Project-based learning enhances and accelerates curriculum in this classroom
If you’re doing it right, most project-based learning will hit every area of the curriculum, whether it’s social studies, math, reading, or even technology. Any part of the curriculum can shine whenever kids are taking a hands-on approach to learning, because they’re not just sitting at a desk listening to you preach it. They’re the ones doing it themselves, which means they’re kind of assuming that role of the teacher.
For much of my 13 years as an educator, I was in a traditional classroom. But for the past two years I’ve really started to incorporate PBL into my fourth- and fifth-grade gifted students. I teach an enrichment class one day a week, where we accelerate and enhance the curriculum. When I was a regular ed teacher it was a little harder, because you have the mandate of the curriculum. But being the gifted teacher allows me to have project-based learning for pretty much everything I do. The kids really get to take control, and dive deep into these projects, which can last up to an entire semester.
I have some guidelines that I set up at the beginning of each unit, but I try to let the students take control and steer it in the direction they want to go in. This year we did a huge unit on inventions. We read books on the subject and students researched an invention that interested them. As a class, we started by looking at different catapults, and students took them apart and put them together, just to give them an idea of how things work. Then they set about making an invention of their own. I told them I didn’t care what it was, but it had to be something that had not been invented yet. At the end, they created a multimedia project and presented their invention to the class.
My students wanted to make their own inventions, but they weren’t working in isolation—most of it was teamwork. In reality, perhaps 20 percent of their time was individualized throughout the whole project. A lot of the time they were asking for feedback: “Hey, I can’t get this to work. Can you help me?” “What do you think about this?” It’s a loud classroom, but it’s work being done whenever you come in.