Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Beverly Battle: Project-Based Learning

December 3, 2001

Beverly Battle, a sixth-grade teacher at Harriet Tubman Elementary School, in Washington, DC, describes the value for her students in participating in the JASON Project.

1. How did you become involved in the JASON Project?

My involvement in the JASON Project came about because of my membership in the [Washington,] D.C. Geographic Alliance. Each state in the United States has an alliance and the purpose of the alliance, as founded by the National Geographic Society, is to promote geography awareness around the world. So our alliance here in D.C. has been very active in that we're trying to get the word out about geography. And the JASON Project is just one of the avenues that we use to get the word out. And so I have been involved in the project for approximately six years. And my students have really grown through the project because it is a project-based learning activity.

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2. Project-based learning typically has a team element. What is the effect of that team approach on your students?

In my classroom, I have a population of students who are very diverse -- students who are African American, Hispanic, and Asian. And a lot of those students come to us not equipped with the skills that some of our counterparts in the city may have. So, therefore, we have found that through project-based learning our students have grown to a point where ... their skills have strengthened in reading, in math, in all subject areas as a result of participating in project-based learning simply because of the cooperative learning aspect of it.

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3. How does project-based learning compare with the more traditional lecture approach?

I found that students were getting turned off with that lecture style. Students nowadays are different from when we were coming up. That's what we were used to. That's how we learned. But we're teaching a different population now. Our students have a very short attention span. So we have to constantly think of ideas with which to keep them busy, to keep them involved. The students like to feel that they have an ownership in the classroom. Project-based learning does that.

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4. What are some particular elements of the JASON Project that you and your students find interesting?

They would do the online chats with the scientists that are involved in the JASON Project. And they were very, very happy to see that whenever they would type a question, the answer would come back to them from the scientists, which was authentic to them. It wasn't a generic-type answer, and so this made them more enthusiastic about being JASON participants. Also, they're able to go online and do some journaling. They're able to write down their thoughts, write down their experiences, what they have observed, what they have done in JASON. And then this is logged into the computers and they can go back and reference it and use it at different points and times during the project.

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5. Can you give an example of how a student has benefited from being involved in the JASON Project?

One of my Hispanic students that I have this year is considered a student who is not English proficient. And he spoke very little English when he came to me in September. And his involvement in project-based learning, altogether since he's been in my class, has made him come out of his shell. He's eager to do whatever you want him to do. He loves getting on the computer. He loves doing projects. He loves getting involved. He wanted to come during the holidays to do some work. And his English proficiency is increasing as a result of having discussions with his classmates, working with buddies who are proficient in English. And so that's one of the stories. I just see that he is no longer the shy student who did not want to talk when I called on him. Now he's eager to answer ... all the time.

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6. What would you say to teachers who may be thinking of joining the JASON Project?

I would certainly ask them to just take a look at the program. Participate in it at least one year, and they will see that the curriculum is written for them. The teachers always talk about not having enough time to do this or to do that. With JASON, your curriculum is set for you. It's interdisciplinary. You don't have to worry about teaching your science here, teaching your geography there. It all comes together. It's for students who are at a low level all the way to students who are high achievers. So, it just goes from one end of the spectrum to the next. And students will definitely be active participants, and they will see a change in their classroom.

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7. What impact has participating in the JASON Project had on you as a teacher?

It gives you a lift when you see the children are learning ... you see on their faces what happens during an experiment like we did in the classroom with the explosion of the Alka-Seltzer in the film can. You know, they don't see this every day and they may not be able to connect it to a volcano. So for them to learn something from that and to connect that knowledge, that gives me a lift and it makes me know that I'm having successes in my classroom. And a teacher wants to have success.

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