Current pedagogical practices hold that students learn and retain information best when involved in real-world projects that gives them direct experiences that they can control to meet their objectives. This methodology requires teachers to come up with engaging class projects that lead their students to the required skills and knowledge through practical application. This, of course, is never easy for the teacher and since the best projects involve students working in groups, teacher must also know how to mix according to personality, learning style or other criteria.
To begin, let’s clarify what the educational buzzword ‘learning by doing’ actually means. Quoting the American philosopher John Dewey who said in the late 19th century, “I believe that the school must represent present life – life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground.” This idea of Dewey’s was expounded upon by the Arcadia University Professor, Peggy Hickman when she wrote “… The teachers were to present real life problems to the children and then guide the students to solve the problem by providing them with a hands-on activity to learn the solution … ” Thus, learning should be relevant and practical, not just passive and theoretical. Project-based learning is a teaching approach that engages students in hands-on activities and experiences that help them generate and apply new skills and concepts.
This raises the question of what is relevant and practical to 21st century students. We can focus this question by considering the present-day concern over ‘fake news’. Clearly a citizenry capable of distinguishing a legitimate news report from mere propaganda is essential to a healthy democracy. Imagine a class project where a group students have to determine which of a selection of available news reports are well founded and which are based on false, non-verified or biased reporting. The project can be also to create an online newspaper and invent news, mix them with real news and try to fool their classmates.
Another project-based exercise in groups could be to create a company from idea generation to business development and marketing processes assigning roles, functions and tasks to each member of the team. Project-based learning is effective, stimulating, and often just as much fun for teachers as for students. In this video Anne Gilleran from the the European Schoolnet Academy explains the principles behind inquiry-based learning and problem-based learning which are the basis for designing effective projects to develop learners’ competences. The video also provides a preliminary checklist and 7 basic steps for designing a Project Based Learning activity to develop students’ competences.
What is clear is that students will learn better from real experiences and thanks to projects that they make real thanks to their work.