Science Units for Grades 9-12

By Randy L. Bell; Joe Garofalo et al. | Go to book overview

chapter 3
Project- and Problem-Based
Learning

DEBORAH AUFDENSPRIN

Watching project- and problem-based learning take place in a classroom underscores their significant differences from usual classroom practices. One might see small groups of students talking quietly, laughing, or practicing a presentation. Others might be hunched over computer screens discussing the data displayed on the monitor, or students might move among groups discussing common issues. It may even be difficult to find the teacher as she melds into a group of students, making suggestions but not directing their activities. Rarely in such a classroom are students playing at their desks, passing notes, falling asleep, or asking for passes out of the room. Rather, most of the students are relaxed and yet maintain an attentive seriousness—an attitude that this is real work, deserving of respectful attention. Such behavior is the result of teachers who keep reading and lecturing to a minimum in favor of more compelling activities. Some teachers even forgo traditional testing modes, relying solely on students' projects for assessment.

The philosophical underpinnings of project- and problem-based learning are built on the constructivist theories and research of Piaget, Dewey, Bruner, and Taba. Project-based learning clearly creates the conditions for students to take charge of their own learning and generate their own knowledge from a great variety of information sources.

Project- and problem-based learning can be considered two ends of a spectrum of constructivist learning. In project-based learning, conditions may be more clearly delineated than in problem-based learning, but they still leave students with wide latitude for determining the course of their learning. Problem-based learning is messier and asks students to reformulate their hypotheses in the midst of solving a problem.


What Is
Project-Based
Learning?

Project-based learning is a model for teaching that focuses on the major concepts of a curriculum, involving students in meaningful investigations of those concepts. Concepts may be introduced by a teacher and supported by texts, speakers, and other sources. Students then work autonomously to create projects that demonstrate their learning to teachers, peers, and the community.


CONTENT

Compelling and complex ideas and projects are presented to students, who are then required to cope with their ambiguity. These are real-world problems that students care about; the problems presented often cross content area lines.

-21-

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