Connecting Content to the Real World with Project-Based Learning

by Erin Dye

connect to the world with project-based learning

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Project-based learning has become an important alternative to more traditional methods of instruction and for good reason. It addresses the looming question many students have about what they learn in the classroom: Why do we need to know this? Not only does project-based learning help connect class content to the real world but it also helps students develop the skills they will need to operate in the real world—critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, and time management, among others. An effective project ideally should include the following:

  1. A Compelling Question. Think about what topics or issues actually interest or affect your students and how you can address that in your classroom. Come up with a creative way to introduce the driving question to your students. TECH TOOLS: Consider using Newsela to introduce a current issue, Google Earth to explore a location, or Prezi to create your own presentation that introduces the topic or issue.
  1. An Appropriate Timeline. Creating a project—instead of a simple assignment—means considering the amount of time your students will need to really develop their knowledge and skills as they work to address the question. A meaningful project will allow students enough time to really understand the driving question and develop an appropriate product to address it. TECH TOOLS: To help your students stay on track during the project, create a Google Calendar to share with them. You might also have students use an app to manage the tasks they must complete during different stages of the project.
  1. Clear Guidelines for Assessment. Because project-based learning includes activities that are less structured than those you might use with more traditional instruction, students need to understand how their progress will be assessed. Rubrics work well as a way of outlining your expectations for students at different stages of the project.TECH TOOLS: Use Google Drive to create and share a rubric with your students so that they can easily review how their performance will be measured during any stage of the project.
  1. A Final Product or Products. Because project-based learning is all about real-world use of class content, it’s important to give your students something to do that isn’t just dressed-up busywork. Think about what your students can create to help address the driving question for the project, and be flexible about what students can produce; allow them the space to think critically about how to address the question and use their creativity to develop a product. TECH TOOLS: The possibilities here are endless! Depending on the skill level of your students, you could have them create a podcast using PodOmatic, a blog using Blogger or Weebly, a video using iMovie, an electronic book using iBooks Author, or a presentation using Prezi or PowToon.       
  1. An Opportunity to Share the Product(s). Providing students with an opportunity to share one or more of the products of the project is an important way of reinforcing the project’s connection to the real world.  Whenever possible, have your students present their product(s) to an authentic audience—one that would likely see or use their products in the real world. TECH TOOLS: If your students’ final product is a performance, presentation, or address, they could share it with an otherwise inaccessible audience via Skype, Google Hangout, or other videoconferencing application.

Whatever project you develop for your students, choose tech tools that you think will both enhance the project—the process, the product(s), or both—and be easy for your students to use. Come back and let us know which tools worked best with your project and your students! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAErin Dye is Manager of Consulting Services for Green Light Professional Development and a Google Certified Educator. She has extensive experience creating digital materials for interactive whiteboards and iPads. She writes about technology integration and GLPD’s work in local schools.

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