When children first start school, they are full of curiosity about the world around them, and want to ask a million questions and to touch and feel everything. They want to explore. And this is where traditional education, which focuses on information gathering rather than understanding and contextualising, fails them. They are simply taught facts and figures: two plus two equals four, Pakistan has five rivers, Pakistan became an Islamic state after Partition. Being told that it’s important to know these facts is simply not enough. The purpose and practicality of learning pass them by. And then the inevitable happens: they become bored with school.
Project based learning (PBL) puts students at the helm of the learning process. It engages and sustains their interest and ensures a deeper understanding of a given domain. So, instead of learning a set of pre-determined and decontextualised information, students will acquire knowledge and skills that build upon their own experiences. Not only will they remember the information, they will understand how to apply it to other situations, building a lifelong habit of learning and acquiring vital workplace skills.
• Meaningful and effective project based learning is the process by which students learn significant content, the required content set out in the curriculum.
• Critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and communication are the 21st century skills required for PBL. Students need to do much more than simply remember information; they need to use higher-order thinking skills and learn to work as a team. They must listen to others and make their own ideas clear when speaking, be able to read a variety of material, write or otherwise express themselves in various modes and make effective presentations.
• An essential component of the process of learning and creating something new is inquiry. Students ask questions, search for answers, and arrive at conclusions, leading them to construct something new.
• PBL is organised around an open-ended driving question. This focuses students’ work and deepens their learning by framing important issues, debates, challenges or problems.
• PBL reverses the order in which information and concepts are traditionally presented. It begins with the vision of an end product or presentation and this creates a need to know context and reason to learn and understand the information and concepts.
• PBL accommodates student voice and choice. Students learn to work independently and take responsibility when they are asked to make choices. The opportunity to make choices, and to express their learning in their own voice, also helps to increase students’ interest and engagement.
• The process includes revision and reflection. Students learn to give and receive feedback in order to improve the quality of the work they create, and are asked to think about what and how they are learning.
• Students present their work to other people, a public audience beyond their classmates and teacher. This increases their motivation and is an incentive to do high-quality work, as well as adding to the authenticity of the project.
Preparing a project
In standard schooling, the curriculum tends to be detached from the realities of a dynamic classroom. At TNS the link between the curriculum and school life is maintained by keeping no set prescription of what to do at every stage and constantly evolving and improving, with the experiences and learning of the classroom feeding right back into the curriculum. The project, and the learning derived from it, can be taken in many directions because no particular direction has been predetermined.
The project cycle
Each project takes place within a seven-phase cycle during which teachers keep reinforcing a key learning objective defined by the curriculum.
Proposal: the teacher provides a stimulus; an idea that excites young minds into action.
Discussion: the teacher encourages critical thinking in students and, through discussion, discovers how much background knowledge children have.
Representation: children express their understanding of the discussion by drawing a picture, writing an essay, making a model, or even creating a short film or computer animation depending on their age.
Investigation: this may involve field trips or visits from relevant members of the community like doctors, architects, or social workers. The teacher’s role is to facilitate the process by providing the required resources and asking questions to direct the investigation.
Reflection: through discussion or drawings/writings/models/short films etc. children share what was interesting in the investigation; how they felt about the experience and how they could build on that experience. By engaging children in reflection, the teacher encourages them to go beyond merely reporting what they did and helps them become aware of what they learned in the process.
Refinement: children revisit their representations and refine them. This process cultivates the ability to assess one’s own work.
Presentation: to develop public speaking and teamwork skills, children present their understanding, representations and reflections to the rest of the class, the school, parents, or the wider community.