Today, my family went to the club tour for our 4H group. It’s a chance for all the kids to showcase what they are bringing to fair, including their goat project, their woodworking efforts, or that photograph of which they are so proud. And as we sat around at the picnic at the end, I couldn’t help but think about the parallels between this and project based learning that I hope to put into my science classroom.
First of all, the kids had a broad area to explore, and a project was their summative experience. The roadmap to success was filled with learning the nitty-gritty details necessary to be successful. There was reading, writing, thinking, designing, and planning to be done, not as an isolated skill, but with the goal of helping the student be successful in the project. Technology was integrated naturally, as it was needed for research, reflection, and generating the reports and posters that went along with the topic at hand.
Science should be like that, and it’s dismaying that it isn’t. It’s not, as a 3rd grade student told me today, “a way to prove what we already know.” It’s a chance to invent something new. And that inventing of new understandings is exactly what we hope will happen for our students.
So this year, I will use the end product I want my students to produce as the focal point of my planning. I will examine my standards and see if they match that product, and if they don’t, I will align them. My benchmarks need to become the roadmap I need to use to increase understanding for that summative product, rather than the final product being a fun project at the end.
A simple shift is all that matters, and the shift must come from the perspective of what the teacher and his/her class believe is important. For me, the biggest change in this is finding ways to use a public audience to make the learning real and relevant. Instead of just planning a bridge, I may ask students to site a new bridge that I know needs building in my city. I may ask an architect to come in, rather than making the mistake of telling kids that they can be an architect ‘when they grow up.’
Project-based learning is a natural way to increase the rigor and the relevance in our curricula. Combining the possibilities of project-based learning with the reflection that is critical in blended learning can fundamentally shift our notions of content and significant inquiry. I’m looking forward to the challenge. Can you join me?