Wisdom Begins with Wonder

What we’re learning about Project Based Learning

This past year has been serious action research for our 9th grade team at WSHS. We’ve been working on Project Based Learning type models in our classes for years. It was only about this time last year, though, when we really hit on a vision of a model that could really take us to the next level. Based on the model of High Tech High, among others, we set out to create our curriculum integrating biology, English and history.

It has not been easy; don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise! It has been extremely rewarding, though.

Right now, I really feel like we are beginning to hit our stride with this Project Based Learning model.

One core concept that we’ve learned is that an engaging project must incorporate at least 1 (preferably 2) of the following 3 criteria:

  1. a significant and relevant (to students) problem for students to investigate and create a solution for;
  2. a clear role for students to play in a situation or simulation that causes them to think like an expert;
  3. significant student choice about how to attack a project

To keep student motivation high and “keep the pressure on” (in a good way), a strong project must culminate with a product that is presented to an audience. Preferably this audience would be one that has a reason to care about the results of the project. This part is difficult but we have found that students are much more motivated for an audience than for a grade!

Finally, for true project success, the students must be crafting high quality work that they are proud of. They need lots of opportunities along the way for feedback (self, peer, teacher) and revision.

What are your thoughts?

Have you tinkered with project based learning?

What makes for a great project?



1 comment so far ↓

  • #   Alexa Howie on 05.01.11 at 3:40 pm     

    Mr. Rice,
    This is another great post! Even though I’m not a teacher yet, I can give you my thoughts as a student. Maybe it will helpful.
    I think all of the concepts you discussed in this post make a project great. If most, if not all, of the concepts were used in a project I was assigned I would be very interested and motivated. It is true that students get motivated when they will be presenting something to an audience.
    I would like to give an example. When I was in junior high, my class was assigned a group project. We were to design and build a city. We could use whatever materials we wanted. We had to put services in the city that we thought were important to living. These services could already exist or be made up. We were given about 2 weeks. At the end of the 2 weeks we had to present our city to the class. We had to explain what buildings and services were in our city and why we chose each.
    I found that when I was allowed to be really creative with a project that I would have to present, I really shined. Designing projects like these makes students want to do projects.


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