Reflections on project based learning

In my article review this week, I was looking for something that could help me refine my unit. I was searching for a method or model to help me structure meaningful, cohesive, and manageable lessons that would involve distance learning with a solid pedagogical approach. In one of my recent readings, I noticed a reference to project based learning being ideal for realistic, thought-provoking problems. My unit idea centers around the real world problem of water waste/pollution, so I explored the concept further this week.

The more information I discovered about project based learning, the more I felt I had found a valuable resource. Project based learning is grounded in some of the following elements.
real world experiences
collaboration with peers, teachers, and professionals
role playing in the learning process
student voice
multiple methods of communication and delivery
use of storytelling
Reflecting on these elements as they might relate to my unit of instruction evoked a few ideas to incorporate in lesson delivery, assessment, and structure. I began to ask myself how I could involve elements of storytelling or how role playing could assist in the pedagogical structure. At this point, I am not going to lie, I started panicking a little about the digital component. However, I have been able to brain storm a few digital tools (Skype, iMovie, Google, Camtasia..) that could be used to support and enhance the delivery of this unit.

The one element of project based learning that drew the most of my attention was the use of storytelling. A quote from one of Jason Ohler’s recent Keynotes states “Story – the most effective information container humanity has ever created.” (Keynote 2015)!about2/cj88 This quote resonates with me because when I think about it, I am astonished by how much my children have learned through story. We have spent hours and hours reading stories. I have spent hours and hours telling them stories real and make believe. When I they ask questions, my answers often include a story. Reflecting on how story has impacted my own children and their learning makes me want to focus on making stories a part of my unit. Here are a few of my brainstorms:
telling a story and having students role play and create simple props
student created public service announcement for water conservation
the creation of a digital story students will view as a lesson before arriving to the store
using a story to impart the cumulative effect of pollution along a watershed

I still feel I am at the drawing board with some of my lessons. Continued research and collaborating with Kim has really helped me iron out some of my thinking. Kim and I discussed our lesson ideas and she was extremely helpful in providing suggestions, identifying some holes (like vocabulary instruction) and knowledge of digital resources. It was time well spent this week. Thanks for the help, Kim.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on project based learning

  1. Us folks over in the humanities and liberal arts, especially in English, have been talking about narrative education for some time. If you do a search for ‘using narrative in education’, I think you’ll find some really interesting things. It’s all very tied to Vygotsky’s theories about learning development and I think it makes a lot of sense in historical and scientific contexts. Some people seem to scoff at this approach at the higher levels, and that can be a potential issue. Upset parents who think their children aren’t being challenged, and the like. It’s the most natural form of human communication – our brains naturally code narratives from nothing – so it’s surprising to see it’s not more widespread.

  2. Hey Craig,

    I see now the seed as manifest in your draft plan.

    I concur with Nicholas, and I concur with your reasoning. I’m a huge fan of narrative, in fact, narrative lies at the core of games and gamification in general. We suspend just enough disbelief to buy into the notion that we’re “winning” or “succeeding” at the game we’re playing, which is really usually just a model of some kind, or a much smaller or reduced universe of the content in a particular discipline.

    I like how your ideas transferred into the story driven exercise at the beginning of your unit. I am wondering how you might tie the whole theme together with a narrative thread? This follows a bit on my comments directly on your draft as well. Stories and characters obviously really help learners connect to concepts and systems.

    A movie I once watched about the circulation system comes to mind. I think it was called, “Hemo the Magnificent”… same idea.

    Anyway… I’m a fan of narrative in courses and in education more generally – but I’m even a stronger supporter of role play – putting learners in various roles (knowledge holder, or ignorant actor) can both be amazing.

    Fun stuff!


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