Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Osvaldo Rubio: Project-Based Learning

October 1, 2000

Osvaldo Rubio, who teaches third and fourth grades at Sherman Oaks, explains what has been engaging and successful about the school's approach to project-based learning and how it has changed his role as teacher from that of more traditional approaches.

1. Please describe project-based learning at Sherman Oaks.

As far as project-based learning, when we started Sherman Oaks, we started off with having three Exhibition Nights, which were three projects where we focused once on science, once on math, and once on social studies. And that would be the whole year, and there was a cycle of twelve weeks. And so, when we did that, it was a lot. Three was too much for us. So, we decided this year to cut it to two, which has been very nice. We did science in the fall and now in the spring we're doing social studies.

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2. What is it about a project-based approach to education that seems to engage students?

I think it's more meaningful to them. And they can connect a lot more and they make those connections a lot more because it's their choice, and they get empowered, basically. And this is important. And they learn it because, "It's important to me not because the teacher says I need to know it, but it's important." And they take ownership in what they do and responsibility in what they need to learn. And like I said, it brings in the rest of them, because while they're doing this project on science, they have to know how to read the information they get from the Internet. They have to know how to write because they have to do a writing component to the project. They have to know their math and their social studies. So, it ties everything in really nicely.

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3. With such a strong instructional emphasis on project-based learning at Sherman Oaks, do you worry that your students are missing fundamental skills that are central to more "traditional" approaches to instruction?

At the beginning you really do. You've got this feeling of insecurity or you've got a feeling like it's really hard to let go and give the kids the choice, give them freedom. But when you see the benefits and you see the kids being motivated and you see kids like Omar who, in a traditional classroom, wouldn't be blossoming as much as he's blossoming now because he wouldn't be as motivated to learn if you're just feeding him information. This is coming from him. And if you empower him, it's important to him. Like I say, it's hard to let go of that freedom and get out of the way. It's hard to get out of the way.

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4. What is the teacher's role in project-based learning?

I see my role as a teacher, as far as project-based learning, is kind of just to guide them. It's not much. I mean, I give them information and I guide them where to go and look for the information. But a lot of it, like I say, they construct and they find on their own. And so, I'm not feeding them the information. I'm not lecturing to them -- like the traditional "you guys sit there and take notes and listen to me." Instead, I kind of let them go off on their own. And by fourth grade, they're so good at navigating the Web and looking for information that they can do it on their own. Basically, as teachers, sometimes you just have to get out of their way and let them go.

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5. Is the emphasis on project-based approaches to teaching very different from the way you were trained to teach?

Traditionally, and the way we were taught to be teachers in the teacher programs, it's very different. It's changing now, but back when I was going through my training, it was the traditional lecture. You stand up and you're in front all the time and you're in charge. Where with project-based learning you're in charge, but you're just a guide and the kids really are the ones who are empowered.

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6. As a new teacher, has it been challenging to think about your teaching practice in such a non-traditional way?

It's hard work, but to me, that's what we're here for. And the project-based learning lends itself to that because ... it's a lot more work than standing up there lecturing to thirty kids and doing the same lecture every year. It's hard because with project-based learning you're more individualized. Like I said, you give them the basic information and then you send them off on their own to construct their own learning. And while you're sending them off, you have the opportunity to go student by student to see what they're doing and what they're learning. And it makes it more individualized. And so it's a lot harder to teach to each individual. But in the end, I think it's a lot more meaningful and beneficial for the kids.

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