I love using Project-Based Learning (PBL) in the classroom. There are about a zillion reasons why and a host of research exists on why using PBL is simply, well… good teaching. No need for me to really explain the sound theory behind it all right here. It would take too long.
PBL rocks! Let’s leave it at that.
On a practical level I find that using PBL as the cornerstone for ending the school year is especially effective in allowing me to achieve many of my objectives for this time of year.
Why? Because I want my students, in no particular order to…
- finish strong
- work hard
- demonstrate evidence of their learning
- have fun
- stretch themselves
- create something tangible
- collaborate and innovate
- feel as if their time is a valuable commodity in their lives, something not to be frittered away but rather be valued and respected.
- and on and on. (I fear I am about to digress into edu-babble, politically trite buzzword speak if I continue on.)
Of course, I want most of these things during the course of the year as well. However, having to bow at the altar of NCLB, ETS and their bubble tests while making sure to cover a host of “other things” that are not as PBL friendly for ELA teachers (like punctuating appositive phrases and teaching parallelism within sentences) well… as Mick Jagger once said, “You can’t always get what you want.”
So essentially, before my classes break for the summer, I ask my students to “step up” bigger than they ever have before through the creation of a “project”.
I preface my assignment with a little speech about how, at this very moment, my kids are most probably at the height of their aptitudes. They have never had more schooling, they’ve never been more worldly, they’ve never had more experiences, they’ve never been more ready to deliver something truly great. (Obviously, when dealing with 14-17 year olds, this can almost always be said; they are perpetually at their “height” in a way. Once you get old like me, however, you can’t always say you are “better” now than you ever were before because in 1986 I was a much better basketball player than I am today. However, as English students, they are often “better” than they were two, three or even five years ago. Thus this little warm-up speech.)
All in all it boils down to Envision, Plot, Refine, Build, Tinker, Reflect, Re-Tinker, Finalize, Present.
Ending the year with my students having created “SOMETHING” is my plan.
What is that SOMETHING? It’s really up to the teacher. From expository projects to poetry units to biographical studies and on and on and on, a host of truly great ideas are available.
PBL can be high tech… or not.
PBL can be assigned to both individuals or groups.
PBL can take the form of old school oratory or new wave multi-media.
PBL can be so, so, so many things.
All in all, when it comes to the end of the year, I want my students to have to climbed a final mountain, ascended to a new plateau, and really pushed it one last time before our moments together in my room have passed.
PBL offers me that opportunity. Showing fluffy movies, merely biding your time til the year is over, counting down the days is a freakin’ waste.
Use the time. It’s life’s true currency.
(FYI, I am going to host a free webinar on Finishing Strong next week (May 19th from 6:30 – 7:30 EST. If interested, you can sign up here.)