PROJECT-BASED LEARNING: PBL
WHAT IS IT?
Project-Based Learning is an educational approach to engage students to solve a real-life problem, placed in the context of a project, that is worked on, managed, and solved by students (with adult guidance), for a period of time. Whenever I can incorporate PBL and Design-Thinking into my classroom curriculum, I embrace it! I have always been a hands-on real-life learner and it is this belief that I bring into my classroom. I am a teacher. I have been an educator for 31 years and am still going strong. PBL allows me the chance to show students their value and voice in meaningful ways beyond the standard math workbook page or short essay.
Students learn how to empathize with others, problem-solve, collaborate, research, design, interview, create, redefine, and produce an end-project or idea that betters a situation they felt a need to solve.
I currently am organizing and managing three PBL projects in my elementary school. My classroom is perfect for this type of learning. Move-able furniture and a variety of hands-on materials create the space for students to expand their thinking, getting creative and messy.
Project 1: School gardens
The entire fifth grade (90+ students) are researching, designing, and will soon be fundraising and soliciting materials and funds to build raised garden beds for a school garden. Their working space is 34 ft X 11 ft.
Project 2: Fence beautification
My school is a fine arts school, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the chain-link fence around parts of it. A group of students has decided to take it upon themselves to design and solicit funding and materials to create a portion of the fence into a beautiful display representing our school’s fine and performing arts program. They are developing the design now and will figure out how much of each color webbing they need to create this large mural. They will then solicit funding and materials to create their original work of art. They have secured permission from the building administration and district to do so.
Project 3: School exercise path
A large group of students is interested in bettering the physical health of their school mates and the community. Our intermediate playground borders the local community softball and soccer fields. This group wants to design and build an interactive exercise trail around the playground perimeter.
Project 4: Snacks
Many families in our building (49%) are on free and reduced lunches. Many can’t afford funds for healthy snacks. A handful of students are organizing and soliciting local restaurants and businesses to consider donating to their cause. They have researched the benefits to support their cause, written letters and are gathering electronic means to show their reasons.
Project 5: Science interactive pond
This project will be the most challenging of the four! A pond near my school is the prime location to develop into an interactive Scientific learning laboratory. Students will start in the late winter, to contact the local parks and recreation district, to research, design, gather and build an interactive scientific learning lab for the elementary and the community.
It is through these projects the students have learned and will continue to learn about communication, letter writing, emailing, interviewing, collaboration, math, and science, reading and writing skills. They have experienced roadblocks in some of the projects and have learned how to work around or with them, adjusting their goals and visions. Students have become leaders and learners. They are developing their passion for projects, learning to see through others’ eyes. They have learned patience. They have learned hardships are worth the effort. They have taught me the value of their voice and choice. I am not the leader in these projects: they are. I help and guide them when they are stumped and need some “wiser experience” or someone who knows who they might connect with.
PBL occurs every Wednesday in fifth grade. I have students tell me Wednesdays are their favorite days, as they get to move into my room (for those that don’t have me as their homeroom teacher), work on their projects. I love this too! They don’t realize it but they have PBL in Science and Math too!
Let me share a bit…
We are learning about decimals. I have incorporated marble runs into the learning! Students are developing the SLOWEST and FASTEST marble run, given a set of parameters and tools. They work in triads, developing their best marble run then record their multiple run times, to the nearest hundredth of a second. We are looking for the slowest run time, the fastest time, comparing times, adding and subtracting times, rounding times. They never suspect they are learning!
We are learning about Earth’s nonrenewable and renewable resources, their use in our state and world. We are mapping the amount of water used in our planet, the effectiveness of solar and wind power, the use and effectiveness of fossil fuels. We are designing solar ovens, more effective wind turbines, water drainage systems. We calculate and design, build and test our models. Hands-on learning based on problems we see with our use of energy (even in our building!)
Whatever the topic, PBL and Design Thinking with real-world activities embedded into the learning with state standards and tracking of learning and reflections all make for solid learning and engagement.