Project-Based Learning

There is a lot of talk today questioning the value of technology in classrooms. One study, "Effectiveness of Reading and Mathematics Software Products: Findings From the First Student Cohort" said that software did not help students to increase test scores. A New York Times article entitled "Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops" focused on the failure of many one-on-one laptop programs.

What is often ignored is that a tool, like a computer, should be used for what it can do that NOTHING else can do. If it is used as a glorified pencil, then teachers will try to create the same lessons and include technology, while students will use that technology to distract themselves and not listen to the teacher.

Project Based Learning is one way of using technology that can harness the unique qualities of the technology we have available in abundance in our schools today. What can a computer do that a pencil cannot do?

  • It can open the walls of the classroom and connect people from distant locations.
  • It makes collaboration anytime and anywhere simple and affordable.
  • It can keep track of data when it gets too much for a person to write or to think about and help to analyze that data which provides for some deeper thinking.
  • It can make the editing process feel successful rather than frustrating.
  • It can even the playing field for students with disabilities.

Are you using your classroom technology for these things? If not here are some tips to help you start. Now is the time (in the northern hemisphere) as you have the summer to think about what you want to do next year.

  • Plan ONE online project that you can use with your class this year. Below are some sites to help you find one that matches your curriculum. Think about adding a project each year as you get more comfortable with using them.
  • Plan to do ONE WebQuest. Choose a topic you don’t really like to teach and find a WebQuest on that topic. Plan how you will incorporate it into the schedule. Be courageous and choose to do a meaningful WebQuest to use even before April when the testing is over.
  • Think about the students who will be coming into your class in the coming year. Commit yourself to finding technology that will meet the needs of individual students who have problems with traditional classroom learning.
  • Do you have a student with writing problems? Allow them to use the classroom computer. It does not have to be an issue of letting everyone have the same amount of time.
  • Do you have an Autistic student? Sometimes they can do amazing things on computers and focus much better that way. They might do different things than the rest of the class, as did one student who drew amazing pictures in "Paint" while the rest of the class read and wrote a report.
  • Do you have a sight impaired student or a deaf student? There are specific ways that students with these disabilities can use technology to even the playing field. Learn them this summer!
  • What about a child confined to a wheel chair or with physical limitations? It could be that their IEP will recommend different furniture or a special keyboard, but do you know what is available and how to use it?

While there are studies showing that technology does not increase test scores there are also studies showing that there is an improvement of test scores of students who learn in an open project-based way. Maybe we need to focus more on how we are teaching and less on the technology itself.

Helpful Web Sites for Project Based Learning

Global SchoolHouse
The Jason Project
Lockheed Martin SpaceDay


Special Interest Group of the Society for Technical Communication

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