To what extent does project based learning (PBL) enhance student motivation, engagement, and success? Does PBL allow for authentic assessment?
My PSIII placement at St. Francis Junior High was centred on Project Based Learning (PBL), so it was through this lens that I created my Humanities 8 unit plans, activities, and assessment tools. My classes were all set up on Google Classroom, which allowed for transparent communication with students, assignment drop boxes and the ability to upload resources and documents, all which contributed to an integrated and meaningful use of technology. With PBL and Google Classroom in mind, I wanted to create comprehensive and detailed project documents that students could follow independently. I felt it was important to incorporate student interest, technology, and creativity into the projects I created so that students would not only be engaged in what they were doing, but also motivated and excited.
I created numerous projects for both the Renaissance and our novel study, categorized by the six language strands into 3 groups: Reading and Writing, Listening and Speaking, and Viewing and Representing. There were 6-8 projects for each category, per unit. Each project document contained a description that emphasized the main idea and overarching or essential question, a connection to Specific Learner Outcomes in the Curriculum (SLOs), detailed steps to follow to ensure student success, and exemplars and resources students could access independently. From a list, students would choose which project they wanted to do, and I would fill out a checklist form that kept track of all of their projects. They had to complete 1 project from each category for both the Renaissance and for our novel study, resulting in 6 projects total. All Reading and Writing projects had to be done independently, however the Listening and Speaking, and Viewing and Representing projects could be done in pairs or small groups. Students had the option to do a "Voice and Choice" project where they submitted a project proposal of their own design, acceptable as long as they proved it met the requirements. Every student was also required to submit an accompanying written rationale in which they connected their project to the 7 elements of worldview, made personal connections to the Renaissance or their novel, and discussed how the worldview of the Renaissance (or alternatively, what factors of the novel) have contributed to both our worldview today and their personal worldview.
Using Google Classroom allowed for the students to create each project in Google Docs, Google Slides, or other Google Products. The students were given roughly 1 week for each project, and a consistent schedule and routine was quickly established. I conferenced with each student every Wednesday, and additionally as required. There was a sign-up list on the board every class where students could write their name if they required 1:1 assistance.
The use of Chromebooks and Google Classroom allowed for effective formative assessment because I could view their project documents in real time. Each project was marked summatively according to two rubrics: one for social studies content, and one for ELA content (3 different ELA rubrics for the 3 categories), for a grand total of 40 marks (20 from each). Google Classroom also allows for comprehensive and efficient comments and feedback from the teacher because I could simply highlight and comment in the students' Google Docs themselves. This allowed for transparent communication and assessment to students and parents. Once marked, I return the assignment with a mark to the students where they are then notified electronically. Google Classroom also allowed for the students to leave private comments for me on their projects, or to comment to their friends if they had a question or comment. The use of Google Classroom with PBL allowed for very successful, engaged, independent learning because the students could work on their device in a manner that worked best for them.
This project greatly affected my personal teaching and I feel impassioned about PBL. I have never witnessed such engagement and motivation from students! Every time I gave a mini lesson or specified some differentiated instruction, it was as if the students couldn't wait for me to be quiet and stop talking so they could get to work. I witnessed students on Individualized Service Plans create infomercials for Renaissance inventions that showed a deep and authentic understanding of how the Renaissance has shaped our worldview today; these same students most likely would have done poorly on a standardized test of the content. This project on PBL shaped my vision of HOW students can learn and HOW I can teach because it was completely student-centred. I believe students were so motivated and engaged because they had CHOICE. I also saw students gain confidence in areas of the language arts where they may have previously struggled (speaking aloud for example, or representing an abstract idea, etc.) because they were able to showcase this strand in THEIR own way. The addition of written rationales also allowed students to prove how their project demonstrates a specific element of worldview or SLO, and allows for meaningful personal connection to the content.
One of the most enlightening aspects of this project was witnessing students learn skills that are beyond knowledge-based outcomes, such as collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, working with others, creating a plan and following through, time management, etc. These skills are all competencies that 21st century learners of today need to have. I hope that I can have a PBL classroom in the future because I watched it transform a group of young people into independent thinkers, creators, inventors, and problem solvers, who not only became creative and critical in both approach and process, but did so through collaborating with others and pushing their own potential.
DeAndra is currently finishing her PSIII Internship at St. Francis Junior High in Lethbridge and will be finishing her BEd this December. She holds a BFA from Simon Fraser University. When she is not teaching school or dance she enjoys practicing yoga, perfecting her nacho recipe, and learning the newest dance craze!