What is Project Based Learning?
Project Based Learning (PBL) is the concept of meeting learning goals not by attending classes like most students experience, instead students complete projects that incorporate all those skills in the completion of a project. So instead of sitting in a class about Biology and taking notes, completing quizzes, and writing lab reports...students would look into what it takes to do a wetland restoration which would cover all sorts of Biology topics but would also cover topics involving Geography, Government, Math, Economics, Chemistry, Communication, and more. This allows students tremendous latitude to customize their learning to their own interests while still completing the MN standards for graduation. Teachers don't really function in the traditional role as 'sage on the stage', instead their function is more of an advisor to the students to help them set goals, follow through with their projects, and determine evaluation criteria to meet MN standards. That's why in PBL we often refer to teachers as advisors instead.
Project-based learning, or PBL, helps students develop the skills necessary for succeeding in today's highly technical, knowledged-based society.
People today, particularly young people, have virtually instant access to vast databases of information on almost every subject under the sun, literally in the palm of their hands. Yet traditional schools still teach most subjects as collections of facts, dates, and names, as if we still live before the age of the Internet and Google. Young people understand inherently that spending years memorizing information that they can obtain at any time with the flick of a finger isn't education, it's an exercise in tedium.
This is one reason why the majority of high school students report their schools are irrelevant to their needs and that they are disengaged from the educational process (Gallup Education Survey, 2012).
While young people still need basic skills like reading, writing, and math, succeeding in the 21st Century will require an additional skill set that most traditional schools don't instill effectively in their students. These are skills like problem-solving, creativity, critical thinking, information synthesizing, time management, teamwork, communication, and conducting research. In most traditional schools, students aren't given the autonomy necessary to develop these skills. Given the opportunity to take more control over their learning, students engage like never before. They explore their interests and discover their passions. Once a student makes the shift to a PBL school environment, very few ever wish to return to a traditional school. PBL done right is an educational approach that truly changes the lives of young people.
Project Based Learning gives students autonomy while following a standards-based curriculum and truly meets the learning requirements of students because it provides skills that are often unaddressed in a traditional school environment.
Currently at VCS we have adopted a hybrid approach to PBL that incorporates many of the elements described above while also providing the structure of traditional classwork as a scaffold for students to work their way up to doing projects on their own. Many of the projects are incorporated into the classwork and would be considered a 'teacher-led' project as opposed to a 'student-led' project which would be entirely of the student's own design. As many of our students are coming in a year or two behind, we have found that this works much better compared to just throwing students into the deep end of the pool with student-led projects right off the bat. Each year we continue to modify our program to meet the needs of students.
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