Thursday, April 2, 2009

Is PBL Worth it?

In my last post I justified the use of Project Based Learning (PBL) in the classroom with the help of my fifth grade students. In this post, I am going to take a deeper look at reasons some say PBL is just not worth it.

Collaboration Issues: Some say that teaching students to work collaboratively can be impossible. I disagree. If we don’t teach our students to work together when they are young, they have no prayer of working together to change the world as adults. Paying particular attention to the makeup of groups at the beginning of the year is crucial. As the teacher gets to know her students and as they become a community, this becomes a less important factor. Mixing it up from project to project is one way to keep students from falling into bad habits. In my classroom, collaborative groups can be formed a number of ways including student choice, random draw, or teacher choice. Because we are a community of learners who have learned to respect each others’ strengths and weaknesses, we rarely have problems. When we do, it only takes a gentle reminder to get students back on track.

Content Acquisition: Some say that students working on a piece of a project only learn that piece. What about the rest of the content? When my students are working on a big project, it is true that we generally divide the topic into manageable group topics. For this reason, different groups of students become experts on a piece of the overall topic. However, when the project is pulled together in the end, students share their knowledge with the rest of the class. They learn the rest of the content from their peers. Of course, they will always know their piece best, because they have not only learned the content, they have taught the content and in the end they own that content. Knowing the part their piece makes in the big picture only makes the content more understandable.

When I speak of PBL and how it works, I am generally speaking in terms of my own fifth grade classroom. Since it is April, my students truly have become a community of learners. When given a topic, they get right to work brainstorming ideas, collaborating with their peers, and creating awesome projects.
Just recently students completed a collaborative project on the Revolutionary War. Each student was responsible for researching an event that happened during the War. They were required to complete a “Who, What, Where” worksheet and take that information and write a summary. From there the students were on their own as to how we would present the information.
The wheels started spinning. They brainstormed ways to use all of their favorite web 2.0 tools in order to create a cohesive project that tied all of their projects together. Below is their final project. The timeline includes all of their summaries. In addition, each student chose a web 2.0 tool to expand on the summary. The links to their projects are included. (Works best if you click for full event details.) Please explore and enjoy.

Here's one of my favorite projects: Revolutionary War- Battle of Saratoga

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