Project-based learning is an educational approach that favors learning activities specifically designed to engage student motivation and interest in an active way. The projects and activities assigned are crafted to move students toward answering a question, proving a theory, solving a problem, or some other active, goal-oriented task. The projects also generally reflect society and the workplace, presenting students with the types of problems, projects and work colleagues that people tend to encounter out in the world — not just in the classroom.
Ideally, project-based learning will allow students to learn about a topic in depth, from all angles. Projects focus on teaching communication skills, presentation abilities, organization, time management, research and inquiry, group participation, leadership skills, self-assessment and self-reflection.
While project-based learning demands more of both teacher and student than the traditional, passive lecture style of teaching, it is well worth the effort. Getting students more involved with project-based learning requires easing them into it, setting aside time for group projects once a week, and assigning individual projects.
A project can be created related to any topic you teach. Here are some project ideas to get you started:
Instead of assigning students a run-of-the-mill book report or having them read aloud in class, have students create a project based on what they read. Ideas include creating a newsletter or electronic blog that highlights the main elements of study. Another idea is to have students create a board game based on the characters in the book and the storyline.
There are countless opportunities for creating projects related to math and social studies. You could have students run a simulated restaurant or business and do the bookkeeping at the end of each “shift.” You might highlight a real-life issue in the school such as water or electricity usage each month and design a project that uses math skills students recently learned.
There are numerous topics related to science that would make fun and educational projects. Students can dissect an owl pellet to see what owls really eat, or students can accurate model of a bacteriophage. If they’re old enough, you might teach students how to brew up a batch of agar to make Petri dishes for future class projects.
Projects are also an excellent way to learn about different cultures. Assign groups of students to study different countries or cultural groups and have them recreate a cultural vignette from that community. They could make or bring in a traditional food dish, dress in traditional garb and learn some of the culture’s native language.
When grading students on their projects, be sure to give the group lots of feedback, but ultimately assess performance on an individual basis. When grading, consider the quality of the end result, contributions made to the project and the depth of understanding demonstrated during and after completion. Students should be able to actively make decisions during the project that affect outcomes positively and enhance the learning process. They should also be given the opportunity to reflect on their experience and assert their own ideas and opinions about the project once it is completed.
Project-based learning is an excellent way for students to learn essential knowledge related to real-life tasks and scenarios. It gets them out of the passive mode of learning and into a more active, engaged role. It may take more time and effort to create, organize and implement these projects, but the results can be memorable and well worth it.