good position to begin developing your own activities.
In this activity, you will critically analyze a number of PBL examples and prepare to discuss them from multiple perspectives. By the end of this exercise, you will have gathered sufficient information to answer the following questions:
Step 1 -- Download a copy of the Grades K - 5 or Grades 6 - 12 (appropriate to your grade level) worksheet. These are Adobe Reader rights enabled forms. You can type right in them, save them, and print them out with your input. (Thanks Kathy!)
Step 2 -- Examine the learning styles chart below. Then choose the style that either most closely matches your own, or that which would be most representative of the students you currently teach.
SPATIAL /VISUAL LEARNER
Needs and likes to visualize things; learns through images; enjoys art and drawing; reads maps, charts and diagrams well; fascinated with machines and inventions; plays with Legos; likes mazes and puzzles.
Examples of motivating tasks to you include/but are not confined to the following: Using board games and memory devices to create visual patterns. Visual elements in reading. Visualization of story and scenes at intervals, Writing via colored pens, computers, drawing, with multimedia tools.
Thinks in words, verbalizes concepts; spins tales and jokes; spells words accurately and easily. Can be a good reader or prefer the spoken word more; has excellent memory for names, dates and trivia; likes word games; enjoys using tape recorders and often musically talented.
Examples of motivating tasks to you include/but are not confined to the following: Creation of own word problems, stories, presenting aloud, putting together taped sessions for later playback, creating songs and poetry
Processes knowledge through physical sensations; highly active, not able to sit still long; communicates with body language and gestures. Shows you rather than tells you; needs to touch and feel world; good at mimicking others; likes scary amusement rides; naturally athletic and enjoys sports.
Examples of motivating tasks to you include/but are not confined to the following: Any task involving physical action such as nature walks, gathering data, hands-on activities and experiments, art projects, or acting out stories.
Thinks conceptually, likes to explore patterns and relationships; enjoys puzzles and seeing how things work; constantly questions and wonders; capable of highly abstract forms of logical thinking at early age; computes math problems quickly; enjoys strategy games, computers and experiments with purpose; creates own designs to build with blocks/Legos.
Examples of motivating tasks to you include/but are not confined to the following: Performing science experiments, recording and analyzing results, Using computer learning games and word puzzles, Examining relation of story to real-life situations and people.
Step 3 -- Having chosen an appropriate learning style, critically analyze PBL projects (appropriate to your approximate grade level) listed below based on this perspective. Use the worksheet you downloaded/printed to note particular features of each project that address elements of your chosen learning style. You don't need to spend too much time (no more than 10 minutes) on any one site.
In addition to the actual projects to review, there are several good online resources that provide information on selecting and designing project-based learning units.
Another good resource for exploring not so much specific PBL lessons, but more the general "scenarios" in which PBL can be integrated into the classroom has been produced by the Vermont Department of Education. Access information about their 2010 "Scenarios" here.
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