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


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Finally, assessment of project-based learning can also be a challenge. Because learners are constructing artifacts that represent their learning, it is important to provide feedback that is constructive and authentic to the objectives of the assignment. Multiple-choice and true-false tests may be inappropriate to judge the quality of learning that has occurred. Two suggested options include portfolios and rubrics. Portfolios offer the opportunity to employ multiple forms of assessment through different types of works and allows the learner some choice over which items will be included (Levstik & Barton, 2001). In addition, portfolios for extended periods demonstrate progress to learners, parents and teachers. However, the disadvantages to using portfolios are that they can be time consuming to grade (Zvacek, 1999) and can be somewhat subjective.

Rubrics, on the other hand, allow assessment to be more objective and reliable across learners. When created prior to the project, teachers can communicate their expectations for the project in the rubric, and the students are more aware of how their work will be evaluated (Pickett & Dodge, 2001). Frederick Drake and Lawrence McBride (1997) offer one option for evaluating history and other social science projects. The rubric includes three constructs-knowledge, reasoning and communication-with levels of proficiency for each. This assessment tool is based on national history standards but could easily be adapted to fit another domain such as literature. The WebQuest team's Web site (http://edweb.sdsu.edu/webquest) provides a template for developing a rubric to assess WebQuest tasks. In addition to the template, this site hosts a variety of examples of WebQuests, so it should be easy to view sample rubrics used by classroom teachers.


Next steps

Reading about project-based learning is an important step in the implementation process. However, there are other steps you can take to become even better prepared. It may be helpful to review some examples of project-based learning in action. Doing History (Levstik & Barton, 2001) is an excellent primer for social science and interdisciplinary studies. Directed at elementary and middle school students, numerous examples are included and margin notes specify references and synopses. In addition, the article by Drake and McBride (Drake & McBride, 1997) cited above includes a few examples of project ideas for secondary social science students along with the suggested rubric.

Project-based science can best be understood through the eyes of a teacher first (Scott, 1994) to understand how it has been implemented in the past. It may then be helpful to read a more foundational piece "Enacting Project-based Science" (Marx et al., 1997) that delineates the elements specific to project-based science and how they should be incorporated into the classroom. Also, the project-based science Web site (http://www.umich.edu/~pbsgroup/) collects many of the schools' contacts who have participated in implementing this pedagogy, but other information is sparse.

Becoming familiar with WebQuests is perhaps the easiest. Because the technique is centered on web resources, most of the examples, templates and support materials are also located on the web. The homepage for WebQuests (http://edweb.sdsu.edu/webquest/) also includes a significant number of examples from across the United States covering many content areas. To begin, it may be helpful by finding one that meets current curriculum needs and use it as a model for developing an original WebQuest. It may also be helpful to follow up with classroom textbooks and textbook companies. Many teachers' editions and publishing company Web sites provide supplemental or connecting materials and suggestions for extending teaching methods, such as using project-based learning (see e.g., http://www.mhschool.com/teach/ss/adventuresintimeandplace/teachres/weblesson/
student_sheet/ss_6_1_2_1.html
).


Summary

Project-based learning offers an engaging instructional method to make learners active constructors of knowledge. Rooted in constructivism, constructionism and cooperative/collaborative learning, project-based learning has strong theoretical support for successful achievement. Examples of project-based learning from the literature, such as project-based science, disciplined inquiry and WebQuests, offer an opportunity to compare and contrast how project-based learning has been integrated into various classrooms and domains. Suggestions for implementing these examples as well as other examples of project-based learning include: begin slowly, prepare learners for using cooperative learning and use constructive assessments. Finally, teachers interested in trying out project-based learning in their classrooms should refer to articles, literature and the Web sites mentioned above along with consulting their textbook for additional ideas.

About the Author

Michael M. Grant is a Ph.D. candidate in Instructional Technology at The University of Georgia and past president of their student association. He has taught at Clemson University, SC, in the Department of Graphic Communications, where he obtained his BS in Graphic Communications and Masters of Industrial Education. His research interests include learner differences, project-based learning and curriculum integration of technology. He may be contacted at:

mgrant@coe.uga.edu

604 Aderhold
The University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30605



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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


The author would like to thank Janette R. Hill and Joan M. Davis for their thoughtful comments and suggestions on an earlier version of this paper.

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Meridian: A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal
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Volume 5, Issue 1, Winter 2002
ISSN 1097 9778
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