My Students Experience Project-Based Learning

My students and I just finished up our unit on project-based learning and I’m one happy teacher! Students who had previously “just gotten by” in terms of the quality of work they created were more invested in their projects. When I asked them why, they agreed that getting to choose the topic and the driving question about what they would learn motivated them more than being told what to learn by an outside source, be it the teacher or the prescribed curriculum.

This makes a lot of sense to me and all the research supports my students’ experiences with project-based learning. According to  Edutopia, “studies comparing learning outcomes for students taught via project-based learning versus traditional instruction show that when implemented well, PBL increases long-term retention of content, helps students perform as well as or better than traditional learners in high-stakes tests, improves problem-solving and collaboration skills, and improves students’ attitudes towards learning.

When we initiated this unit, I asked my students to define what project-based learning meant to them and I recorded their responses using semantic maps drawn on large chart paper. Instead of telling my students what the theorists say about this approach to learning,  I wanted to hear their thoughts.  Their responses included “unique learning style,” “learning with a fun twist,” “multi-disciplinary” (I was stunned by that response!), “expression of knowledge thorough arts and crafts,” “individuality,” “curiosity,” “interactive learning,”  “research,” and “getting to learn more stuff.” Project-based learning definitely involves all of these components and also invites students to organically find solutions to real-world problems that influence and affect them.

My students chose to create posters, surveys, Google Slide Presentations, iMovies, YouTube videos, rap songs, board games, and skits about anti-smoking, the effects of smoking weed on teenagers, abusive relationships among middle-schoolers, why today’s youth are so compelled by social media, Drifting (I had never even heard of this term before, lol), nature vs. nurture, equal pay for women, immigration, animal protection, evolution — the list goes on and on. To say that I am quite impressed is an understatement!

My students, regardless of what modality they chose to reflect their learning, were required to orally present what their research revealed. This is an area in which they are still growing. Getting up and speaking in front of their peers proved to be nerve-racking because it is a skill with which they had little experience. I was pleased to see students, as a show of support, going up to the front of the room simply to stand with a classmate who was presenting.

A few students still have to present their projects on Monday and already some students are asking me if we can do this again. I told them “yes.” We’re reading “The Giver” by Lois Lowry next so be on the look-out for some dystopian projects!  At that point I will have the students spend more time deciding what they want to study and phrasing it in the form of a driving question that will focus their research. In addition, I will hone in on the three C’s of PBL — Critical-Thinking, Collaboration, and Communication.

I’m glad my students enjoyed their experience with project-based learning. I’m glad they actually learned and are excited about learning more. As a teacher, I can’t ask for more than that. Project-based learning has proven to be a catalyst for creating life-long learners and it feels great to be achieving some of my #teachergoals. Have a great weekend everyone!

What do you think?

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