I remember once hearing a story about a 4th grade teacher who took her classroom on a trip around the world. Ok, it wasn’t a literal trip, but it still sounded pretty amazing. Students began in their classroom before taking imaginary cars to the East Coast. After that, they pretended to make their way through Europe and into Asia, down to Australia, over to Africa, and finally back home to their school in the United States.
Of course, as students traveled, they learned how to spell the names and parts of the cars they were “driving” in. Students calculated the distance they covered over the week. They learned the histories of the countries they visited. Later, they discovered how their navigational tools worked, and we’re forced to cooperate in order to overcome certain challenges. Once they were home, the children constructed a giant butterfly and used it to raise awareness for the Amazon rainforest, their favorite destination.
It turns out project-based learning is useful tool not only for traveling, but for teaching children to be curious, creative, and critical thinkers.
PBL Pros and Cons
Many teachers have seen what can be accomplished through project-based learning. They’ve witnessed their students get personally invested in their own education, take a stand for what they believe in, and even make a positive impact on the world around them. But project-based learning isn’t perfect. Even with the ideal lesson you’re still going to encounter some bumps along the road. So, what do you do when your perfectly tailored project starts to fall apart in the classroom?
Well, you start by following the advice you give to students and learning from past mistakes.
Questions and Answers
Here are a few problems and solutions that can come up during project-based learning:
- Challenging Group Dynamics: It’s easy for a group project to devolve into one student doing all the work. You can avoid this outcome by keeping your student teams small to ensure that teammates are better connected with clear expectations. It also helps to keep them teacher-initiated and more diverse.
- Low Student Engagement: Even an exciting PBL unit can seem like just another lesson if presented as such. Over at Edutopia, John McCarthy suggests putting a face to the task. Let the students know that the work they’re doing is making a real difference in the life of someone else. This will not only get them motivated but also teach them how to be a powerful force for good!
- Student Inexperience: Not all students are familiar with project-based learning, and they may be unaccustomed to taking an active role in their own education. When possible, give them opportunities to find their voice. Giving them choices is a good starting point. Let them make their own decisions and then explain or defend their thought process. This will build their confidence as well as their comfort with hands-on experience.
Slow and Steady
Learning can be hard. It frequently takes time, patience, and perseverance before any student sees noticeable growth. Nevertheless, there are tools we can use to help them on their journey, and few have proven as valuable as project-based learning. Don’t allow yourself to be daunted by the potential pitfalls of authentic learning experiences. Instead, pack an imaginary bag and take your students on an engaging adventure they’ll never forget.