Marin Preparatory School blends traditional and progressive education to engage and excite children as they make their way from kindergarten to 8th grade. At the core of good teaching is the ability to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of a wide range of learning styles within a typical classroom. Project Based Learning (PBL) is one such tool that our teachers are using to make learning come alive. Throughout any given year teachers will use PBL as part of a mix of many methods of teaching.
Project Based Learning is by definition, “a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning important knowledge and 21st century skills through an extended, student-influenced inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and learning tasks” (PBL in the Elementary Grades, Buck Institute for Education). It allows teachers to design lessons that incorporate a deep focus on academic content, is hands-on and makes the learning come alive and the retention of material far greater.
The essential elements of PBL must contain the following:
- Significant Content: The lesson must have significant academic content that focuses on appropriate knowledge and skills from the heart of academic areas at the appropriate grade level. Students often have to read, write and calculate, thereby being able to see the relationship between several academic areas. A scientist for example, must be able to read material, write effectively and use math in the pursuit of science.
- 21st Century Skills: Students must use skills that are important for today’s world such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and communication. They must learn to negotiate and work with a variety of people. They must be able to assume leadership roles as well as work as effective members of a group. They develop public speaking skills.
- In Depth Inquiry: Students begin by asking a series of pertinent questions, using resources and developing answers. The teacher guides them through this process.
- Driving Question: Project work is focused on an open ended question that is explored by students through a series of tasks they complete. The teacher knows what content should be mastered, yet the students work, negotiate, collaborate and study to find the answer.
- Need to Know: Learning becomes alive as children see that by gaining knowledge, understanding concepts and applying appropriate skills they can answer the Driving Question, create project products and thereby learning becomes meaningful. There is often an Entry Event that generates interest and curiosity for the project.
- Voice and Choice: Students are allowed to make some choices about the products to be created, how they make use of their time, their resources, how they work under the direction of the teacher and depending on the grade level. Children experience the use of strategies to enhance time management and deep listening to other students in their project group.
- Revision and Reflection: There is ample time to reflect on their progress and make changes and revisions so that the end product is high quality and reflects how and what they are learning. There is some trial and error allowing students to see that answers are not always easily found.
- Public Audience: The culmination of PBL is students presenting their work to other people beyond their classroom and teacher. This may be a presentation to their parents or a different audience.
The use of PBL as a teaching method is embraced by teachers because it is an effective way for students to learn content and skills. It makes a school curriculum more engaging and children see a relationship between what they are learning and real life considerations. PBL also establishes readiness for 21stcentury work and life.
Here are a few examples of Project Based Learning (PBL in the Elementary Grades, Buck Institute for Education):
- Kindergarten: Students study local wildlife and observe the life cycles of animals kept in the classroom, as they make a field guide about their county’s woodland creatures.
- First Grade: Children learn about communities, rules and laws as they help their school develop behavior rules for different parts of the playground and campus, making posters and a video to share with other students.
- Second Grade: Second graders try to guess how much food, school supplies, or other kinds of items they could buy with a 1000 pennies, then create shopping lists and visit local stores and websites to compare prices to prepare for a presentation about where to buy things.
- Third Grade: Students dig deep into the history of their urban neighborhood through interviews, research, and field visits, then create a museum exhibits in the school library.
- Fourth Grade: Fourth graders study maps and primary source documents as they take the role of Spanish missionaries deciding where to build the 22nd California mission (if there was to be one) and what it might look like.
- Fifth Grade: Students learn to collect and display data and plot points on a graph as they figure out which cell phone plan is best for their family and prepare a presentation to their parents and classmates.
At MPS we want children to see how school connects to the outside world. A well designed project can help that occur as well as improve students’ retention of knowledge over time.