Thursday, November 4, 2010

Project-Based Learning

Project-Based Learning supports 21st century skills in the way that it values critical thinking, interdisciplinary learning and collaboration. The world is no longer structured (as Ken Robinson points out) according to the industrial model, which emphasized linear processes and uniformity of disciplines. The world of work has changed drastically (in large part because of technology). Students need to be able to think and communicate creatively. Additionally, it is increasingly likely that the students of today will have more than one career. As such, they must be adept at navigating within several different vocational fields, which will require that they transfer existing skill sets to novel environments. Moreover, in many work environments, collaboration with peers and effective presentation and communication skills are essential. Project-based learning often encompasses all of the above.

In a Language Arts/English classroom, while working through a unit on American Literature, I might engage students in a project about American culture. I would ask the students to brainstorm a list of American cultural ideas/values present in the works we have read. (Examples could include: self-reliance, independence, manifest destiny, democracy, materialism, progress, etc.) Based on topic preference, I would divide them into small groups. In their groups they would explore the cultural value/idea as it is presented in texts read in class and then they would be asked to find examples of the idea in contemporary American culture (politics, pop culture, advertising). They would conduct research, utilizing google docs and social bookmarking tools to foster collaboration. The project would culminate in a final presentation to the class in which they chart a “history” of their value/idea from the texts read in class to present day. They would have a choice of presenting their work with the assistance of technology such as a Prezi presentation, a podcast (in the vein of an NPR style piece of radio journalism), a video, etc.

This project would support peer collaboration and the use of new technologies. Students would be asked to utilize both print-based literacy and traditional tools for analyzing literature while also being asked to develop new literacies as they examined contemporary culture (advertising, political branding, music videos, etc.). Their final presentation would help to hone both technology and communication skills. Additionally, they would see how the critical thinking skills used in analyzing English literature aid them in investigating the contemporary world. This project would help them to understand the nature of persuasion and propaganda. As such, they would learn how to investigate the world to make real decisions, such as political and consumer choices.

Obviously this is a large and involved project and there could be many pitfalls along the way. It might be difficult to keep students on task, especially since the project has multiple components and requirements. It would also involve a lot of time, which might be hard to squeeze in with all other curriculum requirements. Lastly, the technology aspects would be dictated by the resources available in your school as well as what the students have access to at home.


  1. Wow, you can definitely tell that you are an English person! Your thoughts are so eloquent and hit the nail on the head every time.
    I would like to agree with your statement that collaboration with others and effective communication skills are essential in today's world of education. We must possess the essential skills necessary in order to survive in different environments.
    The project you would assign for an English/Language Arts classroom is an excellent example of Project-Based Learning. Students have the ability to explore the idea of American culture allowing them to make meaning of such a topic. Great idea!

  2. God, Katie! This is such a great idea! I also enjoyed reading your succinct and clear explanation of project based learning and the need for moving away (running away fast??!) from the industrial model of education.