The following writing was my first assignment for my EDTECH 542 course, Project Based Learning.

What considerations are important when incorporating a Project Based Learning approach into the classroom?

 Why do we have to know this?  This is the timeless question that has been asked by many students when made to do an x task.  Ironically, as a teacher, I have asked a similar question at times, “Why do I have to teach this?”.  Both of these questions stem from the same root of practicality, which examines the purpose behind the educational content or the method of delivery.  Project Based Learning (PBL) attempts to find the most practical solution to make learning meaningful, by allowing students to explore the content, collaborate to find solutions, and communicate what they have learned.  These are important considerations for incorporating PBL into classrooms, but the ultimate goal is to prepare learners to contribute to their society.

 Describe qualities of a successful project.

First, students should be engaged into the topic of the project or the issues related to the project.  This can be done by discussing real life examples and allowing students to raise questions.  As students work in groups they are given a chance to collaborate with ideas.  Even though guidelines are important, it is important to allow students to personalize their own inquiry and production.  Therefore, it is good to offer students an appropriate number of options.  The students should be aware that their project is a work in progress and it should be refined as they gather more information.  Lastly, the students need to be aware of the audience and a good project presentation will extend to other people in the community.  The students will be encouraged to communicate in an effective way to a broad audience. (Larmer & Mergendoller, 2010)

 What issues must a teacher consider that are specific to PBL instructional strategies?

There are many considerations especially for a classroom teacher when assigning a project.  This teacher will be responsible for the management of many students.  If the students are not experienced in applying independent trial and error skills, the teacher will have to be prepared to make a mind and educational culture shift, which could be second guessed by students, parents, administration, and even other teachers.  In addition, you will find yourself in a paradox, preparing concrete plans for a flexible learning process.

 John Thomas and John Mergendoller have done extensive field research for PBL strategies.  Though their findings are too extensive to mention them all here, I will mention some of the instructor characteristics that they identify for effective PBL instruction. (Thomas and Megendoller, 2000)

 Time Management: They recommend block scheduling to be set up.  Each teacher should be mindful of scheduling so that a project time frame does not interfere with other school wide obligations.  At the same time the instructor should allow for extra time if needed and prepare additional activities during down time.

 Getting Started: The framework of a project and how it is assessed is one very important component.  Thomas and Mergendoller even recommend allowing students a period of time before the project begins to think about related issues, and it even suggests for students to not only have a clear rubric, but allow them input on how it will be graded.  Since the project could extend through a period of time, there should be established checkpoints along the way.

 Establishing Self Management:  Earlier, I alluded to this part, especially if the students are not experienced in thinking through a project.  In my opinion, self management is one of the greatest non-academic skills that can be developed in pupils.  The more the students are involved in seeking out information and a solution, the better effect of the life long lesson.  However, Thomas and Mergendoller are clear to point out that there should be standards that will require the students to achieve and produce worthy results.

 What types of students will be successful in PBL environments?

Obviously, not all students are alike and not all classroom environments are effective for PBL environments.  However, I believe motivation is the most crucial component.  Even though all students don’t have it, everyone at least has potential for it.  Beyond the motivation, of course students with independent skills for inquiring and searching for information will be most successful in a PBL environment.

In my own experience, I developed a hierarchy within the classroom.  Of course I was challenged to make the students understand that this was not about smart kids and dumb kids, but about experience with the language.  The most amazing thing that came from this was how the lower students wanted to grow to either work with a leader, or eventually become a leader.  So I observed that all students had the opportunity to be successful in a PBL environment.

References
Larmer, J., & Mergendoller, J. L. (2010). 7 Essentials for Project-Based Learning. Educational Leadership, Vol. 68(1), 4 pages.

Thomas, J. W. & Mergendoller, J. R. (2000). Managing project-based learning: Principles from the field. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.

This activity meets the following AECT Standards:
1.1.a Utilize and implement design principles which specify optimal conditions for learning.
1.1.2.d Incorporate contemporary instructional technology processes in the development of interactive lessons that promote student learning.

1.2.c Understand, recognize and apply basic principles of message design in the development of a variety of communications with their learners.

1.3.a Select instructional strategies appropriate for a variety of learner characteristics and learning situations.

1.4.b Describe and/or document specific learner characteristics which influence the selection of instructional strategies.

 

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