Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Miss D the Teacher's Guide to Project Based Learning

I am a long time advocate for project-based learning. While not all projects are created equal, I believe the possibilities of student-led projects are immense. I have listed a few of the reasons why I am such an advocate for project-based learning below. However, in my opinion, two key criteria must be met to see the benefits listed below.

Criteria 1: Projects must have an authentic purpose beyond the classroom.
Students must be doing, making, creating, etc. something for a person, place, organisation other than the class and the classroom teacher. At my school, we talk about projects being about the "we not the me". For our school, this has meant that we have built partnerships with the Kaipatiki Project, OnBoard Skate School, the SPCA, KidsCan, Hobsonville Land Company, the Heritage Trust and many more!

Criteria 2: Projects must be based on supporting the student's response to an issue.
While the teacher might be responsible for drawing students' attention to an issue and helping them to explore and understand it, ultimately the students must make the decision about how they will respond. Their decisions should, of course, be well informed, researched and validated. For example, students might interview their community about their proposed solution to a lack of youth orientated community spaces.

With these two criteria at heart of a well-designed project, I have found an enormous range of benefits to project-based learning. Some of these include:
  • Working with authentic, real partners (the teacher is not an authentic real partner) increases student accountability and buy in.
  • Working with authentic partners gives students a much more realistic idea about careers in their field(s) of interest. 
  • Working on projects in the community helps students realise that their voice and contributions matter and do make a difference.
  • Project-based learning provides students with career skills such as budgeting, marketing, project management, etc.
  • Project-based learning provides opportunities for schools to build community engagement, and as a result, foster belonging for our students.
  • Projects provide the opportunity for students to collaborate in a more meaningful way, where diversity becomes necessary for success (rather than an inconvenient barrier). 
  • Authentic projects help students develop empathy and understanding for perspectives beyond their own lived experience. 
Below is a student created video from the group of students for whom I facilitated projects in 2018. I am so proud of the young people involved in these projects. They have persisted when things got tough, they have outwitted many an obstacle, and they have genuinely thought about others. Along the way, they have learnt all about conducting interviews, designing surveys, developing budgets and business plans, marketing, content development, social media management, and even some agile project management skills. They have had to collaborate, problem solve, think critically and creatively. It's been an awesome *ride* and I look forward to seeing how these students take on the world and their futures. 

*I have been thinking about developing a book along the lines of "Miss D the Teacher's Guide to Project Based Learning". The book would contain project-based learning examples, project-based learning resources, project-based learning activities as well as help guides for facilitating projects. I would discuss the benefits of project-based learning, as well as the theoretical justification for including it in a curriculum. This might look like a book where I release chapter by chapter for those who have signed up. If you are interested, you can sign up for the mailing list below:

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