Like most teachers, I am constantly looking for a better way to reach my students and help instill upon them a love (or at least respect) for science. This is no easy task with a bunch of 7th graders who seem to bounce off walls at times, let alone give anything 100% of their attention. I have long aspired to learn how to use a project-based learning (PBL) model in my classroom. I have family members who teach using this model and I have heard nothing but great things in terms of student engagement and achievement. It does, however, require a lot more than aspiration.
I’m fully aware of the challenges that lie before me in trying to bring this model to my classroom (or to my school). Initiating PBL for the first time requires professional development, knowledge of the tool and technologies necessary to make it successful, collaboration with other teachers (science and other subjects), and veering away from the traditional path of lectures, worksheets, and textbooks. This is not something that one teacher can effectively do alone – it requires the support of the administration, fellow science teachers, other subject area teachers, parents, and students. I think that it is scary sometimes for those who are not aware of the benefits of PBL because it is such a different model than most of us had when we were in school. I also think that it is not appealing at first because there is an inherent loss of content detail that can usually be “covered” when teaching a standard through traditional means. In other words, students may not learn every little detail that is taught in the book or through lecture that goes along with a standard, but they instead gain a much deeper understanding of the content that they are working with and they learn skills that will help them in their future careers.
I am hoping that this “From Learning to Research” project will guide me and my department, showing us how we can begin to use this model in the classroom. I believe that this could be an essential stepping stone that will force us outside of the traditional box and into the next generation of science education. By taking on this project as a department, we are committing to this together, which already creates a collaborative, supportive environment that is so essential to the process. This project can provide a structured, guided approach that we can then use as a model to continue pursuing other PBL opportunities at our school.