EARLI 2009: PBL & Learning Communities


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EARLI 2009: PBL & Learning Communities

  1. 1. Does Project Based Learning Help Foster Communities of Learners in Small US High Schools? European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction. Amsterdam, NL Jason Ravitz Research Director Buck Institute for Education [email_address] www.bie.org
  2. 2. What is Project Based Learning (PBL)? <ul><li>PBL is an approach to instruction that </li></ul><ul><li>organizes learning around projects, defined </li></ul><ul><li>as “complex tasks, based on challenging </li></ul><ul><li>questions or problems, that involve students </li></ul><ul><li>in design, problem-solving, decision making, </li></ul><ul><li>or investigative activities; give students the </li></ul><ul><li>opportunity to work relatively autonomously </li></ul><ul><li>over extended periods of time; and culminate </li></ul><ul><li>in realistic products or presentations.” </li></ul><ul><li>(Thomas, 2000) </li></ul>
  3. 3. What the Literature Says about PBL Effectiveness <ul><li>Research notes that effective use of P BL can help:   </li></ul><ul><li>Increase academic achievement (including test scores) and retention of knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Facilitate knowledge application and deep understanding of content </li></ul><ul><li>Prepare students for future learning and mastery of 21st-century skills. </li></ul><ul><li>I ncrease student motivation, positive attitudes toward subject matter, and engagement in learning.   </li></ul><ul><li>Be especially effective with lower-achieving students. </li></ul>
  4. 4. What the Literature Says about Learning Communities <ul><li>Ann Brown (1997): effective learning communities focus on creating classrooms that support instructional practices (like reciprocal teaching) in which children “learn to think deeply about serious matters” </li></ul><ul><li>Perin (2003): changing instructional practice toward a more project oriented, interdisciplinary, and student centered approach can help foster the presence of successful learning communities </li></ul><ul><li>Felner, et al., (2007) : The central focus must be “the creation of conditions that engage students, support learning, and enhance development” (pp. 209-210). In effective LCs, student learning is interpersonal and takes place between students and teachers, and among peers. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Such an interpersonal approach is embedded within the PBL model </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. What the Literature Says about Learning Communities <ul><li>Leonard and Leonard (2001): “moral communities that are democratic, professional, collaborative, learning communities” are built around “purposive relationship based on a need or desire to solve a problem, create, or discover something” (Leonard & Leonard, 2001) </li></ul><ul><li>Harada, Kirio, and Yamamoto (2008): PBL contributes significantly to teacher collaboration because project-focused teaching encourages multi-disciplinary approaches to learning. </li></ul><ul><li>Supovitz & Christman (2005): Improved student learning requires a focus on the core relationships between teacher, student and content </li></ul>
  6. 6. Our “Theory”- An Instructional Focus is Key <ul><li>Often, “learning communities” literature only minimally focuses on actual instructional practices. Some definitions of learning community are void of the word instruction (e.g., DuFour and Eaker, 1998) </li></ul><ul><li>Instructional reform is consistently a weak link in the small school reform movement </li></ul><ul><li>Instruction should to be integrated in the definition of learning communities </li></ul><ul><li>PBL instruction is compatible with the goals of learning communities </li></ul><ul><li>Learning communities often involve aspects of PBL, like: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>relationship building and group collaboration in the classroom (between and among teachers and students) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>students to play the roles of “a critical thinker, a teacher, a learner, a peacemaker, a supporter, a facilitator, and a documenter” (Felner, et al., 2007) </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. National Survey Population <ul><li>Public high school teachers in US </li></ul><ul><li>Of “core” academic subjects </li></ul><ul><ul><li>math, science, social studies or English </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Invested in PBL </li></ul><ul><ul><li>through BIE materials or workshops…OR… </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>in a schools that invested in PBL </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>E.g., via partner organizations, bulk handbook purchases, or school-wide workshops </li></ul></ul></ul>School types: “ reform models” “start-ups” “ conversions” “large comprehensives”
  8. 8. Measures - PBL <ul><li>PBL: For the purposes of the survey, PBL* was defined as an approach to instruction involving </li></ul><ul><ul><li>extended student investigation, </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>in-depth inquiry into a topic, </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>some degree of student self-direction or choice, </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>presentation of findings, results or conclusions. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Time spent using PBL: In the academic course with the most PBL “For a typical student in this course, how much of their overall TIME was spent on project based learning?” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>1 = none or almost none, 2 = less than ¼, 3 = about ¼, 4 = about ½, 5 = about ¾, 6 = all or almost all). </li></ul></ul><ul><li>*PBL consistent (replaceable) with inquiry-based or problem-based </li></ul>
  9. 9. Measures - Climate <ul><li>Teacher Climate was assessed using four items that asked teachers how collaborative their working environment was (e.g., how often they “had regularly scheduled meetings that focused on instructional practices and students’ learning”). The index had a Cronbach’s alpha of .86 </li></ul><ul><li>Student Climate: seven items about how often students experienced personalized instruction (e.g., formed close mentoring relationships with teachers or met individually to reflect on their progress) or showed pro-learning attitudes (e.g., “encouraged and supported their peers as learners”). The combined index had a Cronbach’s alpha of .88 </li></ul><ul><li>Items were scored on a 0-4-point scale (0 = “never” 1 =”Rarely”, 2 = “sometimes”, 3 = “frequently”, 4 = “all the time”) </li></ul>
  10. 10. PBL Use by School Types Percent
  11. 11. Correlations of PBL to Student and Teacher Climate, by School Type Correlations to amount of PBL use Teacher climate Index (4 items, alpha=.86) Student climate Index (7 items, alpha=.88)
  12. 12. Teacher Culture in Reform Models & Startups Mean Z-Scores
  13. 13. Student Culture in Reform Models & Startups Mean Z-Scores
  14. 14. PBL Use Correlated to Student and Teacher Climate, by School Type Correlation with % of time spent on PBL Teacher climate Index (4 items, alpha=.86) Student climate Index (7 items, alpha=.88)
  15. 15. Summary of Findings <ul><li>PBL is used more frequently in the reform model networks and the small school start-ups </li></ul><ul><li>Learning community indicators are most frequently reported by teachers in reform model schools, followed by small school startups and then small school conversions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>- So, overall PBL and Culture measures were correlated </li></ul></ul>
  16. 16. Summary of Findings <ul><li>Teaching climate is less strongly related to PBL and easier to change </li></ul><ul><ul><li>E.g., the teacher climate index score was higher for small school start-ups than for the reform model schools. Correlations to PBL use were about .20 </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Student climate is more strongly related to PBL and harder to change </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Students giving their best effort, demonstrating a striving for in-depth knowledge, and making their own decisions about learning were reported more frequently in the reform model schools. Correlations to PBL use were closer to .40 </li></ul></ul>
  17. 17. Conclusions <ul><li>PBL thrives when teachers and students experience schools as learning communities </li></ul><ul><li>Conversely, teachers and schools who use the most PBL are more likely to realize the goals of learning communities for their students </li></ul><ul><li>Examples are provided to show that results may be independent of school type </li></ul>
  18. 18. Discussion <ul><li>The failure of the reform to infiltrate the overall culture of the school points to the need for an instructional focus that supports the culture of the schools </li></ul><ul><li>For teachers to collaborate they may need something meaningful to work on, that can inspire passion, an opportunity to reflect on and change their instruction. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>-An instructional model like PBL can help </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Instructional reforms, like PBL, may be the &quot;next&quot; step to realizing an authentic school-based learning communities </li></ul>