Working towards project based learning

With reporting season nearly finished, I have been reflecting on what I wanted to achieve myself this semester, and how I might fare if I received a report card on my teaching.

As a new educator, I have been focusing on getting the basics right: working on my classroom management, instruction and engagement with students. It has been a constant minefield of different ideas, perspectives and challenges but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

Flashback to May last year, I was in Washington D.C. and wrote about my experience seeing some incredible project based learning in action at Two Rivers Public Charter School. It made me excited about teaching and was one of the final experiences that ensured I would apply for Teach for Australia.

While looking at ‘enquiry based learning’, ‘project based learning’ and ‘scenario based learning’ all helps, I think at the core there needs to be an achievable project. I believe classes where students: have choice, participate in ‘action learning’, and create something to be celebrated at the end, give students the best chance to soak up rich learning and develop lasting skills.

With this belief, I often feel that I’m not delivering content in a way that I myself would enjoy as a student. I want to be listening to what students want and incorporating that into interesting projects that deliver the curriculum in a way that is engaging. Big ask, but it is an aim I believe all teachers should have. While my skills are improving, I hope to give my students more freedom and choice in the classroom next semester.

This term, I started to test a few ideas, giving students small projects, scenarios and tasks for one, two or three lessons. While they had mixed results, scenarios have been the most interesting and successful from my perspective.

For the ‘scenario lessons’, I provided each student with a ‘real life’ challenge that they needed to solve. I gave them a brief context, explaining who they were and the decisions they needed to make. I then listed a series of outcomes they must meet by the end of the lesson along with steps they could take if they get stuck.

Students are given a simple task to ensure their minds are placed into the scenario setting, then choose how to complete the remainder of the outcomes. Usually in pairs, students would progress at a different pace and achieve different learning along the way, but need to answer a few key questions by the end of the lesson.

During the lessons, some students required little to no help, while others needed consistent reassurance and support. However, almost all students were engaged, learning and participated in a way they felt comfortable with. They were also pushed to answer all the questions, but in a way where they could choose how to manage this.

At the end, students had to present their solution to the class, building speaking confidence and showcasing the different ideas that were developed. Each presentation was clapped and supported with energy in the room.

In other lessons, I organised computer access and gave out individual research projects to complete by the end of two-three lessons. The focus was to develop literacy, asking students to research different questions and answer in the form of a paragraph, Facebook post, tweet or graphic. Once completed they would show a friend for editing then email me with a digital copy of the assignment upon completion as evidence.

These lessons were particularly useful for ensuring I deliver differentiation properly. It ensured that students who need extra support, an additional push or a specific task could easily be provided with opportunities tailored to their learning requirements.

Next semester, I aim to continue to develop these skills by observing a range of primary school and college (Y11-12) classes to see how they use projects to deliver content to students. This should provide me with a few interesting ideas to try out in my own classroom.

In particular, I am excited about working with my new Year 10 Business and Global Studies class on term-long projects that build their skills. While I am a long way from delivering high-level project based learning in my classes, I am glad to be working at a school that encourages new teachers to collaborate with colleagues and constantly challenge themselves.


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