So, it’s been awhile since I last posted! I’m a firm believer in taking breaks, so when Christmas break rolls around I’m avidly resting and reading books for the entire three weeks. However, it’s time for my university’s Winter Term (WT) which is three or so weeks of freedom for students to do anything they want. Some people take classes, do internships, or go on trips organized by the university. I have been fortunate enough to do all three, so this WT is dedicated to working on my thesis!
In mid November, the entire class of Honor Scholars hosted a poster presentation for the community to come and see what we have started working on. Each poster contained key points of the research, what has already been completed, and future work to be completed before April. My poster also contained a blank section for audience participation. I figured, if my project is about project-based learning (PBL), then my audience should have the chance to experience one of its core concepts: doing things for yourself! I put a question on the poster that read, “How would you define your perfect learning experience?” I had a bunch of sticky notes and pens available for anyone to put an answer to the question.
There were all kinds of people at the presentation from young to old and anywhere in between. It was amazing to have different ages of learners available to answer my question. Many of the answers were similar in their themes of one-on-one guidance from a teacher/professor and working together with other members of the class to learn the material. Here’s a sample of some of the responses I got:
So many of these responses mimic the learning style used in PBL. Students, young and old, want to feel heard, safe, and independent. They want to collaborate with others and use their new knowledge outside of the classroom to really understand it. Sounds like PBL would really work for most of these respondents!
I also want to talk about a great resource I found during a quick Internet Search for PBL stories and resources. PBLWorks has an amazing website filled with videos and stories of educators and classes all over trying out PBL. I just recently watched a video about a 5th grade class from Madison, WI who were introduced to a project that allowed them to redesign an underused courtyard outside of their building. I put the link to the video and the link to the website at the bottom of this post! What I liked most about the video was the inclusion of the staff discussions about the project before the students were introduced to the project. PBL takes more than one teacher to run as smoothly as possible, and it was awesome to see the discussions that need to take place before a large project can be launched.
The students in the video were so excited to have the freedom to plan out their own designs! That independence piece made all of the students feel heard and when they all had the chance to explain their individual designs they were more than happy to share. After sharing individual ideas, students then got to work in groups to narrow down on design plans while still ensuring that there are elements from everyone’s plans. I loved this transition from individual to group work because it keeps student autonomy at the forefront while still creating a manageable project for the staff involved. Students also love being able to work in groups with peers their own age.
The best (and arguably most important) piece of the project happens when architects come in to hear the students pitch their design ideas. Each group having a chance to present their design plan to the architects continues to give students their autonomy and confidence that their ideas deserve to be heard. All of the architects then created a master plan using ideas from all of the students proposals to create a courtyard that everyone could enjoy!
This relatively short video encompassed many of the ideas written on my poster’s sticky notes. Often, students wish for the ideas carried out in PBL. They’re ideas that students have experienced occasionally in class, but they are not the norm. In PBL, those ideas become the norm, and students get to do those things that they love about learning all the time! Comment one thing that would be a part of your perfect learning experience!
Picture via architectmagazine.com