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Project Based Learning- Now is the time.

Updated: May 22

Project Based Learning (PBL) is a method used to engage students and give them greater ownership over their learning. Most teachers will have used such a strategy, perhaps as a homework task, but how effective are these projects? Since the closure of schools, there is no better time for students to take that responsibility on. So in this post, I'll be discussing what the literature says about PBL along with some tips on how to set it effectively.

Summary of research:

I'd like to begin with student perceptions of PBL, particularly because we are now reliant on students self-motivating. Many of our students will be at home & it is our responsibility to get these students to want to learn. Research by Tiwari, Arya & Bansal, 2017) found that the majority of students are motivated by PBL tasks. In this study, students reported an improvement in the following areas:

  • Knowledge of the subject content

  • Confidence in their understanding

  • Communication skills

  • Data collection & research skills

  • Presentation skills such as oracy

It has also been found that PBL engages students with literacy, as they are required to read & write by the nature of the task (Bell, 2003). While some students may be put off by the prospect of reading texts, its requirement as part of an exciting project means that they are more likely to engage. Use of group projects also has its advantages as students gain experience working in social settings similar to those they will find themselves in when they begin working. (Bruce 1984). Blumenfield et al (2001) found that PBL puts students into problem solving situations. Again, problem solving is a key skill that our students will need to develop in preparation for the working world.

Finally, the research evidence for PBL is weaker when it comes to short term attainment. However, with improvements in motivation, self efficacy and independence, it may well be that there are significant improvements in long term attainment. Yew & Goh, 2016 suggest that PBL has the upper hand over more typical methods when it comes to long term retention of knowledge.

Based on the literature, I would suggest that PBL is incorporated into our pedagogy now that schools are closed. However, this should not be a replacement for more typical methods. At this time, it is more important than ever to develop our students into independent,self-motivated and confident learners.

Practical Tips

As teachers, we have a key role in setting the right tasks. Activities that will make the most of the potential that PBL can have. We should be setting tasks that allow students to improve their research skills, communication, oracy, teamwork and problem solving.

I have found that the most effective PBL tasks include the following:

  • Student choices

  • A focus on research skills

  • Oracy and literacy

  • Feedback & opportunity to improve their work

  • Guidance with the content they need to learn

  • Innovation and creativity

With all of this in mind, I have put together a task for a year 9 chemistry class. I have tried to include all of the features commonly found in effective PBL tasks. This should provide you with a framework to develop your own PBL tasks for students currently working from home or at a partially closed school.

Students should be given clear guidance in the content that they need to research and some suggested research methods. I have also given some suggested forms that the project could take eg. presentation or 3D model. I would also recommend the use of Google Classroom as a means for not only collecting work, but providing feedback using the comments feature on Google.

Keep in mind that while schools are closed, student attainment will be much more challenging. However we should not waste the opportunity to inspire a generation of self-motivated, independent learners with a variety of wider skills.

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