What is Project-Based Learning?
I have transformed my learning environment by incorporating project-based learning (PBL) through the use of technology. Technology in the classroom has given my students the necessary tools to inquire complicated questions and solve rigorous challenges. Through PBL, my students have gained academic content knowledge and developed important 21st century skills, which includes information literacy, problem-solving, communication, and the use of digital media. The PBL process involves the introduction of a driving question, the culminating challenge, content research, student-generated products, and a summative assessment.
PBL entails student-centered activities that focus on authentic, real-world issues in the form of a driving question. This meaningful question is open-ended so that students can research and develop a solution through the utilization of technologies.
3rd Grade PBL Unit: Area and Perimeter
To review area and perimeter with my 3rd graders, I decided to have my students design a digital structure. First, I presented students with this driving question, “What structures should architects design in a dense, highly populated city, where high energy consumption affects the environment negatively?” This was a meaningful and authentic question to the students because they live in Seoul, a city with 16,700 people per square kilometer. Their culminating challenge was to design a structure that would be superlative in a highly populated and high energy consuming city.
The technology-based research process in PBL benefits students in two different ways. First, students become subject matter “experts” by researching their respective topics. The 3rd grade students had to take on the role of architects with a specific design challenge. This challenge required students to understand architectural concepts that included sustainable building, micro-housing, and open-plan space. Students also needed to demonstrate basic skills in art and geometry. Second, students developed their information, communications, and technology (ICT) literacy. The “architects” visited relevant, educational websites to acquire the needed concepts and skills for their design solutions. They completed a shared, digital graphic organizer to help them focus on crucial information.
As a result of their inquiry and research, students demonstrated their learning by creating a product that solves the driving question. Technology has allowed my students to create products that are solutions to their challenges. The architects utilized web-based tools to create digital floor plans and 3D models of their structure that included features in sustainable building and micro-housing. These products were used to measure the students’ proficiency in the content and skills.
Apple technologies have been a crucial part of transforming my classroom into a project-based learning environment. In my class, we operate 24 Mac computers and 24 iPads. These intuitive, user-friendly computers and their software makes it easier for the students to be engaged, actively participate in their own learning, inquire authentic problems, and create products that promote creativity and innovation.
The fourth grade students created an eBook using iBook Author to develop their writing strategies, specifically focusing on addressing one theme and organization structure, and locating relevant information for their writing. I challenged students to create a story about bullying so that they could read their eBooks to the kindergarten classes. This school-wide issue helped the students see how there is a connection between their academic work and their own real-life affairs. The students researched the topic of bullying, and found many solutions to what children can do when they encounter bullies. After writing their final draft, they typed out their stories into iBook Author. Their eBooks were then uploaded into the iPads that the fourth grade students used to read to the kindergartners. The iPad was the perfect device for the kindergartners because of its simple user interface. Overall, the fourth grade students were more motivated to create a quality product because these Apple technologies published their academic work electronically.
Another example of Apple technologies facilitating project-based learning was the Marketing Team project that provided students with this real-world problem:
Apple Inc. has discovered that a tech coordinator from a large district would like to purchase Apple devices for his schools planning to implement a 1:1 program. He has to choose between the Macbook Air and the iPad with retina display. As a result, Apple Inc. has sent their iPad marketing team and their Macbook Air marketing team to convince the tech coordinator to choose one of its products.
The purpose of this project was to develop my students’ 21st century skills that includes problem solving, communication and collaboration, creativity, and ICT literacy skills.The students were presented with the following question: “Which device, an iPad or Macbook Air, would be more beneficial to schools who plan to implement a 1:1 program?”
In order to answer the given question, each marketing team had to become subject matter experts of both devices. The teams had to find differences between the two devices, as well as discover the reasons why their device was better suited for an educational setting when compared to its counterpart. Each student took on the authentic role of a marketing team member as they created flyers/posters with Pages, a presentation using Keynote, and a features/specs data-comparison document using Numbers. These items were then given to our school’s technology coordinator to see which device would be best suited for his school. This subject-matter expert provided the teams with feedback, which was used as talking points in our classroom discussion. Apple technologies have allowed students to find solutions to complex questions, as well as create products that demonstrate their learning.
Success in Using Apple Technologies for PBL
Student content mastery, the increase in student motivation and engagement, and the enhancement of student 21st century skills were a few of the successes I have found when students used Apple technologies in problem-based learning.
After students completed a culminating challenge, our class discussions, as well as student-reflection writing responses, consisted of improved vocabulary and a better understanding of the content. PBL has produced students who are active in their own learning with self-directed research. This process counters the current system of learning which provides students with information through rote memorization.
I also found that student engagement and motivation increased through the use of technology. Technology allows students to make their own decisions in choosing appropriate tools and resources, solving complex problems, and in managing their projects. Providing students with this freedom allows them to take control of their learning and become engaged in the learning process. Additionally, these Apple technologies help students showcase their products publicly. The public audience could range from peers, parents, community members, and experts in the field. For example, the marketing teams in my Research Skills unit were required to persuade our school’s tech coordinator to buy their product for a 1:1 computing program. Showcasing their work publicly made their schoolwork meaningful and prompted students to take ownership of their learning. Students developed intrinsic motivation to understand content and master skills, due to the professional nature of the academic tasks.
Another success I have found is the development of my students’ 21st century skills, including critical thinking, communication, creativity, and inquiry skills. These skills are important because they are the foundational skills of lifelong learners and productive workers. Implementing PBL with technology has required my students to problem-solve and make difficult decisions while they prepare and take control of their project activities. There were also growth in communication and collaboration skills during group projects. For example, role-playing as marketing team members required my students to become a cohesive unit that shared important information and ideas with one another. In doing so, students produced original products that expressed new ideas and thinking. Students were also successful in developing their research skills that involved gathering information, and using the information to answer complex questions. Apple technologies, especially the iPad’s educational apps and Mac’s Safari web browser, allowed students to engage in interactive resources that provided essential content.
Additionally, I have found that my students have gained a sound understanding of different technology concepts and systems by operating Apple technologies. The simple user interface of Apple programs removed many fears students had about technology. The technology knowledge that they gained from using Apple products was also transferred into other technologies I introduced in the classroom. Some students were even able to troubleshoot technology systems independently.