Article published on Education HQ, August 2017 (link to article).
I remember a project in Year 11 in which I worked with peers and a local primary school to write, direct and film an anti-bullying video. The memory of this experience is still vivid to me 15 years on.
As a high school teacher with almost a decade of experience, I value the power of utilising Project Based Learning (PBL), such as the anti-bullying project, to dynamically engage students in a meaningful and memorable way.
Instead of teacher-directed lectures and dessert projects, ones that come after the learning, I was engaged because the learning was embedded in the project.
Learning took place throughout the activities involved in writing, directing and filming. John Larmer and John R. Mergendoller propose that PBL creates a main course project, one in which students’ learning culminates through the experience of mobilising a project.
Importantly, according to Larmer and Mergendoller, PBL incites students to solve real world problems by being given real-world problems to solve.
And, by guiding while giving the reigns over to the students, PBL requires teachers to take risks, be flexible, and trust the process.
So, where to start? First you need a driving question. I call this starting with the heart, or, what the Buck Institute of Education describes as a “meaningful problem to solve or question to answer.”
For my Year 11 English communication class, we asked: “How can we make a positive difference in the lives of homeless youth in Brisbane?”
Then you will need an entry event, an experience which fires up students’ curiosity.
This could be an excursion, guest speaker, a video, and so on. For our project, we watched the documentary The Oasis, which presents a confronting insight into Sydney’s busiest youth homeless shelter.
The topic of youth homelessness went straight to the heart of my students, and for some, involved issues they could relate to.
Finally, the students begin to work on the project. To tackle youth homelessness in Brisbane, my students designed and implemented a donations campaign within and beyond our school community, with the aim of collecting items for a local youth centre.
Students researched, used social media, created websites, did public speaking, and managed the donations as they flooded in.
The project kept my students busy and engaged during every lesson.
For an entire term, the students’ learning grew cumulatively from an interest in the topic to the creation of a tangible outcome, in the form of countless donations from the community.
This year, I had a student say, “Hey Miss, remember when we did that homelessness project? That was cool!” This confirms the power of PBL to make learning memorable.