Nanda Krish is Executive Chairman & CEO of Wisewire, a learning experience design company that develops smart technology solutions and easy to use, standards-aligned content for educators, publishers, schools, districts, and higher education institutions. Mr. Krish is also a General Partner at Start Smart Labs, a big data business incubator focused on accelerating the development of entrepreneurial companies focused on the intersection of big data (Hadoop), mobile, and cloud.
Research indicates that Project Based Learning (PBL) has a positive effect on critical thinking, motivation and engagement. As we learn more about how the brain works and how humans acquire information, we are slowly tweaking our framework for learning. In old school houses, children were grouped heterogeneously by age and given the same lecture. They were expected to sit and listen. Since then (and for many years now), students have been placed in classrooms separated by age and grouped according to ability level. They are provided small-group instruction, and interventions as necessary. Will widespread PBL models be the next step in our educational journey? Providing projects that are focused on questions that drive students to encounter and struggle with central concepts seems to be one of the best ways we know to date for allowing students to emerge with useful, real-world content knowledge that they could apply to a variety of tasks. What are the implications for teachers and stakeholders such as principals and superintendents? Here are some of the benefits outlined, as well as suggestions for how those in the field can implement PBL
PBL is meaningful to each student
PBL makes school more engaging for students by providing projects that are realistic, require constructive investigation and provide some degree of choice. PBL has been shown to engage the lowest and the highest performers in the classroom, as well as those who were least interested in the topic from the start. Higher student engagement has positive outcomes in a classroom, such as giving teachers back time which they can then use to encourage students as they work to solve realistic problems.
PBL promotes deeper learning
Typically, PBL projects are higher on the Bloom’s Taxonomy framework because they are real-life applications. Many programs lack materials for students to move beyond the comprehension portion of Bloom’s Taxonomy; most tasks focus on restating, summarizing, and interpreting. When using a PBL model, students are required to go past understanding to truly synthesize and evaluate the subject matter. In essence, students go from memorizing or restating in the traditional model to criticizing, supporting, constructing, or hypothesizing in the PBL model. The more students we can get to think deeply about concepts, the better our future workforce and economy will be.
PBL combines real-world problems with content knowledge and applied skills
A good PBL model creates authentic situations and requires students to apply their knowledge from different subjects. As in real-life situations, students are expected to solve problems using the skills and knowledge they have acquired regardless of subject, grade or class. The act of pulling from multiple subjects allows a student who is weak in one particular subject to use strategies from another to achieve an acceptable outcome. Evidence suggests that students who believe in their ability to succeed and accomplish tasks are more likely to have long-lasting educational success and increased motivation overall.
PBL actively engages students in the learning process
Research has shown that owning your process and having a degree of autonomy has a positive effect on increasing motivation and acquiring self-regulated learning. PBL allows students to assess their knowledge periodically in a formative way. Well-designed projects provide clear steps to achieving goals. These steps provide students with evidence of their mastery so they know when they need assistance during their process. Projects are graded using a rubric that provides the specific criteria to be rated, levels of performance required, and gradations of quality. A well-designed rubric is both an instructional tool and an assessment tool. Problems and associated rubrics provide authentic experiences and criterion-referenced assessments that are in line with how students will experience life outside of the classroom. PBL provides the structure for independent work on engaging topics with graduated feedback and gives students the opportunity to own their learning process.
Provides students with hands-on opportunities for self-expression.
In this age of standards-driven instruction, teachers often find it difficult to give students opportunities to express themselves. PBL embeds the self-expression in the project itself. The idea behind PBL is that students choose their own questions or problems to solve. Students are finding answers to their own questions and, as a byproduct, learning relevant content. A project has multiple purposes: meeting learner needs while simultaneously meeting standards.
As previously stated, there are numerous benefits to implementing a Project-Based Learning model in your institution. What is the best way to achieve this, from an administrative standpoint?
Have “buy-in” from teachers. If there is one foolproof way to ensure the correct implementation of any program, you must go to the source. The teacher is the heart of the classroom. If she does not fully comprehend or see the benefit of whatever you’re trying to implement, it will not be executed correctly or enthusiastically.
Inform your teachers prior to implementing PBL. Start giving them literature or have them take an online course. Gradually model PBL. Dedicate staff meetings or portions of meetings to learning about this framework. Provide resources. Wisewire’s The Teacher’s Guide to Project-Based Learning offers great advice to those who are new to PBL. It gives teachers and administrators a system with which to construct projects for their school or grade. In addition, the upcoming online course on Edmodo by Wisewire (which covers the subject) will be a great platform for you to ask questions and start building a framework for PBL.
Roll out the program. Set your expectations for your school and your teachers. Once they know what is expected and have had ample professional development on the subject, roll out your program. You can choose to do this on a small scale at first or go all in. It depends on your comfort level and the teachers’.
Regroup. Once your teachers have gone through a cycle of PBL within their class, come back as a staff and discuss. What went well? What needs tweaking? What further professional development will your teachers benefit from in order to improve their understanding? Consider asking teachers who had overall successes present to the staff their findings and triumphs. Celebrating staff success boosts morale in schools. It will have the added bonus of increasing teacher “buy-in.” Teachers who are on the fence about PBL may hear their peers’ success stories and finally come on board. Whichever way you choose to run the regrouping session, come away from it with plans in place for what your school and staff need to do going forward. More professional development? More access to resources? Ideas for other PBL topics? Make sure you know what teachers need and get it to them!
Has your school recently implemented PBL? What have been your takeaways? How much growth have you seen in student outcomes?