I don’t agree with everything this chart asserts, but it’s a great point: Doing projects in the classroom doesn’t mean you’re taking a problem-based learning approach to the curriculum.
If you aren’t familiar with the tenets of problem-based learning (PBL), this is a great basic resource:
Students Thrive on Cooperation and Problem Solving
Students *want* to work on REAL problems and “things that actually matter.” Even those times when you have to grind away at some basic core knowledge before they can rush off into “the good stuff” go down better when students know the teacher has something meaningful, interesting, and challenging in her back pocket.
Higher ed, you’re on notice too. Lectures are no better for 19 year olds than they are for 14 year olds or 8 year olds. You don’t get a free pass for boredom, disengagement, and information transfer when education theory is pounding away the idea that real learning demands real experiences with actual problems.
Where to start?
- Be brave. You don’t have to transform the entire curriculum. Try a single unit for one class.
- Google it. Really. The best ideas are all stolen (or adaptations of other people’s good ideas) so get out there and read for inspiration.
- Find a partner. PBL is easier when it’s integrated across discplines.
- Don’t force it — counting widgets doesn’t count as math integration or meaningful problem solving. Relax. Integrate what you can.
- Go local. One of my favorite PBL examples came from the book The Parallel Curriculum, in which the author describes a 5th grade classroom who created a brochure for their county’s history museum. The kids noticed the gap, the museum was eager to have help, and the teacher spotted a great opportunity for kids to tackle a reasonable, realistic, local problem — and solve it!