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Project-Based Learning as a Cure for Spring (and Summer) Fever

May 23, 2019

By: Kendall Hunt RPD with contributions from the writing team of By Design Science grades 1-8

The weather is nice. The class is antsy. The countdown has begun. The students are in summer mode.

Meanwhile, as the teacher, you’re panicking slightly at all the content left to cover. With mountains of subject matter still untouched, it might seem like there’s no alternative but lectures and worksheets. Although that may be a good way to “fit it in,” it’s also a good way to lose your students’ remaining focus.

So, as a responsible teacher who wants to make the most of your final moments with your students, how can you keep your class both on track and attentive?

Project-based learning

The end of the school year is a perfect time to try project-based learning (PBL). According to Dan Wyrick, K–8 Elementary Program Consultant and Director of Nature by Design Learning, PBL involves “identifying a real-world problem and developing its solution using evidence to support the claim, often presenting the solution through a multimedia approach based on a set of 21st-century tools. Students show what they learn as they move through the project, not just at the end.”

Five reasons why the end of the year is ideal for PBL

  1. Shake up the schedule

Students won’t waste mental energy on something they assume can’t teach them anything new . . . like a classroom routine that’s the same every day. Prove them wrong by ditching the lecture on endangered species and dividing them into teams to create a “save the bees” social media campaign. Not only will they enjoy using the tech they love, but they’ll practice skills in persuasive communication, writing, and research.   

  1. Use what you know

After a year spent working with your students, you know their interests and learning styles. At the end of the year, you can create a project that offers students the best chance of success because you can choose a topic and a setup that suit your classroom and students. In addition, PBL allows you to “use what you know” in terms of content as well. According to Wyrick, “this style of teaching doesn’t ask you to replace your content; it asks you to create a vehicle with which to communicate your content.”  

  1. At your own pace

The end of the school year can wreak havoc on schedules. Soaring temperatures in non-air-conditioned buildings can cause early dismissals. Standardized testing can eat up class time, as can assemblies, field trips, and performances. With PBL, your students can work on the project in small increments as time permits, and requirements can be easily modified if time is truly running out.

  1. Ease of grading

If the end of the year has you knee-deep in papers to grade, PBL is the ideal solution, thanks to its emphasis on student critique and revision. Students give and receive feedback, and they use that feedback to reflect on their project’s quality. According to Wyrick, grading a PBL assignment also asks students to reflect on their learning and “the effectiveness of their inquiry.” Not only does this promote metacognition by forcing students to ponder their learning, but they’re also more likely to be engaged in a project where they can take part in the assessment process. Plus, this means fewer grade-heavy tests for you . . . a win-win situation!

  1. Celebrate student accomplishments

Many PBL assignments call for students to look back on the year that is drawing to a close. Kara Wyman of Concordia University–Portland offers several ideas for reflective year-end writing-based projects, such as a “found poem,” in which students pull content from their old assignments to create a poem that describes their year. Such projects show students just how much they’ve achieved this year and how much they have to be proud of and thankful for. We all want to end the year on a positive note, and PBL is a great way to do so!

What PBL projects will you use with your students as the year concludes?