CHAPTER IV DISCUSSION, CONCLUSIONS, RECOMMENDATIONS Project-based learning is a teaching method that is aimed at assisting all studentswith realizing their full learning potential. Although to a great extent the traditionalclassroom teaching methods are effective for most students, all too often they don’taddress the needs of students who require extra attention, or those who are moreacademically advanced than others in the class. In a project-based learning environment,the roles of the teacher and students are not reversed, but they are modified in such a waythat the students are expected to assume a much more active role, and the teacherbecomes more of a facilitator than a lecturer. Increased participation by the studentsleads to a higher level of engagement, which in-turn has a positive effect on the student’sdesire and ability to learn. Since the curriculum in a project-based classroom focuses onthings that students are already familiar with outside of the classroom, what is beingtaught in the classroom resonates more with them, and consequently they realize moresuccess in comprehending the lessons. A significant amount of research is available on project-based learning, and withvery few exceptions, the conclusions indicate that this method, especially whentechnology is used, proves to be very effective (Hernandez-Ramos & De La Paz, 2002).Studies demonstrated that students who participated in a project-based curriculumrealized higher scores on standardized tests, and when surveyed, the students indicatedthat their level of satisfaction and enjoyment in the classroom were much higher than inthe traditional classroom (Boaler, 1999).
Project OutcomesThe initial objectives of this project included: • Create a handbook to infuse technology into the Interact Gold Rush teaching unit to include: o Project implementation process o Issues and Challenges o Project Controls o Project Results o Lessons Learned • Create an evaluation plan to: o Measure project success Identify and document any challenges and obstacles related to the implementation of PBL in a 4th grade classroom. o Measure student success Determine if some students prefer the PBL learning environment over the traditional method. Attempt to identify any common characteristics of those who prefer PBL. Measure the effectiveness of the PBL process by tracking, trending and evaluating the performance metrics for each student during the project (specific milestones) and at the conclusion of the project.A number of evaluation tools were created to meet these needs which are discussed indetail in the evaluation section of this chapter. Appendix B contains the Digital
Storytelling/technology handbook to accompany the Interact Gold Rush Simulation. Thehandbook contains supplemental lessons to be used in conjunction with the Interact dailylesson plans. These supplemental lessons enhance various Interact lesson plans by addingthe technology component. The Interact lessons were determined to be of high quality interms of content; they just lacked the innovative technology necessary to make theprogram more current and up to date. The project was designed to address all of theseobjectives and more. Students should find it relatively easy to transition from thetraditional classroom environment to the project-based learning classroom. It is hopedthat student participation, especially with the historically low-achieving students,increases significantly, and overall student engagement improves. The project implementation should be relatively smooth, but challenges are boundto surface. One significant obstacle that could arise is the acquisition of the technologynecessary to be able to integrate Digital Storytelling into the curriculum, especiallyduring a time when school districts are cutting back in many areas. The school district,other teachers and parents aren’t expected to be obstacles, but it is fair to say that therewill be a number of skeptics along the way who won’t be convinced that this newteaching method will work, and feel that project-based learning is too new and untested.It is hoped that these skeptics will also be open-minded, and will see the positiveinfluence the new teaching methods have on the students.Proposed Audience, Procedures & Implementation Timeline The primary audience for this project includes the teacher and students of a 4thgrade Social Studies class. Secondary audiences include the students and teachers ofother 4th grade classes not participating in project-based learning.
The procedures related to the project were developed as an expansion of acurriculum that was previously tested in a 4th grade classroom. The introduction andintegration of a Gold Rush simulation into the Social Studies curriculum proved to bevery effective; however, it didn’t include a technology component. The results of thisproject added steps to the Interact Gold Rush Simulation, and included a project scheduleand timeline, and a project evaluation process. At J.H. Elementary it is expected that the project timeline would start in March ofeach year when the California curriculum standards concerning the Gold Rush areaddressed. This timing allows the formal project to be introduced into the Social Studiescurriculum focused on the California Gold Rush, prior to the student’s spring field trip toColoma, California where gold was first discovered in California. This schedule willprovide adequate time for the students to experience the Gold Rush through the use ofDigital Storytelling, so that when they visit Coloma, they can better relate to what theyexperience.Evaluation of the Project The evaluation of the project was designed to be two-fold. The first step of theevaluation was focused on the initial project objectives to determine if each projectobjective was met and the effectiveness of each. Participating teachers will be asked tocomplete a survey that will address the objectives and effectiveness of the newlydesigned curriculum, and will also be asked to provide comments and recommendationsthat will assist in any re-design efforts. A blog site will also be established to capturefeedback, lessons learned and miscellaneous feedback from teachers.
The second step of the process focuses on the performance of the studentsthemselves. One part of the student performance evaluation compares actual test scoresand grades achieved in the project-based learning class, with Social Studies scores andgrades achieved by the students when they were taught with the more traditional teachingmethods. In order to compare to another control group, the standardized test scores of thestudents in the project-based learning classroom are compared to 4th grade students in theother classes that are not involved in the project.Another, less objective assessment of the project focuses on the overall participation andengagement of the students involved in the project, and their opinions related to the newteaching method. Lessons learned during the project evaluation should be used to modify theproject for future users. Informal project surveys were developed for students andteachers involved in the project, and their feedback should be incorporated into futuremodifications of the curriculum.Limitations of the Project It is recognized that there are some limitations with the project and with theevaluation of the project. One such limitation could be the differences in styles ofteachers involved in the project, and those with whom they are being compared. It ispossible that any improvement in student performance could be attributed to the style ofthe teacher, rather than the method of teaching. This must be taken into considerationwhile conducting the project evaluation at the conclusion of the project. Another limitation is the support that the school and other 4th grade teachersprovide during this project. If they are not open-minded, it could jeopardize the success
of the project. It will be imperative to get a commitment early on from the school andteachers so that they become supportive participants in the project, rather than skeptics orobstructionist. Based on the results of the project evaluation, the project-based learningcurriculum can be expanded to other classrooms/teachers, and to additional subjects otherthan just Social Studies. The key to future expansion is the success of the initial projectand the credibility of the evaluation. The project handbook can be used as a step-by-stepimplementation guide for teachers to introduce and utilize project-based learning for theirstudents.Conclusion This project demonstrated not only a need for project-based learning, but also thebenefits this teaching style can offer students. Research studies, pilot tests, and literatureall indicate that this teaching method results in students who are more excited aboutlearning, are more engaged in their classroom’s lessons and curriculum, and are moresuccessful with respect to individual performance. Students respond differently todifferent teaching methods, and the traditional teacher lecture style does not always reachall students. All too often, low-achieving students are left behind, while high achievingstudents become bored. In any event, many students are not given the opportunity torealize their full potential. The interactive and multi-media methods integrated into theproject-based learning approach offer something for every student, and allow students tobecome more involved. The curriculum design proves to be a valuable process. Thisproject will hopefully influence other teachers and convince them to introduce project-based learning with integrated technology to their students. As participation with this
teaching method expands, and additional success is realized, it is very likely that project-based learning will be the norm, rather than the exception for schools throughout thecountry.