Everything you need to know to lead effective and engaging project-based learning! Are you eager to try out project-based learning, but don't know where to start? How do you ensure that classroom projects help students develop critical thinking skills and meet rigorous standards? Find the answers in this step-by-step guide, written by authors who are both experienced teachers and project-based learning experts.
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In project-based learning, students gain important knowledge, skills, and dispositions by investigating open-ended questions to “make meaning” that they transmit in purposeful ways.
A good project sets up conditions in which students are compelled to inquire. Inquiry is the personal path of questioning, investigating, and reasoning that takes one from not knowing to knowing.
Given the right opportunities, students doing projects become accustomed to inquiring—looking for patterns, analyzing systems, scrutinizing processes, exploring relationships, and solving problems.
In project-based learning, curiosity is the engine for learning. It’s what drives students to ask questions, conduct research, design investigations, and reach out to experts.
Students who are accustomed to project-based learning aren’t afraid to ask questions—and keep asking until they arrive at answers that make sense to them.
Without novelty, we tend to let our brains rest and conserve energy—for a while. Then we start looking for fresh stimulation.
Across the arc of the project, new challenges and opportunities for discovery continue to present themselves, supplying students with ample reasons to stay interested once the project is underway.
Use novelty deliberately. Give the project an attention-getting title and plan a creative “grabber” or entry event to launch the project.
Think time is more broadly applicable in student-centered projects. It gives students opportunities to gather their thoughts, perhaps by jotting down notes or making sketches to capture their ideas, before discussing them.
Be careful not to make value statements about one student’s ideas over another’s, as that can shut down the generative processes you want to cultivate.
Sometimes students ask for adult help right away. Help them build stamina for thinking through a challenge on their own. Establish an expectation that they try several tactics before seeking help.
Display learning. Posting student work, both current and past, on the wall tracks progress in a visible way.
Emulate museums. An environment rich in evocative objects—whether it’s a classroom or a museum—triggers active learning by letting students pick what to engage with.
Make peace with fidgeting. Think of it as brain development, which it is. Then think of how to make room for movement and physical activity in the classroom.
Make classrooms agile. A learning space that can be reconfigured on a dime will accommodate different kinds of learners and teachers and allow for different learning activities.
Preparing young people to engage in the major issues of our times requires that we nurture their ability to produce quality interdisciplinary work.
The first step in teaching students to innovate is making sure that educators have opportunities to be innovators themselves. Although some teachers attempt this hard work alone, the culture of a school or district can set the stage for innovation to flourish or flounder. The right conditions include a shared vision