Recognizing the Power of PBL
August 15, 2022
There’s an old saying,
“If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”
I’m sure most of us are familiar with this proverb, but I sometimes worry we’ve forgotten what it actually means. You see, in our modern society, this quote is frequently used in an economic context. Its message has become entangled with ideas of self-sufficiency and charity, which have ultimately given it an unpleasant political hue. The truth is, I don’t believe this proverb is about economics at all – it’s about learning!
Every educator knows that students have an innate curiosity about the world. They’re brimming with questions about how everything works and why it works that way. As such, we’re often left with two options; we can tell them the answer, or we can help them discover the answer on their own. While the first approach may provide a momentary feeling of satisfaction, it’s the latter path that ends up being more fulfilling. That’s because hands-on, inquiry-based learning doesn’t just teach students what they need to know, it also teaches them how to learn, and how they can apply this learning in their future endeavors.
This is perhaps best seen through the implementation of project-based learning. Project-based learning is all about creating authentic learning experiences that engage the heart, hands, and heads of all students. Here are few strategies to engage students emotionally, physically, and cognitively:
- B+ Exemplars: Students learn by observing models and by critiquing the work of others. So, save or create a “B+ Exemplar ” of how a project or assignment might look. For example, start by creating a suspension bridge out of household equipment. Have students identify what the bridge did well (it did, after all, receive a B+), as well as how it could be improved to earn that “A.” Then, have them take this knowledge and create a bridge of their own. When students make these observations themselves, they take greater ownership, and their learning sticks in a more durable way!
- Connect with Another Teacher: Look for opportunities to work with another teacher who shares your same students on a PBL unit. This is a great opportunity for professional collaboration, but it also provides structure for your students so they physically “see” the connection between content areas as they move classrooms.
- The Relevant Elephant: Want to know how your learning might be relevant to the lives of your students? Ask them! Post a large (2’x3′) elephant picture on your wall. Then, tack on a piece of paper with a topic you’re studying. Tell your students you’re afraid that what you’re learning might be “irrelephant,” and challenge them to come up with ways it might be useful now or in the future. So, if students are learning about the water cycle, see if they can come up with ideas for conserving water or ensuring that their drinking water remains free of pollution. The ideas are endless.
- Reflection Journal: Journaling is demonstrated to help students retain learning, and to help them manage and process their own experiences in the classroom. Incorporate it for academic reasons, or to cultivate social-emotional learning. At the end of each lesson, ask your students to write down what they’ve learned. Then, ask them what they still wonder and how these ideas can be used later. Use this technique to broaden their horizon.
If you found these strategies helpful, be sure to check out these free Timely Topic Lessons as well as fully-equipped PBL units from Blue Apple. Using these tools and resources, we can not only change the way our students approach their education, but also how they approach the world around them as well. Remember, when we answer a student’s question, we feed their curiosity for a day, but when teach them how to think, we feed their minds for a lifetime!
*Image courtesy of Stalane via Wikimedia Commons.