Upon reading three Edutopia articles and viewing videos that address best practices in Problem Based Learning, I had the pleasure of catching a birdseye glimpse of multiple experiences that involved three different educational institutions. All three urban academic institutions had some commonalities that made teaching exciting and learning systemic and engaging. From exploring the underground world or worms, to designing a school of tomorrow, to following the flight of the butterfly, one could definitely see that all educators involved "worked hard to create a program that meets students' academic, emotional, and creative needs". Teachers worked arduously behind the scenes preplanning and crafting the PBL to ensure that students truly constructed their own learning.
Under the circumstances of each PBL scenario, inquiry led to exploration. Students, who are naturally inquisitive, were given opportunities to construct and frame what they wanted to learn. In Newport News, Virginia. circumstances that were a part of their lives (i.e., World Wrestling Federation, pets, and a classmate with Cystic Fibrosis), gave the students a plethora of subjects to immerse themselves in a sojourn of study and exploration. In Seattle, creating an ideal environment conducive to learning in an aesthetic environment, led the students on a journey where they applied their knowledge of geometry to architecture and design.
"Real World Application" was also a common thread prevelent in all three articles. In Bowie, Maryland, students were exploring the migration of monarch butterflies in real time, communicating and exchanging thoughts with others beyond the confines of the classroom and sharing data internationally. Students created tulip gardens to attract the butterflies for authentic observation. In both Seattle, Washington and Newport News, Virginia, students had the opportunity to work with "real world" experts (i.e., architects, nurses) and were the recipients of real expert support and feedback.
At the culmination of each project throughout all of the exemplary PBL examples, students had to present and communicate their findings to an audience beyond their classmates (i.e., parents, community stakeholders, experts). Technology integration was seamlessly and appropriately applied to all of the projects (i.e., PowerPoint, AutoCAD, digital graphic organizers). Schools were able to document exponential growth in meeting the proficiencies addressed in their high stakes testing and rigorous state standards. One teacher expressed that in order to effectively implement PBL, one must "...know our curriculum. We've got to know the standards inside and out,". All of these projects utilized a detailed rubric that emphasized, technology use, teamwork dynamics, creativity, collaboration, and content.
Most importantly, student enthusiasm for learning, was clearly articulated by the students in all three exemplary schools. "If you find it yourself, it stays in your brain," one student expressed. The students retained what they learned and found that learning beyond the textbook was far more exciting. "This project has been my salvation," as stated by one student is evidence that students who experience quality, authentic PBL are involved in dynamic, flexible, multi-faceted learning they will never forget.
Armstrong, S. (2002) "Geometry students angle into architecture through project learning." Retrieved October 21, 2010, from http://www.edutopia.org/geometry-real-world-students-architects
Curtis, D. (2001) "More fun than a barrel of . . . worms?!" Retrieved October 21, 2010, from http://www.edutopia.org/more-fun-barrel-worms
Curtis, D. (2002) "March of the monarchs: students follow the butterflies' migration." Retrieved October 21, 2010, from http://www.edutopia.org/march-monarchs