How Project-Based Learning Is Transforming Classrooms

Sanborn Sophomores Work with field consultants from UNH at Pow Wow Pond in Kingston, NH in May 2013

At my New Hampshire school, Sanborn Regional High School, project-based learning (PBL) is helping my students connect with their world and their community in ways that a classroom experience never could. Instead of sitting in a classroom learning about Biology from an outdated textbook, last Spring every sophomore in my school participated in a joint partnership between the school, the local conservation commission, and the University of New Hampshire. Students traveled to a local lake to determine why the south edge was filling with vegetation, why this was a problem, and what they should do about it. After collecting and analyzing data they determined the root cause and then returned, shovels in hand, ready to help properties owners implement solutions that included the establishment of rain gardens and vegetation buffers.

This project was a culmination of a year’s worth of work with their “pod,” a small learning community that includes sixty-seventy students and three teachers that integrate the subjects of Language Arts, Biology, and Government & Civics. Every sophomore in my school participates in this project-based learning small learning community model. At my school, and many others around the country, we recognize that project-based learning is transforming our classrooms by creating student-centered environments where teachers can act as facilitators of learning, coaching students as they use critical thinking, problem-solving, and inquiry to make sense of their world.

Vegetation buffers are installed by the bridge on New Boston Rd
students guidelines that promote personalization and individuality. Encourage students to take on different roles when collaborating. Allow students creative choice with regards to their final result. Change the way that projects are displayed and presented by including creative displays with articles, Ebooks, and videos. Grade projects with a standards/competency-based approach that puts the emphasis on the attainment of targeted skills. Consider projects that integrate multiple disciplines and content areas. Give the project a purpose beyond the classroom. Finally, incorporate the project into the student’s digital portfolio.

An important and necessary part of PBL is research. Sixth grade teacher Lindsey Fuller from Decatur, IL, speaks about the importance of embedding twenty-first century digital research with your students when you engage in PBL in a recent article on Reading Today Online. She recommends tools such as Article Search and WolframAlpha for general research, Yahoo Kids, Internet Public Library’s Kidspace, and Fact Monster for search engines that can provide students with starting points for their work, and EasyBib and Citation Machine to help students properly cite their sources in their work.

If you are a school administrator or a teacher looking for a way to get started with PBL in your school, the Buck Institute for Education maintains a list of resources on their website to help you get started. These resources include videos, webinars, articles, books, rubrics, planning forms, and blogs.

How will PBL transform the classrooms at your school?

This article originally appeared in MultiBriefs: Education Excusives


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