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Why So Many Projects?

November 25, 2019
By Julie Yetter

Why so many projects?

Here at CCS, it seems like you see projects and academic fairs going on all of the time!  Yes, you do.  Why?  Projects, project based learning and academic fairs give students an opportunity to be immersed in a real world topic, while at the same time practicing many interdisciplinary competencies, and developing higher order thinking skills and presentation skills.  There is nothing else like it.

We begin in 1st/2nd grade with a camping project that covers science, social studies and math or pioneer days which incorporates history, science, and English, and an animal habitat project that involves science and English.  In addition, these first graders practice writing, speaking publically extemporaneously, memorization, and creating attractive presentation boards.  These same types of skills are engaged year after year for larger and larger venues.

Project Based Learning (PBL) is actually a formal teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects.  The definition according to PBLworks.org states that PBL is a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects. In PBL, teachers make learning come alive for students.

How is PBL different from “doing a project”?

PBL has become more and more widely used because of the many benefits it provides and there are many ways to structure it.  However, there are key characteristics that differentiate "doing a project" from engaging in rigorous Project Based Learning.  We practice both here at CCS

Doing a simple project can often be a culminating assessment of topics that were covered thoroughly in a unit from a test book and reinforced by teach led instruction.  This might look like constructing a model of a cell using edible parts.  We do these simple type projects throughout the grades here at CCS.  However, this is not project based learning.  For distinction, a simple project, such as the one just described, is “a short, intellectually-light project served up after the teacher covers the content of a unit in the usual way - from a "main course" project, in which the project is the unit. In Project Based Learning, the project is the vehicle for teaching the important knowledge and skills student need to learn. The project contains and frames curriculum and instruction” (PBLworks).

Here at CCS the 5th grade soup project, the 6th grade world’s fair, First Lego League, the science fair, change for the world, and senior project are all founded upon PBL.  These require critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication. They seek to answer a Driving Question and create high-quality work, and students need to do much more than recite memorized answers on a multiple choice test. They need to use higher-order thinking skills and often need to learn to work as a team.

Because students begin using PBL early here at CCS, by the time they graduate they are remarkable thinkers, researchers, communicators, and presenters.  Graduates regularly return to express their appreciation for this education and share with us glowing reports from professors, bosses, and co-workers.  It is something we are very proud of.

The Challenges of PBL

PBL does come with some challenges.  Scaffolding instructions at different age groups with differing learning styles and academic levels can be a strength of PBL, since there can be allowances for uniqueness’s to individual student’s projects, but it is also a challenge to structure the overall project in a manner that meets those needs.  Like any teaching method, some students love the freedom, individuality and sense of ownership they can have with their project.  Others feel intimidated and have a hard time with different components of bringing the project together.  Sometimes, students feel so uncomfortable they have a difficult time even forming their confusion into questions to ask a teacher and become overwhelmed.  This can end up coming out at home, rather than in the classroom where their teacher can guide them through the process step by step.  In PBL teachers rarely “give the answer”, rather they ask the questions, because thinking through the questions is what leads students to an answer that they can own and carry forward.

We appreciate that these challenges can create frustration at times at home.  We desire to communicate with parents throughout the process of these activities, and clarify information throughout the process.  We recognize that parents are often part of the project, providing oversight for safety, coordination for team members to meet, and collecting materials.  We do not desire, nor expect parents to be members of the project team with their child.  The work of PBL must be done by the students, this in itself can present temptation to do too much or answer questions they really need to get answered with their team or teachers.

If you, as a parent, have questions please contact your child’s teacher through email.  Email, rather than texts, dojo, or even calling, presents the best opportunity for clarity that can be referred back to again and again.  We desire that these projects be engaging, memorable and even fun learning experiences.

For More Information

If you are interested in learning more about PBL this website is a great start:  https://www.pblworks.org/what-is-pbl

I am also happy to discuss teaching methods here at CCS and give you additional research or literature on our varied approaches to learning.  Contact me anytime.