ETL401 – Project-Based Learning: Just Scratching the Surface.

Background

Since term 2 our library has been ‘under new management’ so to speak.  That is myself and two other teachers in caretaker role since the retirement of our long standing teacher librarian, and the advertising for another.  Part of our brief has been to change the culture in the library to a more inviting and used space than it has been for some time.  The principal has supported, and promoted, the fact that the library is ‘open for business’ from 8am until the close of school.  This has meant the three of us have split loads of teaching and library management.

The library now can be booked on the school data base where as prior to the change a staff member needed to achieve having their name written on a paper booking sheet, in the librarians office,  that only the librarian was sanctioned write on. This process was intimidating for most of the staff as there would be rules (almost unachievable) that staff must follow in regard to class management, in order to even remain in the library for the duration of the lesson. All too hard for most!

So now, as part of culture change, staff can book the different spaces in the library on the computer booking network if no other class has it booked.  There are 5 separate learning spaces that can be booked.  These are;  computer terminals, interactive white board, study area with class set of tables and chairs, and a video conferencing device.  This can occur now without ‘jumping through  a set of shifting hoops’ laid out in a manner that only the librarian understood.

Project-based Learning

Part of my teaching load is a year 8 geography class. We have been studying geographical global issues.   Part of this topic was the study of global inequities between developed and developing countries.  I gave the class a task to make a comparison between Australia and a country of their choosing.  The only requirement was to address 10 areas.  Access to clean water and sanitation, average annual wage, industry, work and employment opportunities, doctor per thousand of population, type of accommodation and housing available, education, family size, and type of government.

Although there were topics to address, that was it.  The computers were booked for 2 lessons and I let them go to it. Group work was encouraged but the size of the group was not really  specified, just to work with whom they chose.  After the two lessons each group was to report back to the class on what they had found, and put the statistics on a hand drawn grid I put on the board. Without realising it, this appears to me to be a project-based style learning task.  And the results were far beyond my expectation.  Groups reported, peers listened, we discussed the pattern of figures that were being presented and, at the end of the session, the students understood the vast difference between the developed and developing world.

Prominent manufacturing brand names were included in discussion and not just one sided opinion as to the ethics and behaviours of such.  Students analysed the pros and cons of such business activity with understanding of issues of varying points of view from the onlooker to the employee.

In this case the students found technology was a fundamental building block of their experience (Kinory 2007) through use of the computers and the internet.  Here students engaged in real-world activities (Boss, Krauss, 2007) and it really impacted on their understanding of, and respect for, the situation faced by a vast majority of the worlds population.

In conclusion, now having been introduced to the concept of project based learning. I realise that I have just been scratching at the surface of this style of teaching (without realising the concept).  Shifting the instruction from teacher providing information, to the students driving the learning, with the result being far more information and learning occurring due to each student or group bringing their learning to others.  Wow, looking forward to deepening my understanding of project-based learning, and gearing my teaching style to the technologically based 21st century.

May these scratches become highways!

Reference.

Boss, s. and Krauss, J. (2007).  Reinventing Project-Based Learning.  Your Field Guide to Real- World Projects in the Digital Age. (p3-24). International Society for Technology

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