Five Keys to Rigorous Project-Based Learning
Voiceover: How will today’s children function in a dangerous world? What means will they use to carve the future? Will they be equipped to find the answers to tomorrow’s problems?
Teacher: When you think about traditional learning you think of a student sitting in a classroom and being talked at.
Teacher: Now I imagine a lot of you are still thinking...
Teacher: They are supposed to be a sponge. The teacher tells them information and they suck it up. That’s not the real world. Having them actively engaged learning about things in their community and doing projects that they care about is giving them that ownership of their learning, it’s making them life-long learners, it’s giving them the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that they need as soon as they walk out of your classroom into the real world.
Peggy Ertmer: So there are a lot of different ways to approach PBL, a lot of different ways to implement it, but really it all boils down to five essential keys: real-world connection, core to learning, structured collaboration, student driven, and multifaceted assessment. The first key component of PBL is real-world connections, and really what this entails is having an authentic problem that drives the curriculum. So students are given this question, for example, “What’s in our water and how did it get there?” And then the students choose different paths to explore that question.
Student: One of the problems in the ocean is that with the higher amount of CO2 calcifying organisms are decreasing and we’re testing to see how well life in the ocean lives without calcifying organisms.
Tom Duenwald: When the students know that what they’re doing in the classroom has an audience outside the classroom it really helps them deepen their thinking on it and I think that is pretty authentic in terms of what the future work world holds.
Student: --four by eight feet.
Peggy Ertmer: So the second commonality is the PBL unit provides academic rigor. This is not something that teachers would add at the end of a unit because they learned all the content they’re supposed to learn already and so this, you know, the fluff that they can do at the end. This is the unit, this is the way that they learn the content.
Teacher: So what’s your standards you’re gonna be covering?
Teacher: We’re gonna do 5a, which is analyzing scenes, and this is huge in this book.
Steven Zipkes: When you can show that you’re incorporating the standards built in these projects that aren’t fluff a lot of eyes and ears open, because people are hungry for that.
Peggy Ertmer: Structured collaboration refers to allowing the students to work together, but giving them a structure within which to work.
David: Our project was to create a aquaponics system and we had several people working on it. In my case I was kind of the team leader. Two members of my group, who were kind of just like the thinkers that would think, “What if we could include this?” And once those two came up with the ideas, it would go through another person who was kind of like the designer to figure out, “Oh, how would we make it?” And then it would kind of go up to me and say-- and I would kinda be like the final decider--
Sheela Webster: We would never put four kids together at a table and say, “Here’s a task. Get it done during this time period.” It’s very carefully scaffolded.
Peggy Ertmer: There’s an interesting shift in roles that happens in a PBL unit. The teacher becomes more of a facilitator and the students take more control.
Teacher: You guys are the Red Cross responders. You already looked at news broadcasts.
Teacher: And you took down some notices. You need to take all of this and you need to bring it together.
Student: So I have to write down the aspects of the news broadcast?
Teacher: You got it. Exactly. So Kassim’s got it. Kassim can give you some ideas on how to start.
Peggy Ertmer: But as the facilitator the teacher needs to be able to ask good questions. She needs to re-direct if necessary, you know, give hints but not answers. And that’s really an interesting role for teachers to learn how to do. Multifaceted assessment refers to assessment being integrated throughout the entire PBL unit.
Lisa Zeller: I do a lot of formative assessments. It’s not a test at the end of the week or the end of the unit. You’re doing a lot of small check-ins with the students to see where they’re at and to see that they’re growing along. I think it’s really important to also make sure that the students are assessing themselves.
Sheela Webster: It’s a process that we are really trying to bring back again to the student so that kids are part of the assessment process and that assessment is just not being done to them.
Peggy Ertmer: --are students who would blossom under this approach. They learn that they have voice and choice and teachers would probably in the end find it easier and more fulfilling and we would probably have a whole lot less burnout. I mean this is really an exciting way of teaching.
Steven Zipkes: What we’ve done for the last hundred years direct teaching for some students it works, but for most students it doesn’t. So for us project-based instruction is a way that we can reach all students and get them engaged.
Student: Right now my favorite project is called “Create Your Own Project”.
My favorite project this year was in chemistry and what it was about we were using chemistry and reactions to create a soda.
It’s a video production class and we’re making a kids’ show. We’re calling it “The Dojo Show”.
We’re learning about spatial diffusion, Black Death, the Columbian exchange--
Reactions like double replacement, combustion, things like that.
We’re basically the teachers in this so we’re gonna create a rubric, our group contracts, and we’re gonna launch this project to our class.
We’re learning how to collaborate and also work towards a creative goal. It helps us get into that creative mindset that really is something that’s hard to find in any other high school.