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Five ways that project based learning empowers educators and elevates equity

Project based learning, or PBL, is a teaching methodology that engages students using a sustained inquiry-based approach. Let’s take a look at how this teaching methodology can empower educators and elevate equity.
Five ways that project based learning empowers educators and elevates equity
Five ways that project based learning empowers educators and elevates equity

This year’s ISTELive 22 conference theme is “Empowering Educators. Elevating Equity,” which has encouraged the team at Hāpara to think about how we can operationalize that aspiration now and into the future. One of the most inspiring ways to do this is using project based learning (PBL). PBL is a teaching methodology that engages students using a sustained inquiry-based approach. It connects learning to real-world contexts, honors student voice and choice and allows students to build transferable skills such as critical thinking, giving and receiving feedback, collaboration, communication and project management. In addition, PBL can foster equitable learning experiences for all students because it draws on strengths and abilities in ways relevant to their own life experiences.

Let’s take a look at how this teaching methodology can empower educators and elevate equity. 

1. Reconnect with “why” you teach

When educators feel burned out and tired, PBL can empower them to reconnect to their “why” or original motivation for being a teacher because of the transformative learning moments. Many educators are also inspired as they learn through the projects they facilitate and by witnessing increased student engagement that has visible results. Teachers who know about PBL often feel a renewed sense of purpose and efficacy in their professional practice. 

Especially now, as many educators are weary and considering leaving the profession, PBL is one way to make them feel empowered. This method honors a teacher’s creativity and professional judgment. Additionally, it involves students taking on a depth of responsibility for their learning that, structured through teaching practices such as protocols, can be liberating for educators and students. 

2. Student voice and choice

Project based learning incorporates student voice and choice as students can help shape the inquiry process, lead their own education with focused outcomes, and learn that their work matters in both their classroom and beyond. “Voice and choice,” means that students are intentionally given the opportunity to exercise their judgment and make decisions related to addressing a project’s challenging problem or question. This scenario provides opportunities for students to use critical thinking and problem solving and foster engagement through intrinsic motivation. 

Despite some misconceptions, voice and choice does not imply teachers stand on the sidelines. Still, it means guiding students toward success through developmentally appropriate structuring choices, focused on academics, and including transferable success skills. This guidance is actualized by helping students develop executive functioning skills through learning how to manage their projects.

3. Better insight into learner interests

Project based learning can also provide significant insights into students’ interests to better know them. Engagement and outcomes increase when students feel more personally understood, and this personalization reflects in their learning experiences. For example, think of how great it feels when someone knows you, your interests and enough context to make work meaningful to you specifically. This experience can lead to students feeling more comfortable and inspired to take more risks as they learn, drawing upon their unique gifts and ideas and making those visible within a project. In other words, when done well, the project has the power to allow each student’s learning to be more visible, which empowers the teacher to support them better. PBL can provide these moments of magic if educators take the opportunity to listen, read and observe our individual students within the context of a high-quality project.

4. Provide authentic intellectual challenges

Another way project based learning can elevate equity is by providing authentic intellectual challenges reflecting high cognitive demand, which builds upon existing interest, knowledge and experience. For example, educators can challenge their students to read more complex texts or interview subject matter experts. These activities help build the skills needed to give and receive peer feedback that is kind, specific and actionable. Projects that provide authentic intellectual challenges set the table for increased achievement as students find meaning in what they are learning, especially when they discover they can positively impact the world outside their classroom. Authentic learning with PBL also allows students to engage with people outside of school to interview experts, conduct research and present their projects.

5. Shift the balance of power

Project based learning often involves shifting the balance of power within the classroom to be more student-centered. One example is the peer critique and revision process, where students use structured protocols to guide how they both give and receive feedback that is kind, specific and actionable. If this sounds like an experience for secondary students, think again. The fantastic Ron Berger at EL Education, a nonprofit offering PBL curriculum and related professional learning services, models this by providing feedback in a replicable manner with young students in his well-loved video, Austin’s Butterfly. But peer feedback and critique are only a few examples of how PBL increases student engagement which helps foster educational equity. 

Fostering educational equality requires a tool designed to support these outcomes; that is where Hāpara excels. Hāpara’s instructional suite provides tools and a structured learning environment that allows for differentiation and personalization to facilitate a more equitable learning experience. Benefits include:

  • Keeping the project’s central focus at the forefront 
  • Allowing students to have a clear understanding of how teachers will assess their work
  • Providing real-time insights into student progress 
  • Content filtering to make their research safer
  • Tools to provide real-time feedback to students so they can be supported while they learn

Use the guidance and insight on project based learning in this blog as a starting point to empower yourself and other educators, and dive deeper into learning with your students while providing equitable teaching opportunities. 

Learn how Hāpara can help you take project based learning to a deeper level. Visit us at booth #1530 at ISTELive 22.

Explore ways to ensure all learners and staff members feel seen and heard by creating a climate of trust and empathy.

Exploring Educational Equity with Rich Dixon and Andre Daughty computer

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