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One Project,Many Outcomes; What Makes Project Based Learning Successful?

The Ultimate Treasure is Learning!

The Ultimate Treasure is Learning!

My fifth grade social studies teacher is to blame, or to credit, for the kind of teacher I am today.  I couldn’t wait to get into her class.  That was the year we would get to learn about the history of Alberta!  I wasn’t the only one buzzing about it either.  My classmates were excited too. We couldn’t wait!

So what made us so excited to learn history and look forward to going into grade five? It sure wasn’t the thought of having excellent class discussions, gleaning the pages of a new textbook or even our love for sitting in desks all day, that got our enthusiasm revved.  In fact, we all knew that though we would  inevitably do those things, they would be in the context of  this amazing project that everyone who entered Mrs. Walman’s grade five class would get to do.  That was the year we would get to put on the Alberta History Fair!

All year long we learned so that we could prepare for our final project.  We learned about the food of the pioneers so we could prepare it for others to taste at our fair. We learned about the clothing so we could find items or make them to dress up during the fair.  We made maps and learned the names of all the locations, rivers, etc. so that we could display them and explain to fair-goers about the important events that had happened in these places. We created skits about important events and  we practised square-dancing so that we could put on a show for a the audience we knew would come.  In short, the project provided us with purpose and allowed us to “experience” history as we learned.  Knowing that we would get to put on the fair, gave us reason and motivated us to learn so we could be the “experts” when the people came. To this day, it is the only year of my schooling that I really remember.

Think back to your schooling. What do you remember the most?  I would venture to guess that it is the projects that you did.  Therein lies the beauty of teaching through projects!  When we are learning to accomplish something greater than just the learning itself,  then we are willing to take on new  challenges  and work through them to get to the end result.  All the curriculum objectives were accomplished and  connected  for us through that project .  We cared about history because we wanted to put on the fair!

What about the time factor to teach the curriculum? I don’t have time to do a project for every unit. I can hear the critics expounding their protests and I offer the following guidelines:

  1. One project, many outcomes/objectives:  Many of your year’s outcomes can be brought together and achieved in one project that is accomplished over the year.  An example of one such project was the “Smoovie” project that my grade four class did last year.  The class wanted to make a “movie” of a  novel that I wrote for them called The Jewel of Peru.   Through the project they practised and learned many of the language arts , art and technology outcomes in the curriculum.  In art,we had lessons about horizon lines, perspective, color and texture to create the backgrounds.  In language arts they listened to the story, did vocabulary searches for the words so they would fully understand the story, they rephrased, summarized, retold and practised reading their chapters with expression and voices.  The project provided a natural reason to read the story over and over again, improving their fluency so they could produce the audio for the smoovie.  The technology outcomes were many, too. They learned how to navigate the ipads, how to produce audio files, how to do stop animation and edit out scenes. They blogged about their projects on Kidblog , thus improving their writing, while learning how to do safe blogging on the internet.  This is not to mention the many social skills that were practised  through the collaborations that took place while they planned, produced and shared their projects.  The story, too, had a plot that embedded  many science and social studies outcomes.  They learned about rocks and minerals, rainforest, caring for the environment, hearing and sound, community, etc..  Learning and teaching was never so much fun!
  2. Know the outcomes and share with the students how you will evaluate each part of the project.   One project will also have many different assessments within.  I assessed their artwork according to each of the lesson objectives.  I assessed their blog posts for content, organization and conventions. I provided students with rubrics, check lists and exemplars to show them what their project should look like and sound like. Such feedback is a valuable part of the learning process as our students need it to grow.
  3. Be organized.  A project will be successful when it is well organized and students are given clear guidance about the time, the expectations, the resources, and the  tools that are at their disposal to complete the project.   Planning up front will save you a lot of headache as the project gets under way and allows you more time to act as the facilitator of learning while the students are busy working.

As we start the new year, it is my hope that each of us will have some captivating projects that will provide our students with purpose for learning this year.  This was the reason that I wrote a novel based on the curriculum. I allows me to create so many spin off projects that bring the curriculum to life and allow my students to experience the learning rather than just talk about it. I hope you find some wonderful  projects, too!   Come back and share them with me through your replies. I would love to hear from you.

The final project can be seen at:           http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DoC4zOaIQs&feature=youtu.be

Kidblog posts at http://kidblog.org/MrsSkrettingsClass/

More insight about the success of project based learning: http://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning-rahil-profile-video?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=video-pbl-student

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