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Improving Learning through Projects

posted Feb 25, 2018, 4:05 PM by HSD Principal
John Larmer from the Buck Institute for Education wrote in Social Education about Project Based Learning (PBL). He says that projects can get a bad name for reasons like parental "over-supporting," one person doing all the work, or  “make something” projects like building a model of the Alamo or a Civil War battlefield diorama or creating a poster of the solar system or a famous inventor.

As Larmer and his team examined projects, their "gold standard" project would have the following features:
  • A challenging problem or question – Students need to solve the problem or answer the question, which is posed at an appropriate challenge level.
  • Sustained inquiry – Students are engaged in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, finding resources, and applying information;
  • Authenticity – The project includes a real-world context (or a good simulation), tasks and tools, and impact – or it speaks to students’ personal concerns, interests, and life issues.
  • Student voice and choice – Students are asked to make some decisions about how they work and what they ultimately create.
  • Reflection – The projects builds in opportunities to think about the effectiveness of learning experiences and products and how obstacles were overcome (or not overcome).
  • Critique and revision – Students get detailed feedback on their process and products based on known standards and rubrics.
  • Public product – Students present, display, and explain their work to an audience beyond the classroom.
Larmer acknowledges that not all projects will have all of the above characteristics, but still thinks it's valuable to strive to include them. In his social studies context, he gives the following suggested projects:
  • A debate, speech, social media campaign, or multimedia presentation on a current event or issue – the more local and personally relevant the better;
  • A museum exhibit about a historical time, place, person, event, or development;
  • A proposal for a monument that explains a historical event or development;
  • A simulation of a situation in which people in the past or present have to solve a problem, make a decision, or advise a leader;
  • A podcast, guided tour, field guide, or annotated online map about local history;
  • An action or service learning project to benefit the community.