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Meeting the Needs of All Students Workshop

Using Project-Based Learning as an Effective Tool for Motivation and Engagement

Engagement in activities: challenging students with problems or scenarios promotes investigation, critical thinking, creativity, and teamwork.
Educators, let us provide you with project-based learning to impact student motivation, learning and readiness for life. 

So, you may ask … “Why use Project-Based Learning, when there are so many other approaches to choose from… and does it meet the needs of all of my students?” The answer is, “Yes, it does.” Important to consider is: we live in a project-based world that requires innovative thinking, problem solving and highly-developed technical skills. Let us discuss the research behind what drives our ability to learn.  According to Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, “Learning is a very active process-not one of ingesting and retaining information like a file drawer stores information (2021). Students need to be presented with cognitively engaging experiences that stretch their brains past what is familiar to them.  We can view Carol Dweck’s term, “growth mindset” for students who have learning hurdles to cross to support this view. “Growth Mindset is the belief that ones’ abilities and knowledge are growing and developing at different times.” Instilling the belief in our students that they can develop and learn information over time and with effort formulates a willingness to learn. It is a fascinating and prolific theory that has proven to be accurate during many studies. Dweck also uses the words, “not yet” which means that students can learn when they are ready to learn and not in the same way or on the same day, thereby reducing anxiety and pressure (2021).

Children who are fortunate to grow up in linguistically and cognitively stimulating environments tend to have a broad general knowledge of their world and their ability to grasp or understand things, but this is not the case for all students. Project-based instruction can bridge the gap between students with limited experiential exposure, English Language Learners, and our special education population. When we provide students with authentic learning experiences, we prepare them for the real world. In its purest form, PBL prepares students to be self-sufficient, creative, and critical thinkers that can take on any challenge.

 Project-based learning is an innovative methodology that includes cooperative learning, students work together in small groups on structured activities. Each group is organized, including students with different learning needs, known as Cooperative Learning. In this way, students’ needs are met by supporting each during the activities. Studies show that collaborative learning and peer-to-peer learning fosters deeper thinking. Students find ways to utilize each other’s strengths, therefore minimizing their weaknesses. Additionally, students create tangible results to represent what they have learned. Students use technology and inquiry to respond to a complex issue, problem or challenge which is a perfect the use for the STEM methodology. The PBL structure lends itself to building intrinsic motivation because it centers student learning around a central question or problem and a meaningful outcome. Students end up wanting to understand the answer or solution and have fun in the process!

Daniel Pink, in his TEDTalk and influential book, Drive12, says people are intrinsically motivated by three things—autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Popular terms like grit and rigor become embedded dispositions when learners sink their teeth into meaningful endeavors, like those provided during project-based instruction. An example of PBL includes one that blends English language arts and social studies. Students answer the question, “What role does censorship play in society?” Following introductory instruction, students select a banned book, read it, compose a persuasive essay, and take part in a censorship-related mock trial experience conducted in the presence of experts. That last part–the mock trial in front of a group of experts–is what really drives PBL. The learning is not just experiential but also frequently contains a public, real-world component. Another example, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) includes developing a tool that is useful in a family activity. They learn that professional engineers look to nature to help them to develop prototypes. During the process each student creates a project that uses something they learned about the external part of an animal to give them ideas for developing a useful tool.

Elevate Educators believes in providing our teachers with high-quality, research-based, tools to teach and facilitate students’ motivation, growth and development in the framework of a constructivist model. In our recent trip to Trento, Italy educators from the US witnessed firsthand authentic problem-based learning tasks in classrooms who are made up of preschoolers ages three through five. We were in awe with the children and the teachers. NAEYC describes how to breakdown STEAM for our youngest learners NAEYC STEAM .

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