Project-Based Learning: An Interactive and Authentic Approach to Learning

12 April 2018

According to Reich (1990), “The ability to solve problems is more than just accumulating knowledge and rules; it is the development of flexible, cognitive strategies that help analyze unanticipated, ill-structured situations to produce meaningful solutions. Even though many of today's complex issues are within the realm of student understanding, the skills needed to tackle these problems are often missing from instruction.” (Posted on the PBL webpage of California State University and San Diego State University) Those concise words could comprehensively convey the significance of implementing Project-Based Learning as a fundamental teaching approach for learners of the 21st century. Believing in its value as a dynamic classroom approach, the school administration continues to mandate it in the Middle School Division whereby learners have to actively explore, over an extended period of time, real-world challenges and problems that would enable them to enhance their skills and acquire deep knowledge. In an attempt to empower teachers on PBL, the English Department at HHHS has conducted a series of training sessions that have contributed to the teachers’ profound knowledge of the approach. The sessions started with a brief introduction of the “theory” of PBL since the teachers were requested to conduct their own research on the topic along the way. These sessions have enabled the teachers to become more aware of the golden circle (Why, How and What) before they dig deeper in the investigation phase. In small groups, they’ve practiced how to choose transferrable concepts, how to formulate the driving question and what the inquiry cycle includes before they got to know the skills that have to be sharpened by students including paraphrasing techniques to avoid plagiarism in addition to the documentation and reflective skills. Throughout the journey of inquiry, the teachers have understood their fundamental role in helping students design their questionnaires, interview experts in the field of the study, organize field trips and present the final product of their interdisciplinary project. Teachers became quite self-assured towards the end of the training sessions and thanked their colleague, Ms. Nagham Abou Ali, for her unrelenting support and willingness to facilitate their work. In this regards, the tenth grader, Ghina Sabeh Ayoun, has reflected on her Social Studies and Language Arts PBL through the following words:
“PBL is a word of three letters that were meaningless the first time Ms. Nagham, my Social Studies teacher, came into class parading them; however, they now hold purpose and meaning I’m not sure they will be fully expressed in this article. Contrary to the Peanut Butter Lotion I was thinking of, PBL stands for Project-Based Learning. I was part of the group that tackled the topic of the recent Iran Protests. We had to investigate the causes and effects on the local, regional, and international aspects of the protests in Iran all while posing essential questions that bring our own opinions to light. The teacher first assigned our roles within our group, which personally gave me a sense of responsibility. We later divided amongst ourselves the tasks and the research objectives, hence reinforcing sense of purpose. Our research covered other core subjects such as Civics, Economics, and MATH. PBL actually made us effectively use all the subjects including those whose validity we questioned before! That is why PBL must be the main teaching mechanism. In our group, we often exhausted ourselves in debate, questioning each and every point and delving deep into the tasks at hand, completely oblivious (or indifferent, you choose) of things as mundane as grades and scores. The presence of our instructor was barely acknowledged as we mostly relied on ourselves to produce the best possible outcome! Such freedom within the classroom provides the student with an environment where creativity could prevail, and minds could do amazing things! WE NEED MORE PBL AT SCHOOLS!”

 

Nihmat Dandashly - English Language Teacher and Coordinator