What’s the Buzz: Project Based Learning

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What's the Buzz
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The science specialists in my old school division were all about Project Based Learning.  They went to special training and then gave workshops.  They wanted everyone to convert to this great way of inspiring students through authentic learning.  It was a real struggle for the specialists though.  We had low performing schools in a number of areas, so the teachers were stuck in a content drill mode.  Many of the teachers failed to realize that if they made the content meaningful, the scores would go up. I wished that I could have helped the teachers understand more about project based learning.  When students have a real-world challenge to investigate over a period of time, amazing things can happen.  

One of the first things that teachers should learn about project based learning is how it is defined.  You know, what it is and what it isn’t.  It isn’t including a poster-type project at the end of a unit of study, so that the students can display it at the back of the room.  Project based learning challenges students to engage in the thoughtful investigation of a real world problem that requires the acquisition and application of content area knowledge.If you’ve got it right, your students will be asking you to teach them about concepts that they need to understand in order to pose solutions to the question under investigation. Towards the end of their exploration, students produce some type of product that explains what they did and can be shared publicly.

Once a teacher understands what project based learning is, then there is a need to know the difference between all of the forms. Challenge based learning, problem based learning, inquiry based learning, passion based learning…yes, they are all variations on a theme. The “project” that students present can be driven by a number of things: a problem for which they need to find an answer, an investigation that they need to complete, or an idea that they are passionate about.  They all can all be the motivation for sustained study or analysis of a specific idea.  One of my personal favorites is Zombie based learning.

Want to learn more about project based learning? Check out these resources:

About the author: Ruth Okoye

Dr. Ruth Okoye is the Director of K12 Initiatives at The Source for Learning. As a long-time technology coach, Ruth shares ideas and strategies for professional learning and thoughts on how to motivate yourself to “dig deeper” into educational technologies.

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