The introduction of the LNF in secondary schools means that most departments now have to take responsibility for specific areas. For example, History may refine formal letter writing using complex sentences after English has introduced the skill, for it then to be assessed by Religious Education at the end of the year. This is a massive undertaking for schools and requires a lot of planning and careful implementation. Another issue is that students do have a tendency to ‘pigeonhole’ their knowledge; if they are in English, their English hat is on. Throw a bit of numeracy at them and their minds are boggled. Not only do we have to develop pupils’ literacy, numeracy and subject specific skills, we also have to ‘train’ students to transfer their skills across disciplines and bridge their subject knowledge.
After reading a Guardian article on Project Based Learning, as well as the approach used by the High Tech High group of schools in America, my curiosity led to an online quest down a rabbit hole of Googling and much manic clicking of links. Bouncing from The Guardian, to the High Tech High website, to the XP School in Doncaster (a new school that aims to build its whole curriculum around project-based learning) and to YouTube to view the videos of Project-Based Learning in action, it was clear that academic rigour was matched with creativity and cross curricular knowledge in the projects set by enthused subject specialists. This was far from the themed projects that many of us experienced in school, where the only person checking your work would be your teacher and maybe your parents if you took your dog-eared project book home.
Our First Project
After much discussion and planning, project-based learning was timetabled for the 2014-2015 academic year for Year 7 and Year 8 pupils. It is hoped that pupils will be able to blend their literacy, numeracy and subject specific knowledge to work in groups and produce ambitious work for public exhibition or submittal to external agencies. Pupils will be taught by English and Maths teachers with visiting experts attending sessions to kick off the project and judge their work. For reflection and planning purposes, all the pupils will be set the same project brief although it will be widely differentiated in order to challenge pupils and offer them the chance to progress.
The first key question is: ‘How can we reduce traffic outside the school?’. By using a community-based issue and involving external agencies such as Sustrans and the local council, we hope to show pupils how to use their knowledge in order to effect change. Some of the tasks pupils will be completing include: designing questionnaires, administering them and compiling frequency charts, bar charts and pie charts; formally summarising their findings through profiling the average pupil; mapping their routes using scale measurements; investigating local and international approaches to sustainable travel; exploring the preferences for travel in the school; investigating why certain routes are not safe and what must be improved for pupils to cycle to school; producing displays, infographics and videos before finally starting to plan and draft their formal report making recommendations on how to reduce traffic outside of the school.
Pupils will have the opportunity to peer critique and draft various elements of their reports before final submittal (as per the Project Based Learning guidance) to a judging panel accompanied by an exhibition of their work.
This is a new approach for the school, and it is hoped that it will stoke the pupils’ ambition as they engage with a community based problem and realise the consequences of their work being produced for public consumption. As it is a new approach we will be constantly reflecting and refining the process, in order to ensure the success of subsequent projects! Additionally, we will be looking for any fresh ideas for new projects. We hope to use the ‘100 People: A World Portrait’ as the basis for a second project, in order to expand our pupils view of the world and broaden their aspirations.
How do you employ project-based learning in your school? Let us know in the comments.