This fall, I’ve transitioned into using project-based learning (PBL) as the core instructional model in my classroom.
Already in their fourth week of school, my students are reaching the end of their first major project called Consumer Product Reports. Throughout the course of the project, my students have learned about the scientific method and good experimental design.
Small, assigned groups of students chose a consumer product to investigate. Each group designed an experiment and tested their product. Students are now working to construct a professional article that will be part of our school’s Consumer Product Reports magazine, which I intend to make downloadable through the iBooks Store.
While my students have learned critical science content through completion of this project, they have also developed 21st century skills. Rather than simply learning about science, they acted like scientists, all while building cross-curricular skills like Internet research, use of technology, collaboration, and critical thinking.
Tool: QuickVoice App for iPad
Before I allowed my students time to independently start their project, I organized a small-group brainstorming session for each of my assigned groups. I set the expectation early in the school year that groups are assigned intentionally and that all students must learn to work with everyone else in the class.
Before getting to work, students followed a brainstorming protocol that helped get the ideas flowing. Their discussion was recorded using QuickVoice, and I later listened to their recordings and awarded points for participation.
Tools: Google, Project Planning Guide
Part of the scientific method is doing background research on your topic of study, and this project was no different. As my students designed comprehensive investigations on the consumer products of their choice, it was important that they knew how those products worked. They also had to research the product’s marketing and advertising, ingredients, and cost.
The iPad played an important role in my students’ research process. With quick and easy access to the Internet and Google, my students had most of the answers to their questions at their fingertips.
Middle schoolers need adequate scaffolding when it comes to research. I made sure to provide my students with a list of helpful websites as well as a Project Planning Guide that contained prompting questions to help them focus their work.
Once my students had completed their background research, they were ready to design their project.
Students worked collaboratively to complete a Project Proposal, where they started to describe how they would use the scientific method to conduct their investigations.
Students then critiqued each other’s proposals, providing constructive feedback that was then taken into consideration when groups made final revisions. This played a powerful role in the development of a collaborative classroom culture. My students started to learn that their ideas and opinions mattered and, through revision, everyone can create beautiful work.
Submitting the Request
Tool: Google Docs Form
My students used a Google Docs form to submit a materials request form. Just like real scientists, their proposal to conduct an investigation must be approved by a grant sponsor.
The Google Doc form submitted their group’s information into a spreadsheet where I could keep project information organized and provide my students with timely feedback on their design.
Documentation & Communication
Tools: E-mail, Calendar App, Camera App, “To-do” lists
Managing a PBL classroom can be a challenge. Thankfully, use of the iPad’s applications simplified this process and helped me stay in communication with my students.
- Any update or new resource was sent to the iPad’s e-mail address, where groups simply needed to click a link or download a file in order to get started.
- The Calendar App provided a clear time line and reminders on each of the deadlines I established throughout the project.
- “To-Do” lists helped my students stay productive; everyone in their group always had something to do.
- The Camera App was used to document student collaboration. I can later use the pictures to decorate our classroom.
During project work time, the iPad became a tool for recording student checkpoints and keeping track of their individual needs. With multiple groups moving at different paces, it is important for a PBL teacher to stay organized and document student progress.
The Culminating Product
A Consumer Product Reports magazine article.
As my students’ investigations come to a close, they have started to construct their final product: a Consumer Product Reports magazine article. This article is being constructed using the iWork Pages app on the iPad. I plan to take final articles and construct an e-book using the Mac app iBooks Author.
One essential aspect of project-based learning is that students have a motivating, authentic audience for their final product. Because my students know that the entire school will be able to download their final work, they are all motivated to create something beautiful. As with the design process, their work will undergo heavy peer critique until they can turn in a final product that they can be truly proud of.
Although this is just the beginning of my class’ journey using project-based learning, I am already starting to see the benefits. My students were 100% engaged in their learning of the scientific method. They also developed important communication, leadership, and technology skills.
Stay tuned for examples of their final work and info on how you can download our Consumer Product Reports e-Magazine!
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