As I understand it, Project Based Learning is centered on the idea that there is a problem to be solved or a question to be answered. Students are involved in the process of solving a problem and gaining valuable knowledge about our world along the way. It is essentially a process of inquiry, which aligns perfectly with the International Baccalaureate PYP program.
The PYP framework is a trans-disciplinary approach to learning combining math, language, social studies, and science into 6 main Units of Inquiry. Each unit has a central idea and lines of inquiry that students use to inquire further about our world. Since I work in a PYP school I am currently teaching a unit called “How We Organize Ourselves.” My grade 3 class is inquiring into community services and how they are interconnected. We are doing several small activities, with a larger project where students will be researching community services and building their own communities based on the needs of people living there. It’s not a true “problem,” but it is based around a real life scenario and connects to the daily lives of students and the communities they live in.
I really enjoy the project based approach to learning. I feel it allows students to become engaged about things they are really interested in. It also allows them to relate their learning to the world around them, and since they are often working in pairs or teams it is very social.
That said, it doesn’t come without it’s challenges. Because we are often creating our units from scratch, I am frequently in meetings with my team and the PYP coordinator collaborating on concepts being learned and the activities we will undertake. Since we are also trying to meet the standards of the American Common Core curriculum we are always trying to find ways to combine our projects with the skills and learning objectives outlined there as well. It is extremely challenging to find a way to fit everything in, and definitely a juggling act.
I find that since moving from a traditional Canadian school to a PYP school I have become more than a teacher. Rather than following curriculum guidelines laid out for me, I am developing curriculum to make it project based. It’s something I find exciting and full of possibilities. It’s also something that I find difficult to balance with mandatory standardized tests like MAPS. Although I work at a wonderful school that embraces the PYP framework, I still have to ensure that traditional forms of assessment take place.
I also find that some parents are reluctant to embrace the idea of project based learning. Since I work in a school with children from all over the world I have parents coming from a wide range of educational upbringing. Having a truly project based classroom requires a high level of parent involvement and communication. Since becoming a PYP teacher I have really increased the amount of clarification and communication that goes home about each unit of inquiry. If parents are on board and willing to extend learning into their daily lives, project based learning can become even more valuable.
Overall, my experience with project based learning is something that is constantly growing and evolving. I think sometimes I have a love hate relationship with it, but in the end it’s how I would have wanted to learn when I was growing up.