Project-based learning does work!

Students engage in a reading activity to introduce them to the vocabulary and the life-cycle of a star. Later a kinesthetic activity places all the students in the center of the classroom acting first as particles of dust and then hydrogen and helium atoms following the sequence a star’s life-cycle. A quiz reveals that the students are beginning to learn the concepts but I wonder if they'llmaster the standards if they immerse themselves in a project.

When introduced to the written guidelines and a detailed rubric the students actually seem excited about the activity. Autonomy is provided and they are thrilled to put their individual touch on the enterprise. They ask all sorts of questions and it is clear that the imaginations are already fully active.

As the due date approaches, the boards and posters start floating into the classroom. Colored foam balls representing different stages of a star’s life cycle or the structure of the sun complete the required 3-D component of the project. The creativity is abundant and the students are clearly proud of their work. I'm genuinely impressed with the diversity in approach and the individuality expressed by each piece of work.

We go through the rubric carefully one more time together and I have the students make a list of what they are still missing from their projects. They take their list home and bring back the final touches the next class period. Then I mark the rubric and allow them one more chance in class to add to their work based on my markings. Finally, nearly every project is complete and demonstrates mastery of the standards.

A colleague suggests giving the students a pop quiz with the same content as their previous quiz to determine whether the students have made progress in learning. The improvement is astounding, the average shifting from 60% to 73%.  As we continue on with the unit the students are able to maintain discussions using the proper vocabulary regarding. It appears that Vanessa Vega’s words ring true, “project-based learning (PBL) can increase retention of content and improve students' attitudes towards learning...

I’ve always known the value of hands-on, project-based learning but it’s nice to have the evidence!

Vega, Vanessa. "Project-Based Learning Research Review." Edutopia. Edutopia, 3 Dec. 2012. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.