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October 31, 2014

2 min

Dr. Jessica Spallino

Project Based Learning Matches How Students Learn

I have been working in the charter school industry in a variety of capacities for many years. The experience combined with many years of schooling from teaching and administrative credential programs to a PhD program in curriculum, has prompted much reflection on education, schooling and what and how we learn best.

As a lifelong participant in the public education system throughout grades K-12, I share a similar classroom experience with many of daily lecturing, textbooks, section reviews and common assessments. Similar to most of my classmates, I was not thrilled about the presentation of angles and intersecting lines or the proper use of a dangling modifier. The content was consistently delivered the same and we were always assessed in the same way. I frequently found myself forgetting information that was presented during class and often felt like I wasn’t learning anything permanently or useful.

This traditional approach to teaching and learning continues to be challenged by a reemergence of Dewey’s notion of experiential learning through project-based learning. Working for a school that focuses on project based learning combined with mastery of content has reinforced my belief in the need for application of concepts and working with others in that process. Within this approach students are able to study a concept and then are given the opportunity to apply it. The concept of angles and intersecting lines are applied when a team of students are assigned to build a simple machine. Throughout this process, not only have they learned about angles and intersecting lines in a way they will remember and apply again, they have begun to develop social and problem solving skills that will enhance their abilities to collaborate in the 21st century workplace. Without the opportunity to apply concepts, students run the risk of not retaining information that teachers work so hard to teach.

In my experience, I have seen project-based learning benefit students academically and socially in ways I didn’t think possible during my experience in K-12th education. I believe this approach prepares students for more fulfilling experiences in the classroom and far beyond.

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