CHAPTER III – PROJECT DEVELOPMENT Project-based learning in the elementary classroom is a non-traditional, yetcreative method for teaching students, particularly those students who have found thetraditional methods to be challenging with respect to their learning experience. Theclassroom environment changes with project-based learning, in that the studentsthemselves become much more engaged in the learning process. It is essentially astudent-driven process, where the teacher acts more as a moderator and facilitator,allowing students to have input into the specific curriculum. In the traditional classroom,the teacher stands in front of the students and essentially lectures the students and asksquestions to ensure they comprehend the subject matter. For the most part, the discussionis one-sided, with the teacher dominating the time. In a project-based classroom, both theteacher and the students have active roles, and the students help shape what happens intheir classroom. Project-based learning also takes into account the various learning styles andpreferences of students, and recognizes that many students are not able to thrive andrealize success with traditional styles of teaching. For those students who are more visuallearners, the project-based learning classroom, especially when technology is integratedinto the curriculum, can accommodate this, as well as those who prefer other teachingstyles. In other words, project-based learning provides a much more flexible classroomlearning environment, addressing the needs of all students, rather than only those whocan adapt to traditional teaching methods. Another benefit of project-based learning is that it links what students are beingtaught in the classroom with things that are familiar to them in their world outside of the
classroom. Student comprehension is greater because it’s easier for students to relate towhat they are learning; it makes it more real for them. Students also learn more as agroup as opposed to independently in the traditional classroom. This group learningapproach makes it more comfortable for students to ask questions and collaborate withother students in areas they find most challenging. Finally, the results of project-based learning have been impressive. Some studieshave shown that students who are taught in a project- based learning environment,achieved higher scores in standardized tests. In addition, tests have shown that studentsretain what they’re taught at a higher rate when the project-based learning method isused. There is a tremendous amount of literature written on project-based learning.Some of this literature suggests that learning should be a more social experience andshould be more hands-on than traditional methods offer (Doppelt, 2003). It also arguesthat the classroom curriculum should incorporate past, real experiences of the studentsinto the lesson plan, because connecting what they’re learning to these experiencesincreases retention and enhances the overall learning experience (Edwards & Mercer,1987). Jean Piaget, a twentieth century psychologist, believed in the importance ofinteractive learning, and that children’s understanding is shaped through interactionsbetween people over time in relation to the real world. At different stages in their lives,children have different interests. It is therefore important for the teacher to developlesson plans that recognize and address these stages. The argument also indicates thatpeople cannot be lectured on a subject or given information, and be expected to
understand it; they need to be able to relate to the information and connect it to theirexperiences (Doppelt, 2003). Research also indicates that project-based learning is particularly effective forhistorically low-achieving students. Since all students are expected to participate indecisions that directly impact the curriculum, they feel more accountable for making itsuccessful, and they take more ownership with the lessons. This sense of ownershiphelps lower-achieving students feel more comfortable and confident in the classroom andwith their classmates. The increased level of confidence leads to a higher level ofengagement and consequently, higher levels of performance. Experts seem to have different opinions regarding the specific or exact role of theteacher in the project-based learning classroom, but they all agree that the teacher mustwork to customize the curriculum to the students in his/her class in order to increase thelikelihood of the students connecting the lesson to other things they are already familiarwith. The use of technology in the classroom is one effective method that teachers canutilize for this customization effort. Digital Storytelling and Multimedia are just twoexamples of technology that replace the traditional lecture teaching methods, leading to amore exciting, creative and enriching experience for all students. There is certainly enough research and actual studies that demonstrate theeffectiveness of Project-Based Learning. Implementation of this method will not comewithout challenges; however, the benefits for both students and teachers appear to besignificant.Background and Project Development
The traditional teaching methods seem to work well with most students, but alltoo often these methods appear to leave too many students behind, or at a minimum,many students are not able to achieve their full potential with respect to learning andpreparing themselves for future educational challenges. Project-based learning engagesall students in the classroom by getting them involved in the design of the curriculum,adding a more interactive approach to lesson plans, and helping students connect whatthey are learning to things they are already familiar with. It also seems to create a morestimulating and fun learning environment for students, which can result in a higher levelof learning. There are various ways to implement project-based learning in theclassroom, including those that introduce new technology to the students; technology thatleads to a more interactive approach. Digital Storytelling is one of the methods that canbe very effective in teaching Social Studies to elementary school students, because it hasthe potential of reaching students with different teaching/learning preferences. Thosestudents who thrive in the traditional classroom setting will appreciate the DigitalStorytelling technology, because it will likely be seen as another tool that teachers cannow use; similar to when teachers moved from using strictly textbooks, to a combinationof textbooks and videos. Visual learners will very much appreciate this technologybecause they will not only be able to see what the teacher is referring to during the lesson,but they will also be able to interact with it. In addition to addressing the learning preferences of the students, DigitalStorytelling also increases the flexibility a teacher has during the year, assisting themwith fairly structured curriculums. For example, the 4th grade curriculum schedulerequires teachers to cover the California Gold Rush during a certain time of the year. If
there is a scheduled field trip to an historic Gold Rush site prior to the Gold Rush unitbeing taught, the students would benefit from advanced education, history andbackground prior to the field trip. Digital Storytelling will assist with this because itallows the class to virtually visit locations like California Gold Rush sites at times thatare more convenient, and more closely linked to the curriculum. Project-Based Learning will be a tremendous enhancement to the learningenvironment for the students, and will result in a higher level of performance for theentire class.Components of the Project The research and literature related to the subject of project-based learningemphasized that PBL can be an engaging new method for elementary school students.Many studies indicated that student engagement and performance were shown to behigher across the board for students, and those students found the classroom environmentto be much more enjoyable and enriching (Dresden & Lee, 2007). Selecting and integrating technology into an established project-based learningclassroom is not as easy as simply introducing the new technology to the students withthe hopes that it will improve their overall learning experience. The lack of thoughtfuland careful integration into the classroom appears to be one of the reasons why digitaltechnology has not caught on in education, when compared to the business world. PunyaMishra and Koehler (2006) provide some insight in their research and argue that all toooften teachers tend to only look at the technology and not how it should be appropriatelyused in the classroom. They discuss the merits of a conceptual framework foreducational technology by building on Shulman’s formulation of pedagogical content
knowledge. This framework was developed by Shulman (1986) after years of researchfocused on the development of teachers in higher education. Shulman indicated that“pedagogy”, which is the study of being a teacher, or the process of teaching, is just asimportant as the course content. He argues that all too often teachers view the coursecontent and the pedagogy as mutually exclusive, yet he feels it’s critical that the two areconnected. This intersection, as Shulman describes it, “contains within it the mostregularly taught topics in one’s subject area, the most useful forms of representation ofthose ideas, the most powerful analogies, illustrations, examples, explanations, anddemonstrations – in a word, the ways of representing and formulating the subject thatmakes it comprehensible to others”. Mishra and Koehler admit that Shulman didn’t referdirectly to the integration of technology into this model, but they believe it was onlybecause of the timing of the research; technology and the availability of it was not nearlyas prevalent as it is today. Mishra and Koehler feel strongly that the pedagogical contentknowledge model needs to integrate not just content knowledge and pedagogicalknowledge, but technological knowledge as well. The intersection of these three, knownas technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK), is powerful, and “is the basis ofgood teaching with technology”. The authors conclude that “the TPCK framework canguide further research and curriculum development work in the area of teacher educationand teacher professional development around technology”. The objective of this project was to create a handbook that provides details onhow to effectively infuse technology into an existing Interact Gold Rush teaching unit toinclude: • Project implementation process
o Issues and Challenges o Project Controls o Project Results o Lessons Learned • Project Evaluation 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. The research and literature contributed to the formation of product to meet theseobjectives. For example, Dresden and Lee (2007) explained how project-based learningwas used in one 1st grade classroom, and student performance of the experimental groupwas compared to another 1st grade classroom that used a more traditional teachingmethod. The results showed that the project-based learning students performed at ahigher level than the students in the traditional classroom. This type of controlled-group
study provided a model for this project and was very useful in designing the 4th gradeSocial Study project. A study conducted by students at the University of Connecticut and HarvardUniversity (Ioannuou, Brown, & Gehlbach, 2007) explained how students in K-12 oftenhave negative attitudes towards their Social Studies classes, indicating that the classeswere boring and didn’t relate to their lives or the world they live in. After the authorsintroduced Multimedia into the curriculum (use of maps, graphics, animation, videos,etc.), the students performed at a higher level than they did before (and higher than acontrol group). The experimental group showed statistically significant higher scores onSocial Studies tests. The authors concluded that the overall experience of the studentswas enhanced and their attitude related to the subject of Social Studies was much morepositive. This study assisted with the design of the Digital Storytelling technologyapproach to 4th grade Social Studies curriculum and provided guidance on the evaluationplan to determine the effectiveness of this new teaching method.Methodology and Project Design The project was targeted for a 4th grade Social Studies class. It was discussedwith the 4th grade teachers at a J.H. Elementary School, and they expressed interest inparticipating in any way that would result in a successful project. Ideas from theseteachers were solicited, and their input and ideas were incorporated into the final projectdesign. In addition, Digital Storytelling was experimented in a 1st grade classroom, andwas very useful. More importantly, students’ attention level and engagement wassignificantly increased. Project Design – Digital Storytelling was the methodology chosen to enhance the
existing project-based learning curriculum due to its interactive features and because itencourages students to not only increase their classroom participation, but allows them tobe much more creative in the way they think and learn. The existing project-basedlearning curriculum, which utilizes the Interact Gold Rush simulation, has increased theengagement of the students, but it lacks the utilization of technology which has thepotential to take learning to the next level. As mentioned earlier, Mishra’s and Koelhler’sresearch paper referred to the importance of a teacher’s Content Knowledge andPedagogical Knowledge, but they contended that the integration of TechnologicalKnowledge would lead to higher learning. They recognize, however, that often times theintroduction of new technology can be both challenging and threatening to some teachers:“Though not all teachers have embraced these new technologies for a range of reasons,including a fear of change and lack of time and support – the fact that these technologiesare here to stay cannot be doubted.” (page 1023). For those teachers who are willing toconsider the adoption of state of the art technology in their curriculums and classrooms,they can expect to find it enriching to both the students and themselves. Potential Issues and Challenges - Project-based learning can be difficult toimplement as a new and relatively inexperienced teacher because the expectation is thatmultiple subjects will be integrated into a single inquiry. Therefore, it is important forthe teacher to feel comfortable with the subject matter. Effective time management isanother challenge because at first glance, project-based learning might appear to be verytime consuming to just get through one inquiry. Finally, since the traditional gradingsystem doesn’t apply neatly to project-based learning, a new and innovative studentassessment/evaluation process must be developed to measure the progress and
performance of students. Evaluation of Project Results – Since this project was completed at a time whenit could not be implemented during the school year, it is recommended that evaluation ofthe project be accomplished by comparing the historical performance of individualstudents and their level of engagement prior to and after participating in the project-basedlearning environment. It is quite possible that a control group could be established toassist in the project evaluation. Ideally this control group would be a separate 4th gradeclass that uses the traditional teaching methods. A final report comparing the data onstudent performance should be completed and shared not only with 4th grade teachers, butalso with other teachers of all grades, so that they have an opportunity to assess theresults and decide whether project-based learning, enhanced by digital storytelling wouldbe appropriate for their students. Examination of the project-based learningimplementation process and its effect upon students and learning should include: • Identify and document any challenges and obstacles related to the implementation of Project-Based Learning (PBL) in a 4th grade classroom. • Observe 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.Lessons Learned – During the initial implementation of Digital Storytelling in a project-based learning curriculum, there undoubtedly will be lessons learned along the way.
Lessons learned will be solicited from both students and teachers, and their feedback willbe captured and considered as the curriculum is modified and improved for future users.Evaluation Tools/Forms- The assessment rubrics (see Appendix A) created for thisproject will address the three main evaluation goals stated previously. Teacher andstudent feedback will be solicited through the use of separate surveys that will captureboth the positive and negative aspects of the overall project. In addition, a teacher’s blogsite will be established to capture lessons learned and other miscellaneous feedback.Student performance will be measured through the use of both self evaluation forms aswell as assessment rubrics, which will be included in the project handbook.SUMMARY: Project-based learning has proven to be an attractive alternative to traditionalteaching methods, and the introduction and integration of technology into the project-based learning curriculum has great potential to enrich the learning experience of both thestudents and the teacher. Technological Knowledge, Pedagogy Knowledge and ContentKnowledge, when combined, accepted and offered by the teacher, can create a learningenvironment that increases the creativity and confidence of the students. In addition,research and studies have demonstrated that this new approach to teaching also leads toimpressive and higher levels of overall performance. The flexibility that project-basedlearning provides, especially with technology, will also assist teachers as they work witha rather structured curriculum schedule. The results of the research studies alreadycompleted will assist greatly with the expansion of the existing project-based learningcurriculum of the 4th grade Social Studies class, including the introduction of DigitalStorytelling.