Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Project Based Learning: A Case Study


The 'PBL Explained' video gives a 3-minute overview of PBL and gets a pretty cool Science class example in too! Scroll down for an example from the ELA classroom.


In terms of allowing student choice and voice to come through, PBL (Project Based Learning) is a powerful method. The teacher can negotiate the actual focus of the project with students, and PBL allows students further choice in how to to approach the problems and challenges that arise from identification of the end goal. The fact that PBL is rooted in authentic learning experiences means that students get to see the real-world impact of their efforts. For empowerment, agency and self-directed learning, PBL ranks among the top approaches. At the core of PBL are the 3Cs of critical thinking, communication and collaboration.


In exploring advertising, I wanted students to take away not only an understanding of the impact of advertising on (particularly) teen self-esteem and priorities, but to really understand the mechanisms of how advertising influences us. To bring this message home to my Grade 6 students, I challenged them to design a product they could then market and sell to raise money for charity. In order to achieve this, they had to develop knowledge around advertising techniques, design applications, video editing processes and jargon, professional poster production, market research terminology, accounting and other 'content'. As this project involved collaboration with not just ELA and Maths but also Exploratory Writing, students also had the opportunity to develop their extended writing skills with product proposals, rationales and reflective writing. With regards to soft skills, students employed design thinking, collaboration, self-management, teamwork and problem-solving to name but a few. (For more on mapping ELA standards to such a project, feel free to contact me via Twitter @iteachtweets.)

The culmination of their efforts saw them present in front of an expert panel of professionals from our wider community, including SEOs, managing directors and highly successful entrepreneurs.
It is the one unit I do year-on-year that really challenges students out of their comfort zone, and yet sees them animated, passionate and engaged for the entire process. They do indeed feel like 'rock stars' at the end.

For an overview of the project, this video sums it up.

Update: Our school recently hosted the Learning2Asia conference. During this, a team of learners from this 'Apprentice' project presented (entirely independently) what they'd done to an audience of teachers from all over Asia, before setting a challenge for teachers to complete a similar challenge. At the end of the hour's session - and despite the next stage of the conference had started - our students were surrounded by teachers asking them how to implement the project, what they'd learned, what they'd keep or change and so on. Our learners were so proud, and their enthusiasm in sharing their experience was absolutely joyous to witness. I can't imagine anyone watching this could have denied this was empowerment, independence and authentic experiences in action.

Furthermore, although the 'original' students have moved up to Grade 7, several kept asking if they could be involved in this year's version of the project - they were ASKING if they could do 'school' work! (Of course by making it an authentic project, it was no longer accurate to call it 'school' work, but still...) After some brainstorming, it was agreed the Grade 7s would create campaigns a la 'Project for Awesome' (Wikipedia overview here) to convince the Grade 6s their team's charity was the one to support with proceeds from the product sales. They also reflected on their own experiences to advise the Grade 6s how they could be more successful, and curated short tutorials in this website.


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