It was interesting to consider the differences between the multitude of acronyms floating around this week’s readings. What constitutes PBL from PBL or CBL and vice versa. Ideally, the choice of pedagogy that one follows comes down to a combination of personal philosophy, tolerance for controlled chaos and having a good understanding of the culture of the local learning community. As an international teacher, we must consider that not all types of learning work the same in every situation. Sometimes this is a product of the school culture of pedagogy and other times it is a product of the culture of the environment at large.
Personally, I struggle with the labelling of pedagogical approaches is that pervasive in education. Not that I disagree with the philosophy of any of the three approaches we’ve looked at this week, rather, I think that the best approach is to apply the aspects of each that fit your specific learning environment, regardless of labels. My approach mirrors the same idea that John Dewey expressed in his 1897 work My Pedagogical Creed, where he describes the teacher’s role as…
[Teachers are] not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these. John Dewey, 1897
The shift from disseminating information to guiding a quest for knowledge is a more valuable approach to take. The idea of Problem Based or Project Based or Challenge learning concepts all apply to this philosophy. It is just a matter of deciphering what works for your students in your context.
Project Based Learning
Of all the three learning approaches, I think that my practice is probably best described as “project based”. This is especially true in my science classroom where after some initial content foundations, students are given direction to follow a path of exploration that they choose (within certain guidelines of course). What usually happens is that there are so many lightbulb ideas popping up, that it can be challenging to sift through to guide them down the best path.
This is where the tech part starts to play a role in defining the project boundaries. Given the initial spark of an idea, the students are then given time to begin researching. By gathering a list of web resources, the idea is that they can then formulate the question that they are investigating.
Following this, the way tech is integrated is quite varied. Depending on the project, use of tech can range from time-lapse video to blogging to infographics to a slideshow. I encourage students to be creative in their discovery and demonstration of their learning. How far the tech is taken generally depends on how far the student wants to take it. While I am there to encourage, my job, as Dewey said, is to assist students to respond to their discoveries.
Another interesting perspective of project learning is documented in the Buck Institute’s “Introduction to Project Based Learning” where they touch on the idea that projects are more about depth, not breadth. Specifically, the statement “…in the case of good education, less is more.” resonates with me. Again, success with projects can be determined by the school culture and how flexible towards the teaching standards people are willing to be. Evaluating standards to determine if they are simply something you “cover” in a short lesson versus spending extra time is an important consideration of setting up an effective project based learning environment.
Problem Based LearningRecently, the idea of “problem based” learning has surfaced in relation to the instruction of mathematics. Specifically, our school has engaged Erma Anderson as a consultant to guide our math program in a more positive direction. While I have begun to guide my lessons by starting with a math problem that enables students to tap in to prior knowledge to creatively attempt a solution, I am still working on this approach.
In terms of technology, I’m still experimenting with how students will best include it. Perhaps it will be with using a shared learning space of a Google doc to start sharing ideas, or maybe that will enable them to see the ideas of others who want to contribute from another class section. I can see that tech will enable the sharing of ideas and hopefully provide a medium to express and share their opinions of solving problems.
Challenge Based Learning
Challenge based learning is the only one of these three approaches that was new to me. The idea makes sense and I can see the idea of extending project learning to make an impact by engaging into the community and acting on learning. I like the idea and can see direct use of tech not only to be creative and collaborative in the investigation aspect, but to act on the learning would require another level of tech connection in order to share and communicate beyond the classroom.
The CBL guide that the Digital Promise group have created gives a great overview and clearly defines the roles of participants. Essentially, the idea of CBL seems to lie in following a project based approach for the initial inquiry and research which leads to an guiding question. Then you refine the idea and determine the steps needed to investigate a solution or to answer an experimental question. The twist in CBL is to then take your learning and act on implementing your solution in a real-world context by sharing or applying your discovery beyond the classroom and into the community.