Making Learning Whole through PBL

Deep learning must be “whole” – and project-based learning is a great way to make it so!

Whole learning is about many things but the most important of these is exposing students to genuine learning experiences. Sometimes this is messy and sometimes the learning isn’t exactly what the teacher intended, but students OWN what they learn in this way. This idea is very eloquently presented in David N. Perkins” book, “Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education.” This is a great read and I highly recommend it!

Briefly, Perkins’ 7 principles are:

  1. Play the whole game (don’t dumb it down for the kids – expose them to authentic challenges and let them wrestle with them)
  2. Make the game worth playing (engagement)
  3. Work on the hard parts (pick out the challenging content and help students master it)
  4. Play out of town (connections to other content areas, transfer)
  5. Uncover the hidden game (thinking like an expert in the topic)
  6. Learn from the team…and the other teams (collaboration)
  7. Learn the game of learning (metacognition)

Authentic experiences are a core part of each project. This includes activities that teach students to think and perform as experts in a given area. One way of doing this is to introduce students to experts in fields related to our projects.

Our previous 9th grade project (which integrated biology, English and history) was a mock court case about the issue of salmon and dams. During this project, we took students to a local dam, gave them an opportunity to gather water quality data, and brought in an attorney with expertise in tribal treaty rights to speak with the students. They then engaged in a simulated trial in front of a jury of seniors. The students were phenomenal and their deep learning was clearly evident!

Our 9th grade students are currently engaging in a project about biodiversity and the impact of humans on our environment. To culminate this project, the students will write a book answering our driving question, “Why should we care about our environment?” This book will contain creative, persuasive and scientific writings about our local ecosystem, the shrub steppe. It will also include original art and photography from the students. In order to get them thinking as scientific experts in this project, we began by taking them on a field trip to a local land conservancy where several experts hosted stations. Now, I am taking my students out into a nearby pasture to have them gather biodiversity data. Our next step is for them to design a field study to answer a question they have about the shrub steppe ecosystem. Reports from these field studies will be featured in our book.

These are just a couple of examples of how we are striving to make our projects “whole games” for our students!