How much do you remember of what you learned at school? What happened with all those facts, dates, information and formulas you had to memorise for the test? And what can we say about the hours we spent doing homework? The answer to these questions if probably “not much” or even, “nothing”. As we sat through endless, sleepy lectures about who-knows-what, we were under the impression that information didn’t really concern us, that it had NOTHING to do with our lives. And it is probably this disconnect between real life and the content of these lessons that made it difficult, if not impossible, to remember anything at all past the day of the test.
However, it is not all bad news. We do tend to remember things we actually DID. We remember experiences, moments that made a difference in our lives. We remember things that were related with our real life, skills that often make us the person we are today.
Teachers face the challenge of finding the way to make learning meaningful so that it will become a part of their students’ lives. They have to find a way to balance a curriculum with the need to provide experiences that will result in an in-depth understanding of the information that children must acquire. And more importantly, teachers have the responsibility of guiding and forming the citizens of tomorrow: their students need more than content mastery to succeed in the 21st century—they need to be physically, emotionally, and socially healthy; they need to be intellectually challenged and supported by caring adults; and they need to be interested and engaged in their school learning. This is quite a tall order!
One option is to engage in Project based learning: an in-depth investigation of a real-world topic worthy of a student’s attention and effort. Teaching and learning become interactive processes that make students feel highly motivated and actively involved in their own learning, leading them to produce high-quality work and to grow as individuals and collaborators. A proper child-centred approach that requires critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity. Children follow their interests and work at their own pace.
Projects, like good stories, have a beginning, middle, and end. It all starts off by determining what it is that the children would like to learn more about. They select a topic that interests them within the curriculum. Next, the group brainstorms and represents their previous knowledge and ideas about it in the form of a web. This web becomes the central part of the project process, as it serves as a base for further sharing what they think they know about the topic and begin to formulate a set of questions that they would like to answer.
Children use the resources available to conduct their investigations, such as authentic objects, books, magazines, video clips, web sites, and other research materials. Children and teachers think of ways for them to represent what they are learning, such as 3D constructions, drawings, time lines, writing and more. Little by little, the children find answers to many of their questions and put into practise many of the skills we are aiming to foster in our children. But the most noticeable aspect of Project work is the environment that can be sensed in the class. Busy children that are learning with an evident sense of purpose, happy to feel that what they are doing is actually meaningful and interesting.
The last phase of Project work occurs when children share their learnings with the community. Students spend time preparing for the event and selecting appropriate materials and displays. Teachers help students in this planning process, and, in doing so, involve them purposefully in reviewing and evaluating the whole project. Teachers also offer students imaginative ways of personalizing their new knowledge as well as opportunities to apply their skills to real life situations. The outcome: children who are proud of their work that show their parents, teachers and peers, children that feel empowered and confident communicators that see how teamwork has positive results. And finally, teachers who see how important it is to create opportunities and environments that display the work in an aesthetic, clear way for parents and children to enjoy.