Educators have known for years that student projects are great assessment strategies, but the current trend in project based learning shows us that projects also provide a superior learning environment. Students are more engaged in critical thinking, their learning is contextual instead of disparate, and they make more authentic connections to the ‘real world’.
Many teachers struggle with Project Based Learning or have had a disappointing experience, and that doesn’t need to happen. I’m revealing the very best way to make Project Based Learning more successful: collaborate with the School Librarian!
A BIT OF BACKGROUND
An Edutopia article Project-Based Learning vs. Problem-Based Learning vs. X-BL, by Buck Institute for Education (BIE) Editor-in-Chief John Larner, states that “The term ‘project learning’ derives from the work of John Dewey and dates back to William Kilpatrick, who first used the term in 1918,” and “The use of case studies and simulations as ‘problems’ dates back to medical schools in the 1960s.” Thus there is a rich background for the success of PBL as a learning system.
According to Larner and BIE, project-based learning has an array of new monikers that take various forms, but it is primarily an “extended learning experience” that may include one or more of the following:
- “investigating a topic or issue to develop an answer to an open-ended question”
- “solving a real-world problem (may be simulated or fully authentic)”
- “designing and/or creating a tangible product, performance or event.”
According to Larner, PBL et al. falls under the general category of inquiry-based learning—which also includes research papers, scientific investigations, Socratic Seminars or other text-based discussions, etc.” (Nice to know those research papers we’ve been assigning all these years are still relevant!)
HOW YOUR SCHOOL LIBRARIAN CAN HELP
If you’ve been reluctant to try PBL or had a bad experience with it, here are 5 ways your School Librarian can be an invaluable PBL partner:
- We can show students the best research process model to guide them through the project/problem/design/challenge they’ve chosen. I’ve created a chart of the best research process models out there and it’s a FREE PDF download. All PSMs have 4 basic phases: plan, aggregate materials, create a product, and analyze outcome. Some have more steps, some fewer, and all develop in students a problem-solving mindset. Since each model has its benefits and flaws, a School Librarian, experienced in teaching these models, can determine the most suitable process for the project a teacher has in mind, can present it in a manner that supports student inquiry, and will scaffold the learning so students master each step.
- We can show students the best ways to develop meaningful questions.Students rarely have an opportunity to plan a research assignment, so they may not be adept at creating meaningful questions for PBL. School Librarians have brainstorming tools to help students formulate questions as they begin their projects. We can also show students how good questions help them sift through resources for specific information—saving them time—and how to analyze the value of that information to create a quality product or outcome.
- We can show each student the best information resources for their needs.
My school library had 10,000 non-fiction books, along with more than 50 different online services. Imagine the confusion for students trying to determine what to use for their information need. A school librarian knows all the resources available to students, and more importantly, knows how to match the most useful print, audio, video, digital, or web-based resources with the needs of each student’s project. We are the ultimate curators of information resources!
- We can show students all the best search strategies for those sources.
Before the Internet came along School Librarians taught students how to generate keywords to search an Index or Table of Contents in print materials. Our purpose has not changed; teaching students to generate keywords is essential for searching online, whether for text, graphic, audio or video materials. We’ve also mastered ways to fine-tune a search in online subscription services and search engines, such as Google. We can help each student customize their search for whatever their own project requires.
- We can show students the best way to gather information ethically and proficiently.
A prior blog post talked about Academic Honesty and teaching students note-taking methods for the ethical use of information. School Librarians also know a range of digital and online apps to assist students in gathering and organizing their information, some of which are excellent for presenting the final project/product.
Teachers can gain confidence for doing Project/Problem Based Learning by collaborating with their School Librarians. If you are a Teacher, now is a perfect time to visit with your School Librarian about planning PBL lessons for the coming school year.
If you are a School Librarian, here is a downloadable PDF document to share with your teachers about this article’s 5 Ways to collaborate with them for some exciting Project Based Learning experiences for students!