What happens to students when they engage in Project-Based Learning?
Yes, we know that Project-Based Learning enables students to demonstrate their fundamental skills (i.e., reading, writing, math, etc) and their 21st-Century skills (i.e., collaboration, teamwork, problem-solving, research gathering, time management, information synthesizing, utilizing high tech tools), but what happens to students they are engaging in Project-Based Learning?
When students are empowered with voice and choice in regard to a teacher-designed project, they begin to embrace a maker mindset. What’s a maker mindset? It is a mindset where students develop creative confidence and a sense that they have the ability to creatively solve problems on their own and with their peers. They start to define themselves as inventors and creators.
By viewing themselves as a creator or inventor, they learn to take creative risks and experiment with iterative thinking. They are not afraid to put something new and fresh out into the world or classroom that might be laughed at or met with apprehension. When students become creative risk-takers, they don’t mind being dismissed as crazy or unusual. These types of people are the ones who create the most innovative ideas.
Growth & Resiliency
Stemming from their newly found identity as creative risk-taker and iterative thinkers, students inherit the mindset of growth and resiliency. They believe that they can get smarter and understand that their efforts are making them stronger. Additionally, students improve their ability to meet and overcome challenges in ways that maintain or promote well-being in the sense that students can achieve academic and personal goals. Ultimately, students are becoming problem solvers and systems thinkers (or an ability to see that components of a system, when isolated, will act differently when they are removed from the system’s environment).
Thinking outside the box. That’s what a divergent thinker does. And that is what happens to students when they are engaging in Project-Based Learning. They make use of creative constraint to find original uses for materials. In this moment, they uncover that it is okay to be different, even a good thing.
As students continue their PBL journey, they become curious and embrace wonder. They have a desire to seek out new information that can contribute to solving their question while inspecting information critically. The critical thinking mind is growing stronger and stronger. They are practicing a skill that is invaluable for their educational and professional careers.
Improved Empathy & Engagement
Students grow more empathetic as they design meaningful products that they launch to the world. On an academic level, students are more engaged and the information sticks. The combination of improved engagement and sticking information often leads to an increase in student achievement. Simultaneously, they learn key skills like project management, collaboration, and communication aka 21st-Century Skills.
In conclusion, it is true that these projects will prepare students for the creative economy. But more importantly, they empower students for a creative life. Here, they see that making is magic. We know that there’s a time crunch in school and materials can be scarce. Sometimes, you’re stuck with a tight curriculum map, however, when you, as a teacher, empower your students with voice and choice, they become the makers who change the world.