WHAT IS PROJECT-BASED LEARNING?
By Julius Siebenga, ACS Executive Director
Project-based learning (PBL) is a term that has become popularized by those in education who have deliberately transitioned the way we teach and learn to one that is predominantly focused on students’ experience of their learning. It is more than just a fun “hands-on” activity tacked on to the end of a unit. It is the driver of the learning.
As one teacher put it, “Project-based learning is the closest we’ve come to understanding God’s intent for teaching and learning.” Put another way, PBL is real work, with a real need, for a real audience. The emphasis on the word “real” is intentional as all of our students at all levels desire and require a deep level of engagement that is relevant to them.
What does project-based learning look like? Perhaps the following list encapsulates what one might observe from a school that is effectively beating the “PBL drum” in a Christian setting:
- Students are busy. Projects are going on everywhere. Things are happening and the vitality is contagious!
- There is a clear and distinctive sense that students love their school. They are proud of it and love showing it off.
- Discipline problems are limited because students are deeply engaged.
- Due to an emphasis on projects, kids (of all ages) speak well both privately and publicly. They are articulate and not anxious.
- The school is an “open book.” Everyone is invited to come visit classes and speak with teachers and students. There is no open house because every day is an open house. There are no concerns about being transparent and open source because everything is open.
- Students and staff share a special bond. Kids love their teachers and rely on them as mentors and Christian role models.
- In general, the school does not dwell on why they can’t do certain things. They find ways to do what they want to do…there is a “can do” attitude.
- They embrace change. They are willing to try things and if it doesn’t work they make suitable adjustments. They don’t regard new ways of doing things with suspicion.
- Problem solving carries the day…
- Students are viewed as producers not consumers–and they start to view the world in this way–“What can I give to the world?” as opposed to “What I can get from the world?”
- There is a lot of project-related junk lying about, but very little in the way of garbage and litter.
- Most projects are integrated through many disciplines.
- Most projects go beyond the student and have a social justice component.
- 21st century skills are applied everywhere–and technology is extraordinarily evident.
- Student have a voice (in age appropriate ways).
- Entrepreneurship is a very real term that is woven into the fabric of the culture.
- There are student presentations happening all over.
- Student collaboration is the norm, yet there is room for quiet yet bold independence.
- Teachers have very high standards of performance. Students are expected to do excellent work and are sent back to the “drawing board” with help, constructive criticism, and more time until they produce their best work.
- Teachers are expected to collaborate regularly for project planning. Teachers do not go by themselves to plan.
- There is a high expectation of staff professional development in this area.
- There is less “sage on the stage” from teachers…it looks more like “the guide on the side.” Teachers have become facilitators as opposed to lecturers.
- Data is very important. The school uses data as a key indicator of the success of PBL.
- Stewardship and creation care are highly valued as well as service and social justice.
- Students are better prepared for university and for real life upon graduation.
Is this us—are we this school? We certainly want to be. At ACS, we definitely believe that this is the most faithful approach to meeting our mission of Engaging Minds, Nurturing Hearts, and Shaping God’s World.