Sunday, July 15, 2012

Project Based Learning

The featured video is an incredible example of project based learning.  Project based learning is student centered thematic instruction in which a topic is investigated thorough a series of authentic learning opportunities.  Project based units are based on high interest themes often chosen by the students.  Children are naturally inquisitive, and teachers use their curiosities to drive learning.  The teacher integrates all content as well as skill and strategy development into the unit.  Students are deeply engaged due to the authenticity of the tasks.  Motivation comes from the desire to solve a problem or complete a project related to a topic that the students are interested in.  All tasks have a recognizable purpose and place in the real world.
          Technology is an integral part of today’s project based classroom.  Part of project based learning is finding information and solutions.  The internet provides an infinite amount of resources.  By navigating the internet students are becoming resourceful and critical, thus improving their internet literacy.  They learn how to distinguish useful resources and creatively apply the knowledge they gain from a variety of media such as videos, audio files, photographs, and documents.  Through project based learning students learn the life skill of how to solve problems independently and creatively.  As students actively participate in the process required to complete authentic projects, they are doing planning, decision making, problem solving, creative thinking, and cooperative learning. 
Virtually everything and anything can be covered during a project based unit.  The curriculum is no longer divided into subjects and taught through isolated instructional practices.  Instead math, science, writing, reading, and social studies occur in the natural and connected fashion that they would in the real world.  For example, if deer are chomping away at my garden, I have a problem.  To solve the problem I have to brainstorm possible solutions.  Then I have to make a decision.  I decide to build a fence.  Next I use the internet to research the best fencing materials.  Then I consult the owner of the local hardware store for some tips on doing the project myself.  He directs me to a website that has videos and step by step instructions.    Next I have to measure the area to determine how much fencing I will need.  I ask my grandfather to help me with the project because he is skilled at making precise measurements. Finally, to ensure I get the best deal I have to shop around on the internet to compare material prices.  Upon completion of the fence project I have identified a problem, brainstormed possible solutions, made a decision, used technology as well as people as resources, worked cooperatively with others, compared prices, made measurements (math and life skills), and followed directions.  Chemistry could be involved as well to determine which paint has the most suitable chemical make-up for outdoor use.  Social studies or history could be integrated by researching the historical structure and style of my home or neighborhood to choose a suitable style of fence.  The possibilities for integrated learning opportunities are truly endless.
We need to look no further than everyday problems and events to drive our instruction and motivate our students.  Children are not interested in fancy flashcards or jazzed up worksheets.  They want something real and meaningful to them.  Project based learning provides just that!

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