Monday, March 3, 2014

Project Based Learning

I really enjoyed listening to Mr. Capps and Dr. Strange discuss project based learning. It does highlight a big shift in the way learning, coupled with technology, has changed and enhanced the educational atmosphere from when I was in school. When I was in school, the technology that is available today wasn't present. Also, the typical learning pattern followed the teacher introducing the material, teaching about it, and then an assessment followed to see if the content was 'mastered.' Though, 'mastered' is completely silly to think about because it was very much 'burp back education.' More often than not, I memorized what I needed to for the test, spilled it out onto the page before I could forget it, and then promptly forgot it after the class ended. The challenge to me as an educator is to make sure that I do not settle in to following that same routine.

One way to ensure that I do not become that educator, the one who thinks they've 'done their job' because they covered the material and tested on it, is to build my learning around project based learning. According to an article in 'Educational Psychologist', "Project based learning is a comprehensive approach to classroom teaching and learning that is designed to engage students in investigation of authentic problems." Mr. Capps makes an important point by saying that the projects should not be done at the end of units, but rather while learning. The student interest should play a major factor in the learning. Student choice is important for ownership and interest. If they have the ability to choose, then the interest is higher and the engagement level is higher, thus the learning level is deeper and the understanding/knowledge lasting.

Another important aspect of project based learning is having an authentic audience, and coupling that with the real world community. A perk about project based learning is that you can meet multiple standards in one project. While that takes a lot of hard planning, it is very worthwhile because the goal is to have students engaged and learning, and the well thought out projects allow for that. I liked the point that Mr. Capps made that it is crucial for good project based learning activities, is to have the students revise and review their work, and to do it as a democracy. It's a powerful thing to review work as a class, and work together to try and ask together, "What can she/he do to try and improve this, etc." Now, not every project will go well, but it pays to be bold, and if you fail, fail big. As the teacher, you should not limit what they can do with your expectations, rather create projects where they can go beyond and surprise you with their creations, work, products, etc.

Mr. Capps mentioned that "collaboration is a hard thing for people, even kids." Building in group work allows for this problematic area to be explored and strengthened from a young age. Another thing that is difficult for both children and adults is having digital organization. Mr. Capps introduced us to "icurio" which sounds like a great on-line tool that can allow students to develop digital organization tools and techniques. It also allows for safe internet research because it is filtered for educational purposes. There is also a storage component for teachers and students which can allow for convenient stop and pick back up project work. In an elementary setting, it is important to be flexible. When you have to leave the project for any reason (P.E., lunch, library time, etc.) it is nice to know that you can come right back to where you left off. I love to know that there is a read aloud feature as well, because I teach 1st grade right now, and that is a helpful option for my struggling readers. The fact that it has images and videos to enhance the research and project creations is also wonderful.

Yes, using videos offers a bit of an in-school field trip, where students can see and hear a process taking place, view experts discussing material, etc. versus just reading about it. United Streaming, or Discovery Education, allows for this. This is a tool that I have used to enhance the learning in my classroom already. The students love it and it does in fact offer a greater learning experience than I alone could offer to the students.

I suppose it is important to remember a few things about incorporating technology in with project based learning. One is that while it takes a risk taking, hard work willing attitude on the teacher's part, it is worth every minute and every classroom fail, because you are offering the students the opportunity to take control of their learning, to make it personalized for them, to offer them opportunities to work together, review, revise, and improve their creations, and present/self reflect on the process as well as the product. It doesn't limit their learning, rather opens the door wide to an unknown end, where the limitations aren't there unless limited by the student. It is important to offer the students opportunities to embrace and own their learning while covering the material, not just at the end of a unit. It is encouraging to see the eagerness in the students when participating in such projects, and it is great to hear the discussions and read the research that supports this shift in educational practices and thinking. This really brings the point home to me; when Mr. Capps shared about the time that the visitors came to his room and instead of telling them how project based learning has impacted his classroom, he passed that along to his students and had them ask the children. The children did not disappoint! They were able to articulate very well the joy and delight to be had in project based learning. I hope to continue to improve as an educator and to build more of my day around project based learning than I have in the past.

Project based learning

Works Cited:

Blumenfeld, P., Soloway, E., Marx, R., Krajcik, K., Guzdial, M., Palincsar, A. (2011). Motivating Project Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting the Learning. Educational Psychologist: Volume 26, issue 3-4. Retrieved from online link to article.

Strange, J. (Producer). (2013, July). EDM 310. Conversations with Anthony. Podcasts retrieved from link.


  1. Mary Alice, I really enjoyed reading your post. I found it to be very thoughtful and thorough. I love hearing your perspective as an educator about the topics we are discussing such as United Streaming and Discover Education for presenting videos. I like the way you described videos as taking a field trip. I never thought of it that way but you are very right. We cannot always take our students to the places that we want them to see, but with the technology that we have access to today we can bring these places to them. I am a big supporter of PBL. When I was in school we did not do it. Like yourself, I spent many nights memorizing material and “burping” it back the next day for a test. And for me the knowledge was out the door by the next day. For me, another bad result of not doing PBL is that now as an adult I am less comfortable with collaborating with classmates and presenting work to an audience. I fully agree with you that it is important that our students learn to do this from a young age. I feel that it will help our students to be confident, better adjusted, and more prepared for life in the adult work force. PBL is going hard to do from the very beginning of my career and it will become easier as I become comfortable with it. to be quite a challenge for me as a teacher but it believe it will be something I will work

  2. You can do it, Allison! :) I see many project based learning activities in your future! Haha! Thanks for the positive comments!

  3. "More often than not, I memorized what I needed to for the test, spilled it out onto the page before I could forget it, and then promptly forgot it after the class ended. The challenge to me as an educator is to make sure that I do not settle in to following that same routine." Right!

    Thoughtful. Interesting. Very well done!