Adapted from an article written by Richard Parker, OCT, Google Certified Educator, Halton District School Board
Project-Based Learning (PBL) is “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge” (Buck Institute for Education, n.d.).
PBL brings authenticity to learning in that the problem is easily connected to the world outside of the classroom, and students are challenged to collaborate, communicate, and think critically as they approach the problem. These skills are directly connected to Ontario Curriculum requirements. Embedded in any good project are a solid set of language-based skills (e.g. research, writing a paper, putting together a presentation, etc.), as well as any other subject-related expectations that you choose to include (Math, Geography, History, etc.).
PBL can be easily integrated into distance learning, and most parents will find that they have the tools needed already at home. PBL is also a way to keep your child working steadily over a longer period of time with less direct oversight on your part. Your child can develop independent research and work skills while delving deeper into topics through genuine curiosity.
In an ever-changing world, filled with technology and seemingly instantaneous answers to everything via a web-based search, educators (and parents) sometimes feel they are struggling to keep students engaged. Educators that have adopted PBL into their classrooms have found a higher level of participation and engagement, and in some cases, increased scores on standardized testing. For example, Stanford conducted a three-year study in California that demonstrated that when using PBL, “...students took more active roles...work was seen as more interesting and worthwhile...and students paid more attention to their peers and teacher” (Terada, 2018).
Multiple Skills and Subjects
Project-Based Learning allows educators and parents to cover multiple subject areas or curriculum strands with the same project. For example, in the sample project below (Figure 1), grade-5 math students cover expectations including number sense, measurement, graphing, reading, writing, social sciences, and art.
Another key benefit of using PBL is that it is easy to differentiate the project for students with LDs, who may require accommodations or modifications. Click here to read more about how differentiation can help students with LDs meet their learning goals while they learn at home.
|Sample At-Home Project|
|Task: Students are allotted $15,000.00 to plan their “Dream Vacation”
Timing notes: 1 week – 1 month
The timing depends on which strands you choose to spiral into your project, and how in-depth you plan to go. If you have a child that needs short, quick projects, then you could omit some math strands and reduce the literacy expectations.
The fantastic thing about this is that your child can work on math outside of the “math class”. During a given period, your child can choose which component of the project to work on. For example, after a mini-lesson on elapsed time, they may choose to work on that component of the project.
|Student Instructions||Parent Notes|
|Overview: You just won $15,000.00 to be used to plan your dream vacation! In this project, you will research and plan your vacation, and then present your itinerary and budget to you.||This project can be made more or less complex, depending on the curriculum connections you are trying to accomplish.|
For students with executive function challenges, provide one step at a time. Set a deadline for each step and co-create a schedule to complete it by the deadline. Provide students with descriptive feedback at each step.
If needed, provide manipulatives or virtual manipulatives to help them with the calculations.
If your child struggles with math, consider reducing the overall budget or providing a list of prices that are easier to work with (e.g., $25, $50, $75) This will reduce the effort of researching and recording prices as well as reducing the challenge of calculating with decimal numbers.
Consider providing links to videos about some destinations to reduce the amount of reading required in the research process.
Provide explicit instruction on the skills required to complete each step (e.g, how to use Mindomo or other graphic organizers; how to use Excel or Google Sheets; how to use Google Maps to determine time and distance between destinations; how to convert units; etc.). Explicit instruction involves showing a student a new skill, then practicing the skill with the student, before letting the student practice independently (think of it as: I do, we do, you do).
Give students a choice for their final product (e.g., oral presentation, written report, video, podcast, etc.)
|Step 5: Extension Questions
Additional Project Ideas:
City Planning – Math/Literacy
- Create and build a city using geometric shapes
- Explain (orally) some building and planning choices using mathematical terms
- Write a short history of the founding of the city
- Identify real-life environmental issues your city is tackling
Historical Comic Book – History/Literacy/Art
- Create a short comic book based on a historical figure
- Write a short exposition about the importance of the person
- Explain your artistic choices in the cover of the comic
- Use a variety of geometric shapes and measurements to create the panels within the comic
Animal Habitat – Science/Literacy/Art/Math
- Create a model of the habitat of a chosen wild animal using household art supplies
- Calculate the size ratio of the created habitat compared to what the animal would need in the wild
- Create a poster or presentation (Powerpoint/Google Slides) with key facts and information about this animal
Buck Institute for Education. (n.d.). What is PBL?. Retrieved from https://www.pblworks.org/what-is-pbl
Terada, Y. (2018). Boosting Student Engagement through Project-Based Learning. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/boosting-student-engagement-through-project-based-learning