The staff at ISDB began exploring project-based learning as a strategy to increase student engagement in learning during the spring of 2005. Research into the structure and components of project-based learning led to implementing short term projects with student groups at all grade levels in spring 2005. After experiencing the benefits for the students, the campus and outreach staff came together in the summer to develop project-based curriculum for all grade level teams within the school. Project units are aligned to the Idaho Standards. Implementation of these integrated units began in the fall of 2005. Each year more units have been created in the summer curriculum development with both campus and outreach staff.
The advantages of project-based learning are well-established in research---- with the integrated approach to tackling real-world problems and projects, students are more readily able to make connections between academic learning and the real world.
A project is an in-depth investigation of a real-world topic or problem and involves the student in active, hands-on learning. Rich topics are selected based on student interests, state standards, and the availability of local resources for the investigations. Projects generally are interdisciplinary, developing skills in multiple content areas. The investigation of the topic is guided by driving questions that stimulate the investigations and require application of concepts and deep thought to draw conclusions in order to answer by the end of the project. Work on projects is student-driven with collaborative work among students, teachers, and community members who may have expert knowledge within the selected topic. The teacher provides guidance for the investigation, helps to keep work on track, and will directly teach needed skills for the students to accomplish the project goals.
An important feature of project-based learning is student presentations of what they have learned. The culmination of the project involves students sharing with an audience what they have learned. Results can be displayed in a variety of ways—charts, graphs, models, power-point presentations, videos, and more. Students are gaining skills in communicating and presenting to others, a vital skill in the real world. Students are also learning to self-evaluate and to provide feedback to others through peer evaluations.
The staff at ISDB is continuing to build skills in implementing the project-based learning approach, and is excited with the promise that it shows for the students at ISDB.