23 June 2016

Project-based Learning and 21st Century Skills: Perfect Together

Project-based Learning

I have always been a fan of Project-based Learning. As a student who sat through way too many lectures during my academic career, I decided that I would not be that type of teacher for my students. I can still remember the few times I was actually given academic choice and how great it felt. This is why I try to include at least one project per unit. However, Project-based Learning is much more than simply assigning a project. Above you can see the diagram that includes the vital aspects of a true PBL-designed project. Before I get to the vital components of PBL, I want to share the outline for my end of the year World Studies 6 project so you can get an idea of what I'm talking about.

Before I explain how my students got to their final product, I want to share their work with you. They collaborated, used technology, created an authentic display of their learning, utilized social studies skills and had fun doing it!

The Mayan Empire


This particular group went above and beyond my wildest expectations. They even embedded a Google Form quiz directly into their website to assess their audience. It looked visually appealing and included all the information I was looking for and more. I couldn't be more proud of these students.

So now that you have seen the final product. I'll walk you through how they got there. Firstly, the outline and directions the project:

 Steps for PBL 

Below you will see how I addressed each vital component of PBL in this particular project.

1. Driving Question: The driving question that each group had to answer as they researched and created their website was: How did the values, beliefs and traditions of this civilization influence the political, economic and social systems?

2. Need to Know: Students started the project by compiling question lists that would help them find the necessary information to address the driving question. I also allowed them to come up with their own curiosity questions that helped them understand the civilization better. These questions ranged from what kind of fashion did they have to what types of sports did they play.

3. Inquiry and Innovation: Students began researching info about their selected civilization and logging it in a graphic organizer. They also chose which website tool they would choose (weebly, wix, google sites, or another tool approved by me).

4. 21st Century Skills: Students were conducting online research, sourcing their info, building a website to share their research, working collaboratively asynchronously, and even coding their own widgets in some cases!

5. Student Voice and Choice: Students were given the choice of one of five millennial civilizations (the Maya, Heian Dynasty, Carolingians/Holy Roman Empire, Abbasid Caliphate and the Kingdom of Ghana). They were also given the opportunity to choose the method of delivery for their research.

6. Feedback and Reflection: These are soooo important for PBL work but are often overlooked. Each day, I had the groups fill out a reflection form on their effort and collaboration. See below:

Students reflected every day about their collaboration on the project.

7. Publicly Presented Project: Can't get much more public than a website! Students were excited that something that they created could actually be used by other students and classes across the globe.

Project Resources

I also scaffolded the research by providing the students with a list of informational sites and documents to get them started. See the list below broken down by civilization

Since this was the first year that I did a project like this, I took a few hours to create a model website of what I was looking for. I used weebly (my favorite) to complete a website about the United States.  This gave the students a starting point or model with which to base their designs off of. I let the students know that they could take this in any number of directions and that they are only limited by their imaginations.

Overall, the project went great. There are still some kinks to work out but I'm much more confident about assigning large projects such as this one in the future. The kids enjoyed the time spent on it, had an amazing product to showcase at the end and hopefully became more reflective learners and collaborators.


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