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Blog
Project Based Learning
Project Based Learning (PBL) is a great way to teach students content, 21st century skills, and engage them in something fun and educational. I spoke more about PBL in an earlier blog (http://www.techlearning.com/blogs_ektid17052.aspx) and we had some great reader comments (Tech&Learning, May 2009, page 14). Today I'd like to give some tips and ideas on how to get started with PBL in your classroom.

First of all, PBL can be used in any classroom, in any subject, at any grade level. Projects can be one class period, or take weeks to complete. Projects can address one curriculum item, or many. It all depends on how you want to implement it and how comfortable it is for you.

PBL does take planning. You need to look at your curriculum and the objectives you want to accomplish and then plan a project that will lead your students to reach these objectives.

For instance, I teach physics and developed a project for my classes on structures and stress and strain. The project started with a very short lecture on the topics of stress and strain and the physics behind it. Then the students completed a webQuest about stress and strain that lead them to information about bridges and bridge design. From here, they used bridge design software from West Point to design a bridge that would meet certain requirements I set up. The final step was to build a model of their bridge and see if it would hold the weight. Each group was competing to see who's bridge would hold the most weight. During this project, students learned about stress and strain, structures, applications of physics to real life, web searching, team work, communications, design, and model building.

Another example of PBL is having the students research a topic and present it to the rest of the class through a multimedia presentation, website, or poster. Each topic should be an extension of something you just did in class. In this way, the students teach each other. They will also learn their topic more in depth when they have to be able to explain it to others.

Start small. Think of a lesson you teach and think of a way that the students could do a project to learn that topic instead of sitting in class listening to you talk about it. Try out a one class period project before moving on to a large scale project. Search the internet for examples of projects and adapt them for your class. An internet search of "Project Based Learning" will get a huge list of results for you. I also suggest searching for "WebQuests", "Problem based learning" and "Projects" with your classes subject and grade.

Another idea for projects is to look at your school or community and see what they need. Art students could research the history of the school and create a wall mural. English students could write a history of the school, or help other groups write letters to lawmakers to get an issue addressed. Music students could write an updated version of the school song, or even a new one. Tech Ed students could build wheelchair ramps, furniture, or other items needed in the community. Biology students could study water quality in a stream nearby or research animal or plant life.

An idea I got from my wife (a Biology Education student) is to have students create a lesson for other students about a topic. I am planning on using this with my AP Physics students after AP testing this month. They are going to create a physics help guide for the honors physics class. Next year, I'm going to have the honors physics class create a help guide for the general physics class. The students will learn their content better and provide a great resource for fellow students.

PBL offers teachers a new way to have their students learn content as well as 21st century skills. The students can have fun while learning, and even provide a service for others as part of the project. Be creative and have fun with PBL.
Important Skills Students Need for the Future that we need to help them learn
Back in January of 2012, I published a post entitled "10 Important Skills Students need for the Future" in which I described what I, and other research, felt were the 10 most important skills for students to learn.

The list:
  • Sense-making. The ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed
  • Social intelligence. The ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions
  • Novel and adaptive thinking. Proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based
  • Cross-cultural competency. The ability to operate in different cultural settings
  • Computational thinking. The ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning
  • New-media literacy. The ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms and to leverage these media for persuasive communication
  • Transdisciplinarity. Literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines
  • Design mind-set. Ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes
  • Cognitive load management. The ability to discriminate and filter information for importance and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques
  • Virtual collaboration. The ability to work productively, drive engagement and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team
I also posted this list this past January that came from employers:
  • Problem Solving Skills
  • Positive Thinking
  • Creative/Innovative
  • Multi-tasking
  • Initiative
  • Cultural Sensitivity
  • Accepting Responsibility
  • Team Working
  • Empathy
  • Communication
  • Time Management
  • Professional Manners
Edudemic has released a list of the 8 Skills Students Must Have for the Future. The article also has some tips for teaching these skills. 
  • Leadership
  • Digital Literacy
  • Communication
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Entrepeurship
  • Global Citizenship
  • Problem Solving
  • Team Working
Most of these lists cross over with each other, but are all important. Project Based Learning can help students develop skills such as team work, communications, problem solving, creativity, etc, while technology can also help by providing students with new opportunities to communicate, learn with others, and be creative.
10 Important Skills Students need for the Future

The future. What do our students really need to know and be able to do to succeed in future education and careers?

Content is a part of what they need to know. Standardized tests test content knowledge and some skills. There are huge debates raging over standardized testing, curriculum, and the like. But what it is that students really need to know for the future. Hint: it isn't all content. 

Content is important to a point. Having certain knowledge of facts and information helps us put things in context as we work and live. Content helps us evaluate other information we are working with. However, in today's world of the web and smart phones, facts and content are less important. Students, and the workforce, need to know how to think critically, find and evaluate information, work in teams, communicate effectively, solve problems and apply knowledge and skills to new things and be able to learn on their own. These are some of the "21st Century Skills" that have been talked about for years. I agree that these are the most important skills and I feel that Project Based Learning is one of the best ways to teach these skills. 

I learned many of these skills in college because even 20 years ago, my school, WPI, understood these ideas. The WPI Plan is an excellent model of project based learning, core competencies, and needed skills. This base has allowed me to be successful as an engineer, and successfully transition to being an educator. It has also helped me to learn on my own.

Research by the Institute for the Future released in a report entitled “Future Work Skills 2020″ shows that preparing for a specific career area based on content is difficult and, instead, people should be developing certain broad skills. These same skills are important for our students to learn. The report explains each of the skills in detail, and also goes into the implications for education and policies. 

Here are the skills:

Sense-making. The ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed

Social intelligence. The ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions

Novel and adaptive thinking. Proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based

Cross-cultural competency. The ability to operate in different cultural settings

Computational thinking. The ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning

New-media literacy. The ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms and to leverage these media for persuasive communication

Transdisciplinarity. Literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines

Design mind-set
. Ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes

Cognitive load management. The ability to discriminate and filter information for importance and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques

Virtual collaboration. The ability to work productively, drive engagement and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team

 

How to Choose the Right Career for You

If you are not sure about the job career that is best for you, or you understood the job you currently do is not right for you and you want to change it, but you don’t know what to change it to, there are a few things that can help you find the right answer.

 

   Look around to find inspiration - Check out what today's job market is asking for by looking for job vacancies online from various sources including Internet, newspapers and job boards. It could help you find professions you never thought of, spark ideas, give you hints. While you're at it, don't forget to pay close attention to the most required skills and knowledge such as computer use, languages, etc. in which you should invest to become a high-quality professional.

 

   Consider your natural talents - Speaking of skills, consider that every person can do two different kinds of jobs: that for which they studied, and that for which they are naturally talented. So if you have any particular attitude towards some profession, or a passion or hobby that you never tried to turn into a job, this could be the right moment for you to do so. Don’t be afraid to try completely new things or take risks: it’s the only way to success and satisfaction.

 

   Keep in mind the lifestyle you want - Our job determines our lifestyle. So make sure to choose something that doesn’t go against the lifestyle you wish for, or you might end up stressed or frustrated and consequentially not very performing in what you do. Of course, some sacrifices are always required, however try to find a career path that satisfies both you needs and your desires.

 

   Look for advice - Don’t just be open to advice: actually look for it. Talk to friends and family members who know you well, they might give you new points of view, open new possibilities to your eyes, help you understand if you are making the right choice. Look for people who are in jobs that you consider desirable and that you think you would like to do as well: they will surely make you see the bad side too, helping you realize if that’s what you want to go for.

 

   Ask yourself questions - Challenge yourself with unusual questions and be honest with your answer. For example, if you could trade jobs with one of your friends, which one would that be and why? Is money and material richness important to you? What would you major in if you could go back to school tomorrow? Would you go back to school tomorrow in the first place? There are also some career tests you can take online in order to give you a hand in choosing the right career for you, which is not decisive (clearly you're the one with the final word on it), but in a moment of doubt it can help you clear your mind.

 

Credit: Angela Sarpong

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