Sir Kenneth Robinson in his TED Talk in 2010 compared most education systems standardised form to McDonalds standardised fast food and pointed out that we should be aiming for the breadth and variety of Michelin star restaurants. In this TED talk he points out that the industrial model of education that is most commonly still used; which is linear and conforming needs to change to an agricultural model that is organic and that with the right conditions would allow students to flourish.
Project based, Problem based and Challenge based learning are ways in which we can give students the opportunities to discover their passions and interests, allow teachers to customise and personalise the education of students and help students (our future workforce) to develop their own solutions. By building these opportunities for meaningful learning into the curriculum, students will be more engaged, will build thinking and communication skills, learn how to collaborate effectively and be more accountable for their learning.
Challenged Based Learning is very similar to the above two but focuses on a real life problem that the student has identified and tries to solve. The action that comes from the inquiry should then lead into making a difference and it should be ultimately shared with others.
How do I use these learning methods in my own teaching?
As a IB PYP teacher I do have the opportunity to use project and problem based solving in my teaching because our curriculum allows us to be flexible and to use the methods that we believe best suits our students learning requirements.
We structure our inquiry using Kath Murdoch’s Inquiry Cycle in that we drive the initial inquiry with a provocation or questions and then we tune in the students by structuring learning experiences that will help the students understand some of the concepts and lines of inquiry that we are focusing on. We then let the students find out and sort out their understanding often through project based learning.
For our How We Organise Ourselves unit the Central Idea is:
Government systems and decisions can promote or deny equal opportunities and social justice.
The tuning in part involves Thinking Routines that allow the students to think about the concepts, guest speakers, discussions about issues and government organisation. They then looked at some of the current issues that were happening in Ukraine, their own countries and around the World. At the same time we were reading Shadow by Michael Morpurgo, which is a novel about an Afghanistan boy who enters the UK as an illegal immigrant. The students then carried out a personal inquiry into an aspect of the story that they wanted to find out more about. Some of the projects were:
- Immigrants coming into Europe via Greece and Turkey
- Comparing health systems between Afghanistan and the UK
- The Afghan War both in the 1980’s and 2002.
- Sniffer dogs
- Women in Afghanistan
The benefits of project based learning such as a high level of interest, planning, communication of their findings, engagement in learning, integration of literacy, self directed learning, differentiation, self management skills and learning about real life issues were all present.
In maths we often use problem based learning such as in our computation unit where the students chose a project of their own design which they have to research and do all the calculations. These boys worked together to budget for buying their own island. Lots of maths and high engagement.
During the Exhibition we have many students working on challenge based learning projects because we ask that they incorporate a local issue into their inquiry. The students create their own questions for research using the PYP Concepts. They use both primary and secondary sources, take Action and present their findings at the PYP Exhibition to other students in the school, parents and teachers. One student looked at the treatment of ponies in local parks, others looked at how tech trash is dealt with in Ukraine and took responsibility for the safe disposal of batteries in the school. One student who is a Crimean Tartar wanted to raise awareness of the ways in which Tartars have been discriminated against and he presented all adults and older students with a video on the problem. The students enthusiasm for these projects, their engagement in their learning and the action that they take is challenge based and extremely motivating for all.
Most important are the reflections of the students as they show what the students have taken away from the process:
“The biggest thing I understood during the exhibition is that you can change something in your community or the world that you feel passionate about by taking action. The action can be big are small it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that by that you changed something a little and if everybody will do that something big might change.” PSI Student reflecting on Exhibition 2017
This is what makes this kind of learning worthwhile.