Authenticity –
the Key to Project-Based Learning!

Image by Leroy Skalstad from Pixabay
Image by Leroy Skalstad from Pixabay

Real-World Problems

Entrepreneurial Coaching

Real-World Solutions

Timmy and his father make weekly trips to the local hardware store. From his house to the store, Timmy often notices that certain people stand on the street corners holding signs. The signs read ‘homeless’, and any money given to them would be put to good use. Timmy noticed that from time to time, drivers offered these people money. And from time to time, so did his father.

Timmy’s curiosity got the best of him one Monday in class. As a result, he told his teacher about what he saw. Briefly, the teacher engaged the class in a conversation about the people they saw standing on the street corners.

A week later, Timmy’s teacher posed the question as part of a project-based learning activity.

Jessica liked working with her father whenever he built something. Her father was a self-employed master craftsman. He designed and crafted hand-made furniture. Jessica wanted to be like her father. She thought that it would be interesting to learn how to run her own business making things for other people. She knew some of her father’s colleagues. And she knew how to build things using power tools. She also liked dogs. In fact, she designed the doghouse that sat in the yard – the very house that the family pet, Spot, lived in.

When Jessica’s teacher prompted the class for project ideas, she readily spoke up. The other students in her high school class agreed that learning how to become entrepreneurs and business owners would be a great idea. In a week’s time, Jessica’s teacher crafted the parameters of the project-based learning activity.

As a result, Jessica, along with her classmates, learned what it was like to start and run a business.

 

Tammy was always interested in science. She loved discovering new things. When she was younger, she would walk around her backyard collecting bugs (much to her mother’s chagrin). As she grew older, she found that she could not get enough of the outdoors. In fact, her first family camping trip to the national park opened her eyes to a brand-new world. She began to study rocks, trees, and the forest ecosystems.

As a teenager, she invested much of her time studying wildlife ecosystems. She found that with the continued construction of new housing units, both apartment and commercial, the natural wildlife in her area was losing ground to humans. Although she appreciated having new neighbors, she could hardly understand why there was such a large number of apartments being built. How many people planned on moving into her neighborhood? She wanted to do something about the loss of the wildlife habitat. She went to her teacher to find out what she could do.

What makes a PBL project authentic?

“Answer: It addresses a real-world problem.”

Putting PBL to work in the classroom takes planning and preparation. It should be something that interests your students. Teachers can use the three examples above as starting points for projects in a PBL learning environment.

How much real-world should a PBL activity entail?

“The answer depends on several variables.”

Even as adults, finding real solutions to real problems is difficult. So, how much can we expect from students ages 6 to 16? The answer depends on several variables. Educators using the project-based learning model in the classroom should clearly explain the expected outcome to their students. Of course, the vague notion of solving for world peace is out of the question. But a more pressing solution to reducing gang-related violence in your local community may be worth looking into.

Image by enriquelopezgarre from Pixabay
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Do you have any examples?

“…a real problem that required a real answer.”

First.

A project reaches the PBL level when it addresses a real need. For example, in Timmy’s situation, Timmy was troubled when he saw people standing on the street corners week after week. Who were these people? Where did they live? Did these people have jobs? The issues that forced Timmy to speak up was that these people were standing (he did not see anyone with a chair), they were dressed in old clothes, and they were out in the cold weather. Timmy could not understand why they spent week after week standing in the cold weather. To Timmy, this was a real problem that required a real answer.

Second.

A project reaches the PBL level when it directly impacts the student. For students in the k12 system, bullying and cyberbullying are real issues that impact them – or someone they know – directly. Addressing the issue of bullying to create change is core to the philosophy of PBL.

Third.

A project reaches the PBL level when students can think critically about the world around them. I will put it into perspective. Let’s say we have a time machine that we use to travel back to a certain year. You can choose any year in the past. Have students evaluate the repercussions if certain events in our past occurred differently. What would be the impact across time? How would students’ lives be different today?

Fourth.

A project reaches the PBL level when students can explain their use of tools, knowledge, and processes to adults in a particular field – that is, in the workplace. Given this scenario, students need to be able to communicate knowledge to professionals using professional language. This means students need to understand concepts, processes, and skills as they would be used in the professional setting.

What does the student produce as a result of the project?

“…both the teacher and the student should be able to answer the ‘who cares’ question…”

This is an excellent question, and a topic that deserves its own focus. However, I will whet your appetite with some food for thought.

Students should look to produce a solution that address the problem that can be implemented in the real world. In Timmy’s case, maybe there is a problem with people being homeless or jobless in his community. A solution would be local policy changes to help people in that situation find appropriate housing or employment. Another possible solution might be to build small homes for these people. Tiny houses are a current social trend across America.

In Jessica’s case, talking with community entrepreneurs and small business owners should provide insight into how laws impact small business owners. Additionally, Jessica and her classmates may learn how to be better members of their community, learn that business ownership is hard work, and gain valuable insights into money management. All these experiences will have positive impacts on these students over their lifetime.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Summary

Project-based learning is not designed to be “busy” work for students. PBL is a learning philosophy that bridges the gap between textbook learning and hands-on experiential learning. Yes, students should learn history, math, science, and writing. However, these core skills are reinforced through the PBL experience. PBL is knowledge put into action!

#projectbasedlearning #projects #k12education #education #learning #teachinng

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