Project, Problem and Challenge-based Learning

Socio-constructivism play a large part in PBL and CBL.  Looking at the theories of teaching and learning this goes back to our educational theory roots.  It is taking the idea that learning is an ‘outside – in’ activity.  Meaning is constructed in our environment and we learn from that meaning.  Vygotsky was a pioneer of this work and this is largely what IB philosophies are based on.  ‘That knowledge, thinking, doing, and the contexts for learning are inextricably tied’, ( and that we learn for the context in which we live.

Further to this, the old saying goes that if you truly want to learn something then teach it, explain it to other, use it in context – something that in the IB classroom is a key factor in learning. We look at skills, the knowledge that we need, then we look at how is it used in a ‘real life’ context.  If we are thinking about maths and shape, where do we see these shapes in real life, why have the shapes been used, how does that relate to the properties of that shape, are some shapes stronger than others and so on.

Project based learning surely does have a strong place in my classroom and I can think about numerous activities that would highlight what it looks like.  I think the best is a math activity that I set about parameter.  We hadn’t talked about parameter directly and had been learning about different related concepts.  I set the students the challenge of figuring out how much fencing dinosaur eggs would need based on a set of criteria and throughout the instructions I used the word parameter.  On the board I wrote the question, “What is parameter?” The students worked together, they cleared space in the classroom, they created enclosures and measured the sides – one kid even got an iPad and google ‘what is parameter?’.  By the end every kid in the room could not only give me the definition (some from google) but they could explain what it meant, they could make connections with a real life situation where parameter might me needed.  If you are interested in the lesson you can find it on, I only wish I had found the PBL check lists before! What a great idea to help with applying these activities in the future and allowing students to self assess.

On a side note I was pleasantly surprised to see the name Seymour Papert pop up – we really are going back to basics in Educational Theory! It was 15 years ago that I wrote my dissertation on the uses of ICT in the classroom and based most of my research on this pioneer! It also got me to wondering why we are still talking about tech integration and its benefits 2017 when Papert first published his book in 1980? What is missing in initial teacher education? 

My goal now is to find out how I can scale up my PBL activities and use them in wider contexts.  I love the idea of ‘teachers and students work[ing] together to learn about compelling issues, prose solutions to real problems and take action’ (Apple Inc, 2010).  This is areal goal for my school this year – taking action.  True authentic action and making an impact on the world through CAS and SA.  We find this slightly easier at the DP level – where the students are far more self motivated however at the PYP level it is hard to make it authentic.  The stages set out by the Apple document are really helpful and something that I will pass on to our Services Action coordinator.

Overall, the uses of PBL and CBL are both a fantastic departure from the teacher centric classrooms.  Giving students choices and ownership of their learning makes for good learning!  Joe Ruhl puts it beautifully, ‘characteristic of the classroom’ rather than learning and teaching techniques.

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