After attending the @WholeEducation Conference today- I feel this post should be removed from drafts and put into a live post!
This is not a typical type post- but worth having!
Project-Based Learning in Practice:
Project-based learning (PBL) has 3 characteristics:
- students has some choice in the content and/or process of learning
- developing students’ skills is as important as building their knowledge
- the projects all have a real purpose, a real audience and a real outcome.
1. Student Choice:
What we have tried to do is, where appropriate, give students an element of choice in what or how they learn. The degree to which you give them choice depends on their (and your!) skills and experience. Here are some examples of how we have done this:
- In our Blackfen’s Got Talent project, students choose a skill they would like to become talented at, and then have a number of weeks to master the talent
- In our recent Endangered Animals Campaign students choose which animal they are most concerned about, and then choose who they will lobby to help establish Britain’s first Endangered Animal’s Day. (Actually this project had a much higher level of student choice, because they were the ones who came up with the idea in the first place)
- Students make a Citizenship film, but they decide the subject matter for the film
- Citizenship GCSE courework – students work in small groups to choose an issue that concerns them, and then plan and carry out a project on it.
These are just a few examples of student choice in action – they are not earth-shattering examples, but they are meaningful and manageable ways to get whole year groups of students taking some control over what and how they learn. They represent a small shift from learning that is entirely controlled by teachers, to learning that students have some control and ownership of. As Ian Gilbert, in his brilliant book, ‘Essential Motivation for the Classroom‘ says,
You the teacher are not throwing your entire classroom…into the hands of your students. What you are doing is working in such a way that they at least feel that they are in control of what’s happening, co-authors of their school career and not…passive passengers on the journey…”
2. Developing Skills and Knowledge:
It’s curious how schools are still obsessed with knowledge over skills, when knowledge is now available to all and ever-changing, and yet skills are increasingly sought after by employers. I think the Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills introduced in the last curriculum review were (are) brilliant, it’s just a shame Mr Gove doesn’t agree. I suspect he thinks you either focus on knowledge OR skills, when of course we must do both. The crucial thing however is not whether it’s knowledge or skills, but the order in which you get students to focus on these things.
Traditionally, when you plan a scheme of work, you start by thinking about what do you want students to KNOW, then you might consider what do you want students to BE ABLE TO DO, and occasionally you might just find time to apply some of this knowledge and skills to a real audience and outcome. The way we plan project-based learning is completely the opposite. We start by thinking, what actions could students take on an important issue (it might be topical like the conflict in Syria, or an up-coming election, or it might just be a great idea you have dreamt up, or it might be something students propose). Once you’ve established the ACTION for the project, then you consider, what SKILLS will students need to master this project? And then finally you think, what KNOWLEDGE will they need to succeed in this project?
In other words, you invert the planning process, and instead of going from knowledge to skills to action (if you have time and energy!), you start with the action, then skills, then knowledge. As a result, you have a classroom of students who actually want to develop the knowledge, because they can see how it is vital in order to succeed in the project. The knowledge has a context which is meaningful to the students.
Here are just some of the ways we give skills a big push in our projects:
- most of our projects require students to work in groups, and many of our assessments are based on their group work skills
- all students are expected speak regularly in front of the class without using notes or PowerPoints
- we play a lot of simulation games, followed by reflections on the activity
- we do a lot of reflection on learning itself – what helped you learn, what did you notice about how you learned that etc.
- we do a lot of reflection full stop – from simple things like What Went Well / Even Better If, to more complex activities
- we assess skills as much as we assess knowledge, from public speaking to group work to debating skills
- many of our lessons have two objective – one for knowledge and one for skills.
3. Real action with a real purpose for a real audience:
Finally, and most importantly, all our projects have a real action for a real audience. Without this, I don’t think you can say you’re doing project-based learning. A couple of thoughts on this. First, we always do these projects with whole years groups of students (210 in our case). We don’t believe there’s much point of devising great projects if they only benefit a small number of students. Secondly, we keep close tabs on what is going on around our school, community, country and the world so that we can tap in to real things. For example…
- we’re currently planning a project on the United Nations and debating skills, because of what is happening in Syria. Our students will then lobby their elected representatives with their views on this;
- we recently learned that our borough, Bexley, was about to hold elections for the local Children’s Parliament and Youth Council, so we created a project on Parliament, elections and democracy in time for our students to stand for election… in a real election;
- last term we ran a project on climate change in time to lobby delegates at the UN Climate Change conference in South Africa.
Finally we’ve found that there are dozens of ways students can take real action, on real issues with a real audience:
- our students created videos to promote Fair Trade, and these now play on the TV screens in our canteen and reception;
- our students have made Citizenship films which are show to all other students in assembly;
- our students have invited their local MP in to school to ask for his support for an Endangered Animals Day;
- our students take part in our own Power Up! Speak Up! public speaking competition and are judged in a grand final for governors and our Headteacher… and there are so many more examples on this blog.
What project-based learning does is making learning real and relevant to students; it boosts their motivation and enjoyment; it gives them real experience and skills which benefit them now and in the future; it empowers them as articulate, informed and effective citizens… and it makes teaching fun and energising!
Courtesy of Mr Pattison. Taken from: http://mrpattisson.wordpress.com/