As I begin this exploration into project-based learning, my initial thoughts are very positive. Most articles and sources that I have come across paint a picture of motivated, engaged students doing work on project that have real and lasting results. Edutopia.org provides a laundry list of benefits of PBL including improved standardized test scores (although I wouldn’t want that to be the main goal of a learning situation). Projects seems to bring life to classrooms that few other strategies do. Students learn about topics that are important to them and develop some product that they the share with the world. The learning is authentic and seems to be a wonderful way to approach learning.
As a science teacher, I ma often confronted with the question of covering content vs. helping students learn science. The fact is that our understanding of the Biological world, for example, has exploded in the past century and there are simply too many facts to cover in a school year. Even if I were able to cover the enormous textbook cover to cover, there is little chance that my student would retain more than a tiny fraction of the facts they learned. PBL seems to provide an alternative. Yes, you do sacrifice the amount of material covered, but the depth of what is covered and the learning and retention seem to make it very worth the trade off.
One aspect of PBL that I do find intimidating is the fact that so many teachers do this within groups. They lean on each other as they develop projects and share experiences and learn from each other as projects progress. At my school, we have created a somewhat isolating culture in which teachers don’t collaborate as often as they should. While I think i want to incorporate PBL into my teaching for the students benefit, I also hope that my colleagues will be open to sharing that experience. Who knows, perhaps my embracing PBL might help start a cultural shift at my school.
As far as ideas for a project go, there have been some moves at my school towards embracing a gardening curriculum. I think I would like to explore that as a project for this class. Some of the work has actually been done here, but I will approach it as if ground has yet to be broken.