3 reasons Project Based Learning is the way to go now

7:00 AM

                                                        Pictures of three PBL projects

  • When your students are excitedly chattering about what they're working on.  
  • When they make things with stuff they've found around their houses.  
  • When they listen to song lyrics.  
  • When they give each other suggestions about how to improve their projects.  
  • When they're laying on the floor, coloring posters.  
  • When they listen to an expert talk about the things they need to consider.  
  • When they're totally engrossed in what they're doing.

These are the first thoughts that come to my head when I think about Project Based Learning.  But so are these:
  • How much work will it take?
  • What strategies do I need to teach them?
  • What kind of lesson plans do I need to write?
  • Will they come up with their own ideas?
  • How much time will it take?
A few years ago, I decided to dive into the deep end of the pool.  I gave my students a project that I wasn't sure how they'd feel about.  It was poetry, after all, and you know how most 6th graders feel about poetry.

At first.

Choice

This is the biggie.  You introduce the concepts.  You give them the background knowledge.  You make sure they understand the parameters.  You show them the graphic organizers and insist that they collect their thoughts.  And then you set them free.  

Prepare to be blown away!  Students will go into creative mode and give you more than you'd expect, in ways you wouldn't expect.

I let my students use song lyrics as part of their My Life in Poetry project.  They had to use at least one poem.  Most wrote their own.  One student sang!

Jaw on the floor.

Critical Thinking

Students had a similar reaction to mythology.  

"I like Percy Jackson but that's it."  

"I don't like myths or fables."

Really?  What if you could write your own?  

Guidelines, parameters, and graphic organizers later, they presented their original nature myths to the class.  Some were in costume.  Others created the god/goddess/supernatural creature.  Some created movies.  Others performed.

You know how some kids feel about writing?  They had created a myth that developed their plotline, had character development and resolved the conflict in a way that made sense.  They had to figure out how to incorporate all those elements in a way that made sense, stayed within the parameters of a creation myth, and was interesting.

Well done by them!  

They used this Mythology Writing Unit to do it.

Collaboration and Engagement

student created restaurant using doll furniture         A student created menu for "Design a Restaurant" project

We all know that students working in groups can be joyful or frustrating.  Towards the end of each year, I work with students to pick 1 or 2 partners to work on the creation, design, menu planning, history of, and food preparation for their restaurant, built around a theme.  The students host a Restaurant Fair that allows them to provide bite-sized tastes of food - and showcase their work - to their parents, administrators, teachers, and friends.  You can find the Design a Restaurant Project here.


With all of these projects, I've been surprised by how much the students got into what they were doing.  How they couldn't wait to work on their projects.  How they said they loved what we were doing.  

I'd be lying if I said it was easy to do.  It took organization and answering more questions than I'd anticipated.  Each time, I thought I was ready for them.  Each time, I had to rethink how to teach certain skills better.  

If you have the time and curiosity, play around a little with PBL projects.  You don't need to do anything massive, just dip your toes in the water.  

And, if you've got no time for that, feel free to check out one of these projects.  The work's been done for you!

by Mentoring in the Middle

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