The Magic of Project-Based Learning

I have solved the mystery. I have cracked the code. Eurkea! I have figured it out: I have finally witnessed the phenomenon of students getting excited about learning!

What is the secret, you ask? Well, I must say, it is so simple. So simple, in fact, I can sum it up in various 3-word explanations:

Hands-on experiments.

Giving students options.

Project-based learning.

During the past 3 weeks, I have been teaching a STEAM curriculum that is solely taught using Project-Based Learning (PBL). We’ve only taught one unit so far, but I can already tell that the PBL-style learning is going to have a huge impact on these students.

Learning is an active process. Students must be engaged during their time in class and the best way to ensure they’re actively learning is by giving them opportunities to problem solve, collaborate with their peers, experiment, and reflect. In the past 3 weeks, our students have spent approximately 75% of their time collaborating with their peers, as well as working on hands-on activities. The remainder of that time has been spent utilizing technology and reflecting on what they have learned (writing an online blog).

Students reflect on their experiments in an online blog format. Teachers can read blogs to ensure student learning took place and observe students’ insights.

Students want to learn while having the opportunity to be creative. This was very evident in our first PBL unit: The Egg Drop. We gave our students the opportunity design any unique device imaginable (from a variety of available materials), and then build it. Students were pretty excited to be given the freedom of choices and the ability to design their own devices using only their imagination. Then, they dropped their first egg in our school’s 2-story stairwell. That was fun. But they became even more excited when they found out the next step was to improve their egg-drop device and drop it out of a two-story window! Now, with some experience under their belt, they realized they could truly soar. And they did.

What was the percentage of students who failed this unit? 0% across the board. What was the percentage of total time spent off task? Less than 5% across the board. What was the percentage increase of student motivation to learn, improve, and reflect on this project? 100% in every class, every day.

I can’t believe it has taken me over 5 years to figure out this secret, but I’m happy I finally discovered it, and I can share it with my peers. Hopefully you can teach your students using PBL units this year. Please let me know what you think!

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