Create, question, adapt: first steps into Project-Based Learning

Posted In Creative, General

Last term, pupils and teachers at Bethany took their first steps into the world of Project Based Learning (PBL). Over the course of three days, Year 7 pupils designed, prototyped and presented in response to the question how can you improve an aspect of life for someone with a specific disability?

The parents and staff who joined us at the culmination of the project saw how successful the project was and how tangible the outcomes. Each group fulfilled the brief and responded to the assessment criteria; each group reflected on where things had gone well and not so well; and each group demonstrated real pride in their final presentations.

The feedback we collected from pupils asked for more opportunities like this, with lots more time for practical ‘making and doing’ and for working as a team. They said how much they had enjoyed it, how tired it had left them at the end of the day, and how – when we do this again – they would like more choice about project outcomes.

So, when my fellow teachers and I sat down to evaluate the project, how did we feel? I know I speak for us all when I say we felt great. Exhausted, yes, but certainly great. We too had achieved something and also reinforced for ourselves why we became teachers. When you consider what it means to be a teacher, it means enabling pupils to discover a love for learning; providing them with opportunities to learn through real life experience; to be creative, questioning, independent, resilient and adaptable; and to have the confidence to learn through failure as well as success.

Not everything worked out perfectly. Our timings may need adjusting for each phase; our assessment frameworks may need refining to make them more straightforward and pupil friendly; perhaps we need to learn to take more of a back seat and let pupils make their own mistakes or sort out more of their own group disagreements. But this is all part of the learning – for both pupils and teachers – that goes with introducing Project Based Learning. It opens dialogue about educational practice and thinking, about what is important, and about how we foster skills development alongside curriculum content.

This project took a considerable amount of time and energy, from planning the logistics of space and resources, to inviting speakers, to constructing resources and assessment frameworks, to the three all-consuming days of the project itself. However, we’d do it all again like a shot, because we can see the benefits that it has for our pupils.

We’ll be running a second project this term with Year 7. Have you heard of The Crystal Maze? It might hold a clue as to what we are planning…

First published on the Independent Schools Council website.