Here are a few reasons I believe this model works so well with students.
- Project-based learning is relevant to students. In Johnsonville, students explore issues like buying a home, paying rent, starting a business, and managing finances. Students see adults face these same issues and can relate what happens in Johnsonville to the real world. Relevancy makes each lesson memorable, meaning students are more likely to remember the overall concept of a lesson as opposed to memorizing facts for a test.
- It encourages collaboration. Desks are designed for individual students—which is why I don’t have any. In my classroom you will only find tables, collaboration bars, and sofas that are perfect places for students to think creatively and problem-solve. It is important that students take an active part in their own learning and are able to solve problems using what they know and have learned. By using critical thinking skills to collaborate and complete performance-based lessons, my students are fully engaged throughout the entire school year.
- Students are in control. Other teachers trying PBL often tell me, “my kids can’t do it” or “it’s a lot of work.” I think the real issue here is teachers not wanting to give up control of their classrooms. PBL gives me the freedom to facilitate and encourage critical thinking. Additionally, I find students work better when the teacher isn’t hovering over them. PBL promotes students to think creatively and build the 21st-century skills they need to be successful in today’s job market.
- Students are using pre-built, credible, standards-aligned curriculum. I have discovered Defined STEM is a great tool to help me create relevant lessons I can incorporate into Johnsonville. The supplementary curriculum provides students with research resources, videos, and project prompts that encourage students to think outside the box and put them in real-world situations.
On test scores
The state of North Carolina does not test students on collaboration and citizenship, but does consider critical thinking a key ability. I’ve discovered the best way to test student’s critical thinking skills is through project-based learning. In addition to working in the realm of Johnsonville, students complete at least one project a month to show what they’ve learned in a real-world situation.
North Carolina State testing shows that my PBL model improves student scores. At the end of the 2016 school year, my fifth-grade students scored an average of 85 percent on the state science exam, while my school as a whole scored 58 percent. It’s not a leap to suggest the focus on PBL and hands-on learning was the catalyst for this major boost.
It’s important to remember that every child is different and learns differently. Relating classroom lessons to real life helps students at any level connect with the content and interpret it in a way they are able to understand. When students become part of their own learning, they take pride in their education and become more engaged. PBL not only keeps students busy, but it allows each one to show what they’ve learned in a creative, supportive, and collaborative environment.
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