Recently I stumbled across an encouraging article in Edutopia. A community in Dayton, Ohio, was searching for ways to get students invested in local issues and initiatives. After meeting with several partners in industry, the Department of Education decided to adopt a project-based learning (PBL) approach to teaching with a focus on addressing real-world problems. The results were remarkable. Not only did students start making a positive impact in their community, but they also began demonstrating innovation, self-reliance, and proficiency in logical problem solving.
As a proponent of project-based learning, stories like this one always put a smile on my face. Our students have the potential to be an incredible force for good. Even during this difficult period, they have shown remarkable ingenuity, resilience, and passion. Just imagine what they could accomplish with the right tools at their disposal. Yet, even with this positive evidence, project-based learning remains an outlier in many classrooms.
Taking the Leap
The 2020 school year promises to be an unorthodox one. Normal lessons aren’t going to work in a COVID climate, and many schools are facing a virtual or blended learning curriculum. With so many changes on the horizon, now might be the perfect time for schools to give project-based learning a try. Not only is PBL a flexible tool, but the possibility for growth isn’t limited to students. Edutopia puts it best when it writes,
“Project-based learning relies on good professional development, and the school meets the need by training teachers to develop and deliver high-quality PBL that drives student engagement and deeper learning. Teachers work through future PBL projects with their colleagues during PD sessions dedicated exclusively to developing and fine-tuning their curriculum before it’s presented to students. Students learn to give and receive feedback through critique protocols; they collaborate on projects frequently and keep detailed logs tracking progress in several areas, including so-called soft skills like communication and participation.”
All good things to be sure. Still, the real question is whether project-based learning can meet the challenges of this upcoming school year. I believe it can. With the help of Blue Apple, here are three qualities that make PBL the ideal resource for our classrooms.
The Building Blocks of Learning
- Adaption: This school year is going to require patience and flexibility. We don’t know how things will change over the course of the semester. As such, our lessons need to adapt to the evolving situation. PBL units like 50 Years of Interest and High Energy are ideal for this environment because they can be done virtually, in person, or in a blended learning setting. They take the stress of planning off the teacher and allow them to focus on simply teaching.
- Collaboration: It’s difficult for students to connect over Zoom. A screen is no substitute for a classroom, and many will have trouble collaborating with their peers. In this situation, projects like Moments to Remember and Take a Stand can prove useful. Both units encourage students to work on their interpersonal skills by engaging in unique forms of dialogue. Students will write letters, debate topics, and share podcasts that can help them connect at a distance.
- Impact: Finally, project-based learning has the benefit of impact. With so many problems plaguing our modern world, students are understandably depressed and frustrated. PBL gives them the chance to do something about it. Students could use Lend a Hand to raise money for a local business that is struggling. With Prevent the Spread, they can protect their friends and family by educating others on the spread of germs. The power is in their hands, we just need to give them a direction.
I know this all makes me sound like a PBL cheerleader, but I honestly believe projects like the ones at Blue Apple can help both students and educators in the coming year. We can give students the tools they need to make a world of positive change. In the process, we can also foster a mindset of curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. These are the things that will propel them through their upcoming challenges and into a bright new future.