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GETTING A GRIP ON PROJECT-BASED LEARNING: THEORY, CASES AND RECOMMENDATIONS


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Figure 1 represents a model project-based learning example using a WebQuest with each of these elements highlighted. This example may also be viewed "live" on the web at http://www.ncsu.edu/meridian/win2002/514/holocaust. Additional information on each element is provided below.

Introduction. Many projects use an introduction "to set the stage" for, or anchor, the project. This often contributes to motivating learners. Occupational skills, such as graphic arts or Web page designers, typically use the domain as the anchor, since the skills are authentic to the profession.

Task. The task, guiding question or driving question explicates what will be accomplished and embeds the content to be studied. The tasks should be engaging, challenging and doable.

Resources. Resources provide data to be used and can include hypertext links, computers, scientific probes, compasses, CD-ROM's, eyewitnesses, etc.

Process. The process and investigation include the steps necessary to complete the task or answer the guiding or driving question. The process should include activities that require higher-level and critical thinking skills, such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation of information.

Guidance and scaffolding. As learners need help, guidance and scaffolding will be needed. These can include student-teacher interactions, practice worksheets, peer counseling, guiding questions, job aides, project templates, etc.

Cooperative/Collaborative learning. Many projects include groups or teams, especially where resources are limited. But, cooperative learning may also employ rounds of peer reviews or group brainstorming sessions.

Reflection. The superior examples of project-based learning offer an opportunity for closure, debriefing or reflection. These may include relevant in-class discussions, journal entries or even follow-up questions about what students have learned.

Figure 1


Practicing Project-based Learning

Implementing project-based learning in the classroom may be daunting for experienced teachers and even more overwhelming for novices. The following are some of the barriers to implementing project-based learning with helpful hints and practical advice for making project-based learning work in the classroom.

First, because project-based learning focuses on in-depth investigations while constructing personally-meaningful artifacts, the tone of a classroom may change. This may be uncomfortable for the students and the teacher. Different students will be researching different topics, so the role of the teacher, as well as the role of the student, may change. It's important to begin slowly. One experienced teacher with twenty-five years under her belt suggests her "comfort zone would include two projects…rather than a continuous series of project-based science units" (Scott, 1994, p. 92). The class time necessitated by project-based learning forces the discussion of breadth versus depth to resurface. The in-depth investigations require more time, so less time may be spent on other content in the curriculum. By beginning slowly, teachers can design projects that reflect state or national objectives and continue to meet standards.

Next, almost all the examples of project-based learning attempt to capitalize on the successes of cooperative or collaborative learning in some manner (e.g. Land & Greene, 2000; Marx et al., 1997). Students that are inexperienced with working in groups may have difficulties negotiating compromise (Johnson & Johnson, 1989; Socha & Socha, 1994). If these methods have not been used before, then it may be necessary to teach learners how to interact within groups and manage conflict within groups. Also, sometimes groups are used for other more practical reasons, such as insufficient copies of books, manipulatives and even computers. Making sure all learners have opportunities to interact and develop skills with resources may be necessary. However, if access to resources is not an issue, then teachers may want to be more creative with the incorporation of cooperative or collaborative learning, such as peer reviews and external expert interviews (Marx et al., 1997).

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Meridian: A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal
a service of NC State University, Raleigh, NC
Volume 5, Issue 1, Winter 2002
ISSN 1097 9778
URL: http://www.ncsu.edu/meridian/win2002/514/2.html
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