Project-based education key to student success

Why should “project-based learning” in schools be important to parents, students and the community? First, let’s explore what project-based learning is and how it impacts the students — the students that are our community’s future.

Project-based learning is an instructional method using an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem or challenge. Students gain knowledge and skills throughout the project. Frequently, students do not recognize the areas of educational growth and skills they’ve gained because of their passion in the project.

A great example of project-based learning would be the recent “Shark Tank” conducted at McCordsville Elementary. Students were given task parameters of creating a business and launching a product/invention.

The (mock) entrepreneur students were required to follow the timeline, prepare a business plan, use vocabulary words, create a pitch and promotional video, research the cost of materials, target a specific audience and give a speech of their concept as a persuasive argument on why their product should be funded.

This student-led project covered 63 Indiana state standards. The finalists presented their inventions in front of the entire school and were (mock) funded through local community “sharks” consisting of teachers and local community business leaders.

A primary benefit of project-based learning is that students enjoy learning through hands-on research. The projects engage students; they are active, rather than passive in their learning.

The activity provides real-world relevance for students’ learning. Through project-based learning, students learn the value of teamwork, take initiative, learn how to communicate ideas, manage timelines and solve problems.

Soft skills that are essential in today’s workforce or college, such as being respectful, dependable and efficient, are also managed (or learned) in project-based learning. We all know that sometimes teamwork in projects can be challenging; however, this experience prepares students for the real world, as projects in college/career can be difficult as well.

Another benefit of the project-based learning approach is the ability to connect the student and school to the community.

The community can be involved in the project or the project can entail solving a problem that is important to the student and their community. The project can have a powerful effect in creating emerging and transformative leaders. Projects that are close to heart can give students a sense of purpose and realize they can make a difference in the world.

Another example of project-based learning is the Mt. Vernon High School students whose group is now known as the “Green Team.” Eight students in developmental reading have inspired their peers to drink more water using the new water bottle refilling stations they encouraged the district to purchase. Their contagious passion towards healthy initiatives resulted in a corporate partnership with Hancock Regional Hospital, which purchased “Marauder Water” bottles for their club to sell. The project involved teamwork, research, presentations, student surveys and fundraising.

I believe the boring “chalk and talk” pedagogy for education is in transition; students are driving their learning in schools using modern teaching methods such as project-based learning.

Students perceive the project as personally meaningful, which drives their desire to do well. These projects also serve an educational purpose, fulfilling academic goals while achieving an engaging and personal education for each student.

In summary, students, parents and the community should support schools/teachers that provide the innovative and progressive project-based learning. Students deserve to have a project-based learning environment where they engage in their learning and develop skills used in the 21st century environment.