Magazine article Techniques

Taking PBL to the Next Level

Magazine article Techniques

Taking PBL to the Next Level

Article excerpt

AS EDUCATORS WE OFTEN FIND OURSELVES IN A BATTLE TO CATCH, AND THEN HOLD, THE INTEREST OF our students. A look into different classrooms will likely reveal a variety of techniques, approaches and strategies for getting students interested in learning. Attention-grabbing that emerges in response to a specific situation, approach or technique is called "situational interest." Situational interest is usually fostered through physical activities or stimuli within a classroom; this is achieved through exercises such as group work, puzzles and the incorporation of computers (Hidi & Renninger, 2006).

Research shows that situational interest is great for younger children as it helps to engage their imagination and creativity. As primary education tends to emphasize a single teacher working through a wide range and breadth of information, situationally engaging activities with physical stimuli appear to be developmentally appropriate and useful. However, as students get older, the usefulness of strictly situationally interesting activities wanes (Durik & Harackiewicz, 2007). Instead of situationally interesting activities, older students' needs revolve around individually interesting activities and opportunities (Linnenbrink-Garcia, Patall, & Messer-smith, 2013). Students in secondary education are best helped through individually interesting activities because they need a deeper interest level that penetrates beyond curiosity. Individual interest can help to engage students in the community and the classroom.

Individual interest is an enduring, or holding, interest that fosters in students a desire to explore and learn about a particular topic or area. This type of interest is different from situational interest because it leads to students becoming absorbed in tasks and tends to help students persist in the face of difficulty. Individual interest is different, from situational interest in that it emphasizes personal meaning and utility. This is done by not only giving students new information that may spark curiosity (situational interest), but by giving the information applicability and personal relevance (individual interest) (Durik & Harackiewicz, 2007). One of the easiest and most effective ways of moving from situationally interesting activities to individually interesting activities is through the use of authentic learning experiences (Kizilcec, Perez-Sanagustin, & Maldonado, 2017; Mitchell, 1993).

Authentic Learning

Authentic learning requires infusing active learning activities with a real-world context. Authentic learning is all about using "real-life" projects and problems in the classroom. In authentic learning, students are given the opportunity to actively participate in learning that is relevant in society and/or their personal lives. This addition of authenticity into education helps students see the purpose behind learning the classroom material (Strimel, 2014). While this can sometimes be a challenge, there are a few simple steps teachers can take to use their project-based learning (PBL) lessons to foster authenticity and students' individual interests.

Five Steps to Check for Authenticity

1. Real-world Problems and Examples

2. Real-world Materials and Simulations

3. Build Industry Connections

4. Dig Deeper

5. Revisit

Real-world Problems and Examples

When providing problems and examples to students, it is important to assist students in forming explicit connections between the class assignment and real-world applications. A classic example of balsa bridges may help illustrate this point: instead of only having constraints of weight and size, students could design a balsa wood bridge for a local creek located near the school. Students could pay the creek a visit, take measurements, photographs and record notes prior to designing their bridge. Each time students pass this creek in the future they would likely be reminded of this PBL lesson used in class. …

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