We are to prepare our learners to face the challenges of the 21st century. So, the old-school model of passively learning facts and reciting them out of context is no longer sufficient to prepare them to survive in today’s world. Today students need to acquire both fundamental as well as 21st century skills to solve highly complex problems. Fundamental skills are reading, writing, and math and 21st century skills include (i) personal and social responsibility, (ii) planning, critical thinking, reasoning, and creativity, (iii) strong communication skills, both for interpersonal and presentation needs, (iv) cross-cultural understanding, (v) visualizing and decision making, (vi) knowing how and when to use technology and choosing the most appropriate tool for the task. With this combination of skills, students become directors and managers of their learning process, guided and mentored by a skilled teacher. Project based learning encourages students to become independent workers, critical thinkers, and lifelong learners by brining real-life context and technology to the curriculum. It is not just a way of learning; it’s a way of working together. If students learn to take responsibility for their own learning, they will form the basis for the way they will work with others in their adult lives.
Children have various learning styles. They build their knowledge on varying backgrounds and experiences. It is also recognized that children have a broader range of capabilities than they have been permitted to show in regular classrooms with the traditional text-based focus. Project Based Learning addresses these differences, because students must use all modalities in the process of researching and solving a problem, then communicating the solutions. When children are interested in what they are doing and are able to use their areas of strength, they achieve at a higher level.
It lets the teacher have multiple assessment opportunities and allows a child to demonstrate his or her capabilities while working independently. It shows the child’s ability to apply desired skills such as doing research. It develops the child’s ability to work with his or her peers, building teamwork and group skills. It allows the teacher to learn more about the child as a person. It helps the teacher communicate in progressive and meaningful ways with the child or a group of children on a range Project Based Learning and the use of technology enable students, teachers, and administrators to reach out beyond the school building. It teaches children to take control of their learning which is the first step as lifelong learners.
A project should give students opportunities to build such 21st century skills as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and the use of technology, which will serve them well in the workplace and life. This exposure to authentic skills meets the second criterion for meaningful work. A teacher in a project-based learning environment explicitly teaches and assesses these skills and provides frequent opportunities for students to assess themselves.
Students find project work more meaningful if they conduct real inquiry, which does not mean finding information in books or websites and pasting it onto a poster. In real inquiry, students follow a trail that begins with their own questions, leads to a search for resources and the discovery of answers, and often ultimately leads to generating new questions, testing ideas, and drawing their own conclusions. With real inquiry comes innovation—a new answer to a driving question, a new product, or an individually generated solution to a problem. The teacher does not ask students to simply reproduce teacher- or textbook-provided information in a pretty format.
To guide students in real inquiry, refer students to the list of questions they generated after the entry event. The teacher should coach them to add to this list as they discover new insights. The classroom culture should value questioning, hypothesizing, and openness to new ideas and perspectives.
How students specifically derive benefits from project based learning: Teachers set parameters for each project and the students are free to propose their own ideas, pending their teacher’s approval. Students feel a sense of educational ownership because they have greater control over what and how they learn, students often feel more invested and responsible for their work. Project-based learning also makes it easier for students to learn at a pace that’s comfortable for them. Students get the opportunity to acquire complex and real world skills. Project-based learning teaches students about teamwork, critical thinking, communication, decision-making, time management, public speaking, organization, social behavior and more. The traditional classroom lecture model is all about listening. The teacher lectures and the students absorb. A key advantage of project-based learning is that each student has more one-on-one time with their instructors to ask questions and share ideas.
How teachers get benefit from it: Traditional classroom learning involves a teacher more or less speaking to his or her students with little interaction other than to ask or answer a periodic question. Project-based learning puts the teacher into more of a facilitator role that allows for greater dialogue with each individual student. With each new project that’s proposed and presented, teachers receive a glimpse into the interests, passions and motivators of their students. Everything about a given project – the topic that’s selected, how it’s presented, how students works with others, where they pull their research from – gives teachers crucial information about the learning habits of their class. The assessment process in a project-based learning setting usually involves more than just the opinion of the teacher and often times includes other instructors and even peers of the student. Another benefit of project-based learning is the ability to draw in resources from the entire school and even the community. Learning is no longer confined to the walls of the classroom, but rather is conducted on a more beyond boundary scale, giving teachers an even greater pool of assets to work with.
MASUM BILLAH: Program Manager, BRAC Education Program, Brac and Vice-president, Bangladesh English Language Teachers Association (BELTA), Dhaka, Bangladesh.