Making the most of project-based learning requires support, careful planning
- Community Consolidated School District 59 (IL) Superintendent Art Fessler, Stoughton Public Schools (MA) STEM Curriculum and Professional Development Director Teri Fleming and Northwest Area Education Agency (IA) Science Consultant Jordan Menning shared successful project-based learning implementation strategies with eSchool News, focusing on the need for ongoing professional development and for educators to step back.
- Fessler noted that giving teachers more autonomy and flexibility is critical, detailing how resources like Buck Institute and Defined STEM can provide a strong base for curriculum and lesson plans that teachers can then personalize to fit their own classrooms.
- Meanwhile, Fleming recommends taking small steps to put PBL in place — she breaks her process down into planning around a goal, using a step-by-step implementation approach, and providing ongoing support — while Menning stresses the importance of teacher buy-in, as PBL success hinges on teachers giving students more leverage in their assignments.
Project-based learning (PBL) is among the active learning methods that have gained steam in recent years — and like flipped learning, its success necessitates not only that educators step outside of their comfort zones, but that administrators be mindful of additional time commitments and other changes they might have to make.
With flipped learning, for example, Bay Path University Associate Professor of Biology Thomas Mennella notes that implementing the model in higher ed can lead to instructor burnout, as it necessitates a major increase in the amount of assignments to grade and hours spent interacting with students. The scope of some projects under PBL could lead to a similar situation, though that can also be addressed with additional classroom assistance, higher pay for those embracing the model or conscious efforts to manage the scale of students' projects.
The latter, however, may be the least attractive option, as it could be seen as holding back especially ambitious students. In an environment in which lessons impart real-world experience for students, approaches that encourage them to go above and beyond are all the more valuable. One way administrators could mitigate educator burnout under more active models is by working with local organizations and businesses for assistance in the planning and execution of student projects, providing educators with additional support as they take on a new approach.
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