George Lucas Educational Foundation
Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Gwendolyn Faulkner: Project-Based Learning

December 3, 2001

Gwendolyn Faulkner, a teacher-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, elaborates on the benefits of the JASON Project.

1. What do students like about the JASON Project?

What reels the kids in are the interesting topics that they use. To see volcanoes -- that's something that children are generically just interested in. The Galapagos Islands, the turtles, all the subject matter that they come up with generally will spark the children's interest, and where it goes from there, that's where the kids can take over and how much they get involved. [It's] very interactive. It's very open-ended. So, therefore, the students can take it in lots of different directions. But for students who don't, if they need more direction, then you have a curriculum that will take you step-by-step through it.

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2. How do your students benefit from project-based learning?

Project-based learning engages students in their own learning -- in the learning process. They become actively involved in their learning. They take responsibility for their learning. And they take learning beyond what a teacher would normally do in a general lesson plan. So, project-based learning for me just opens a wide world of learning to students. It gives students an opportunity to take their learning to greater heights, to wherever they want it to go, within the confines of what a teacher may have to do in terms of meeting standards. But [it benefits students by] giving them an opportunity to take hold of a subject matter that they are interested in and just to run with it.

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3. How does the JASON Project support the transition from a lecture-oriented classroom to a more project-based approach?

The JASON Project, for us, worked because when you want to change direction from traditional learning into project-based learning, the JASON Project offers you that kind of support mechanism. It offers the professional development for teachers. It offers the curriculum -- all of the resources that they would need to carry out a project. And, more importantly, it's a lot of online support for teachers so you don't have to go out and scurry around and look for all the information. They've done the work for you. They've done a lot of the legwork for you. And then they leave the creativity part to you, which I think teachers do best.

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4. What impact does working in teams have on the students’ learning experience?

The students learn better from each other. They learn the language. They share ideas. They share culture. And then they learn the academic subject matter. But more importantly, what I found is that because we all come with our own cultural backgrounds, that once we share them, we become more tolerant of each other. Now that's not going to be measured on any kind of standardized tests. Those are the intangibles that come out from project-based learning. The students learn to be lifelong friends, to respect their cultures, one another's cultures. So there's so much that grows out of the social aspect of project-based learning. It's just as important as the content that they are learning.

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5. What examples of student progress can you point to as a result of the JASON Project?

I've seen test scores of students rise because of the [students'] engagement in project-based learning. One, mainly because they're interested in education. They're excited about learning. And so that when you're excited about learning, you learn. Second, I've seen them, because they're able to work in groups on projects, that they're often learning from one another. And I've seen the students, I have actual data ... that has shown the growth of students over a period of a year because they've been engaged in project-based learning.

Now, in traditional learning, they're going to grow, too. But the leaps and bounds that they've grown in terms of, for me, as a teacher, I've seen happen, it's just been magnificent growth. The last class that I had was a sixth-grade class and I watched the students work through the project approach to learning. We worked through lots of projects. And I saw them grow. I saw my students mainstream out of [the] ESL program into the mainstream classroom. I saw my mainstream students scoring three and four grades above their grade level on standardized tests. And so, yes, I know it works. I'm a convert -- I just believe in it passionately.

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6. How is technology used in the JASON Project?

One of the challenges for schools is to make sure that we're using the technology that's available to be integrated into the classrooms, into the students' educational process in a seamless manner. And the JASON Project allows us to do that. You know, there's always the concern about letting kids go out on the Web and [about] what they're going to find. And yes, there are sites that we would not want students on. But what happens when you have a project like this, and there are interactive features of this [JASON Project] Web site that children actually engage in, they're here. They don't go wandering off into other places, because they have a reason for going to the Web site. They have a mission that they're trying to accomplish. And they go and they do that.

The other part of it is the live chats with scientists and Argonauts and so forth that we wouldn't possibly be able to take these kids [on]. And so we actually virtually take children to these other parts of the world, have them interview or listen to interviews or be an interactive part of interviews with the scientists that they would not be able to do. This, for us, helps close that digital divide because our students may not have all the resources and be able to travel to these different locations. At least they have that understanding of the world.

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