There is a big difference between designing a project and designing a class to center around the philosophy of Project Based Learning. Project Based Learning takes a healthy amount of structure while also providing for plenty of student choice, critical thinking, and creativity. As schools infuse more technology into their classrooms and aim to implement higher level thinking with their students, Project Based Learning methods will be important for schools to train their teachers on. As I have said before in this blog, Project Based Learning is not all fun and games and if teachers don't understand how to implement it in the classroom, we will not be utilizing the technology to its full capability. Essentially we will be left with very expensive worksheets rather than the laptops and tablets that we signed up for. So in an attempt to summarize the process I wanted to give some tips for designing a classroom to be Project Based.
#1 Modeling and Providing Quality Instruction Throughout
Regardless of what some may think, project based learning requires the teacher to give some direct instruction and model the process. If students are not clear on what is expected or how to get to the finish line, they will give up. Think about it. You are asking students to do things they have never done before in an age of multiple choice questioning. Provide students with written, verbal, and repeated instruction while also revealing to them an example of what the product might look like. This routine will help your student performing better and will give them confidence with your safety net. Don't forget to provide repeated instruction throughout.
#2 Scaffolding From One Project to Another
Always build from one project to the next. Think of this in terms of the use of tools (Keynote, iMovie, Blogger, Google Sites) and in terms of skills (presentation, collaboration, writing) so that each time you do another project, your students will have measurable gains. Teachers should up the ante each time on a project so that students improve and expand their capabilities. If you are not pushing for this, things will grow stagnant, students will work the system, and none of us will be challenged.
#3 Provide Check Points Throughout
We can't design a project, explain it, and then give them the due date. We have to build projects that provide students with check points. In other words, break your project into segments that can be edited and shared. For example, when students are researching, you should have them organize them and present them to you before moving on. When students have manageable short term goals, they are more likely to succeed. When we roll out a huge project and give them a due date, all they see is an insurmountable mountain. This ability should be the end goal but we have to build up to that. Project Checkpoints help in that mission.
#4 Provide for Student Choice and Student Voice
The key to learning is engagement. Our students need to have a voice in our classroom and they need to have a choice in the process. A project menu can be very effective and allow students to choose the subject or method in which they deliver the project will get them to buy in much more than telling them exactly what they HAVE TO DO. You will see students come alive in your classroom if they are able to have a say in their project. You will be preparing them for success in life if they are given the opportunity to work hard on something they are interested in. Student choice and voice are ESSENTIAL to success in a Project Based Learning Environment.
#5 Give Feedback
This is all for naught if students aren't provided with feedback. I don't mean a letter grade here. I mean meeting with students and letting them know where they are strong and what they need to improve on. Can you imagine just receiving good or bad marks on your job performance but never hearing why? We need to communicate throughout the project with our students on how well they are doing and how they can improve. Create rubrics that are clear and understood amongst students. In fact a good exercise is to create a rubric with them. Our students want our approval and it is our duty to provide it to them so they can grow.
Leading is Teaching