Every time I use inquiry- and project-based learning (PBL) with my students, I am more impressed with how powerful this type of learning truly is. My students and I leave the classroom energized and thinking about what we’ve learned, and we return the next morning with a sense of anticipation that drives us forward into new discoveries.
If you have never used authentic learning projects in your classroom, please allow me to convince you to try it, with my reasons and examples from The Uncle Reuben Project.*
* The Uncle Reuben Project includes map skills, 1920s slang, music and lyrics from songs from the 1920s and 1930s, ledger math with calculator practice, and much more.
9. PBL is open-ended and encourages problem-solving skills by its nature. Students use higher-order thinking with PBL. Students create ideas and find answers instead of choosing from teacher-generated lists and multiple choice options.
* Students: Mrs. Edwards, we can’t tell if Uncle Reuben wrote a 3 or a 5 here on his ledger.
Me: How are you going to figure that out?
Students: I don’t know. (walk away)
Students: (coming back) What if we added the column like it was a 5, and if we don’t get the same answer as Uncle Reuben did, we can try using a 3?
Me: Let me know what you find out.
Students: Mrs. Edwards! He wrote $36, not $56! We got the answer!
Me: (big smile)
8. PBL is often interdisciplinary. Units are easier to find time for and finish because parts of them can be taught or worked on during other subject blocks. I start out with a two-page website and start adding resources, skills, activities, and whatever else I think of that I would like to bring in. My project planning sheets, as well as links to some great online aids, are in the resources section at the end of this post.
* Here is a photo of my Uncle Reuben Project planning sheets.
7. PBL offers unlimited possibilities when it comes to topics. There are many project ideas online and around you all the time. Some resources to help get you started are at the end of this post.
* Uncle Reuben is my Grandpa’s youngest brother, Reuben Johnson. My dad and uncles possessed several artifacts from his life, so all I needed to do was go through them, and the ideas just started flowing! I’ve made all of the resources and primary documents available online just in case someone would like to replicate my project.
6. The autonomy that occurs during PBL for students and teachers is a huge motivator. Students feel in control of choosing the topics, skills, length, and depth of a project.
* My students love to make their own choices and decisions. During the Uncle Reuben Project, they will have many opportunities to choose for themselves. They buy in quickly when I don’t direct their every move. Sometimes they choose to copy me and other times, they see another way of doing something and accept the freedom I give them.
5. PBL and the inquiry process are moved along by realia (a real object, known or unknown) that is brought into the classroom. Some artifacts we treat as museum pieces, but others are durable enough to handle. When people hear about the current project, they often offer something for me to borrow and show my class.
* This week I brought in Uncle Reuben’s farm ledger, which I have been taking some of their math work from. (I have them check his addition and multiplication!) They have also held his travel journal and a metal model of the house he grew up in that my grandpa made many years ago.
4. PBL supports, and is supported by, Common Core Standards. Working with open-ended problems and complex text is emphasized many times in CCS. My students are becoming confident and comfortable when thinking for themselves on assignments and future assessments, as well as in the real world.
* In the Uncle Reuben Project, we are using primary documents such as pages from one of his travel journals written in the 1940s. My 2nd graders step right up to the challenge of reading the words he wrote, which actually measure above (940L) the 2nd/3rd grade text complexity bands set out by CCS. Sometimes I’m caught off guard when I watch them tackle the difficult text with such enthusiasm, but they are so interested, they push through without a complaint. During those times, I am always nearby to offer support to those who might need it.
* Map work is fun for 2nd graders already, but my students persevere even when it's difficult to measure the thousands of miles that Uncle Reuben traveled around the country, because of the importance that is put on it by the project.
2. PBL and inquiry cause lasting student engagement. My students are never so focused as when they are in the midst of a project or inquiry.
* Pictures are worth thousands of words!
PBL creates such enthusiasm in my students, and it can’t be squelched! The rewards I get from taking my students through projects more than makes up for the planning and work that go into each project. I get to watch my 7- and 8-year-olds exceed my high expectations every day!
* My students enter the room asking if we will be working on the Uncle Reuben Project every morning. They are having fun, I am having fun, and everyone is learning!
Resources for the Uncle Reuben Project
Resources for Learning More About Project-Based Learning