Guest Blogger – Leslie Pralle Keehn (@LPralleKeehn) is a 7-12 Social Studies teacher at Northeast Hamiliton CSD
The first IACoPi Buck Institute on project-based learning took place June22-24 in Coralville. The venue for the event, the Coralville Public Library, was quite fitting in terms of the themes of project-based learning. To paraphrase a favorite show of mine, libraries offer learners of all ages a place to hunt the white whale aboard the Pequod, fight alongside Napoleon, sail with Huck and Jim, ride a sad train with Anna Karenina, or live alongside the Swiss Family Robinson. Libraries, and books, let the reader be in the moment. In project-based learning (PBL), it is equally important to let the student “be in” the project.
PBL can be an opportunity for students to realize that they can do whatever they want to do and be whoever they want to be. PBL should offer a real-world role for students, providing them with an opportunity to be the change they want to see.
As the teacher, we should provide an outlet for students to not only create a meaningful project, but to present that project to an authentic audience. The role of the audience inspires the desire to create a “finished” final product.
Giving students “voice and choice” in the project allows them to take ownership. Ownership, student- inquiry, and passion will produce results far superior to those of a purely teacher-driven project. Let students discover or feed an interest within the context of your driving question (the question that communicates the purpose of the project and focuses on a philosophical or controversial issue). Never forget the “Why should I care” component. Students should be inspired by the project.
Finally, make the project the main dish. Pre-teaching the project or adding the project as dessert causes disconnect between students and the project. Give students the opportunity to filter learn through the project; even “drill and skill” work with commas can be part of an end project letter to the editor. Let students apply learning to the project throughout a unit. Revision and reflection through continued learning allow students to gain mastery of concepts and skills.