What is Project Based Learning?
Project Based Learning is not new in education. In fact, it has become quite the referenced buzz term. The question we are investigating in this article is how young should it be implemented. My answer is, AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE! The research supports my opinion.
Project Based Learning (PBL) can also be referred to as Applied Learning projects. This is simply when students connect school work to the real world and direct their own learning. Most studies about early childhood education with a project based learning approach show positive results. Let’s take a minute to look at what the research actually says about it and then we will move into discussing some great ways to implement it in your classroom.
What does the research say about Project Based Learning and young learners?
A study titled, Project Based Learning in Practice, showed that PBL had a lot of potential to enhance 21st century skills and engage students in real-world tasks. There is evidence that PBL is beneficial both for teachers and students. One of their key notations within this study was that research showed that teachers’ understanding of the criteria for effective PBL plays an essential role in how teachers implement PBL, thereby also affecting students’ content understanding and developing skills. In relation to STEM (Science, Technology, Education, Math) education, it has been shown that when PBL is implemented and instructed properly by teachers, students learn more.
This study illustrates precisely what I say, that STEM and PBL go hand in hand in order to achieve optimal learning.
Thus, the distinctive feature of PBL is problem orientation, that is, the idea that a problem or question serves to drive learning activities. The study went on to state: “Learning responsibility, goal setting, independence, and discipline are outcomes of PBL. It promotes social learning as children practice and become proficient with the twenty first-century skills of communication, negotiation, and collaboration. The element of choice is crucial for students’ success.”
True PBL links subject matter disciplines and presents an expanded, rather than narrow, view of the subject matter.
Also, projects are adaptable to different types of learners and learning situations. Some studies of PBL report unintended, beneficial consequences associated with PBL experiences. Among these consequences are enhanced professionalism and collaboration on the part of teachers and increased attendance, self-reliance, and improved attitudes towards learning on the part of students (Thomas, 2010).
Common barriers to implementing PBL effectively include teachers’ resistance to student-driven learning because they often see this as giving up control of the class. This is typically the ONLY resistance I see or hear. It is often disguised by some other excuse but once investigated boils down to teacher control issues.
Social development is an important factor in childhood development, especially in society. This study by Niken Farida, in Indonesia, illustrates results that the project-based learning approach can significantly improve social development and that students become more active in the classroom when using a project-based learning approach. Further results showed that the project-based learning approach was not only used to stimulate the cognitive side but also stimulated social development in early childhood education.
More research related to Project Based Learning and young learners…
An independent study done by Margaret Holm regarding the effectiveness of project-based instruction in preschool, elementary, and secondary school classroom settings, found PBL to be an effective means of teaching both content information and related skills. This study observed data on classrooms from PreK to 12th. Numerous PreK classrooms were included in the study. Specifically, they focused on the comparative effects of project-based instruction versus traditional instruction on early concept development in preschool children. Project-based instruction was found to result in greater developmental growth in language and concept development than traditional instruction. This study also examined students’ opinions of PBL. Students reported enjoying the active, hands-on approach to content, as well as improved perceptions of the subject matter. It proved to foster a greater level of student engagement with the subject matter. We all know how important student engagement is.
Another study, highlighted in the International Journal of Primary, Elementary, and Early Years Education, discusses the effectiveness of PBL on primary school students. It focused on their content knowledge and attitudes towards self-efficacy, task value, group work, teaching methods applied, and peers from diverse ethnic backgrounds. A cross-curricular project was implemented within the curriculum area of environmental studies under the title of ‘sea animals’. This study’s results showed that students gain benefits through PBL in obtaining content knowledge and group work skills and that they became less favorable to traditional teaching versus experiential learning. Motivation (self-efficacy and task value in terms of environmental studies) and developing positive attitudes towards peers from a different ethnic background also showed improvement after the project.
A case study illustrating how PBL turned a school into a a world leader.
There is a book, Teaching Young Learners in a Superdiverse World: Multimodal Approaches and Perspectives, that I love. It relates to PBL and school climate. The research in Teaching Young Learners in a Superdiverse World: Multimodal Approaches and Perspectives makes it clear that project based teaching works, when done correctly. Also, multimodal teaching and learning is a key part of PBL.
In the book, they describe how a high needs, inner-city school was developed into a world leader using the teaching strategies and collaborative efforts illustrated. The strategies and efforts are centered around and founded in PBL. This book illustrates every aspect of what Kerri and I preach about how learning environments should operate. It also proves that these methods work!
Resources for implementing PBL with Young Learners
Now that we have shown that PBL works, based on the research, let’s move into discussing some great ways to implement it in your classroom. We have been on a bit of a research mission ourselves these last few months. Our goal was to seek out some great products and programs for young learners that teachers could easily implement. If you know me, I’m not what I call “a littles teacher.” I like my 3rd grade and up kids. However, I know that many of them don’t have the foundation they need when they get to me. I have also experienced that many of the younger grade teachers are also the ones that are more opposed to technology and PBL. They feel they must keep more control due to the students’ ages. So, Kerri and I wanted to dive into your concerns while investigating PBL and find out what was available that REALLY WORKED for younger students & their teachers.
We found some excellent resources for you guys! I am so excited to share our findings with you.
Let’s dive into them. Please note that they aren’t in any particular order. The important thing is to find which one(s) work best for you and your students and make sure to implement them and PBL!
Making sure that guidance was offered was a key focus during our research and vetting process. We didn’t want to send you down a new path without a direction. So we made sure to focus on products that offer this guidance and assistance.
Our New Resources
Chess4Life is an excellent resource and they have a program specifically designed for early learners. I know what you are thinking. Chess for little ones, they have lost their minds! We haven’t, I promise. I actually had a very similar reaction at first. After looking into this program deeper, I was blown away.
Chess4Life’s Early Learning Chess Program offers age-appropriate fun activities designed for 3,4, and 5 year old’s that help build and reinforce basic math, language, social-emotional skills, and other key concepts that align with state and national Kindergarten Readiness objectives.
Training and tools have been developed in their ‘train the trainer’ model that empowers current teachers with zero background in chess to successfully implement the tools. This program includes training and support, site access to tools and curriculum, family engagement resources, and videos for classroom & at-home use. It truly offers a ready to teach package right out of the gate.
The value of chess as a tool for education and social benefits was first recognized by Benjamin Franklin in 1786. The International Chess Federation highlights the benefits of chess in this flyer, if you want to check out more for yourself. The Chess4Life’s Early Learning Chess Program was developed with the guidance of an educator. Check out this news article and the video below related to the program that let you see what others have to say about it.
Expanding student vocabulary, math skills, social skills, and computational thinking skills is what Chess4Life’s Early Learning Chess Program is all about. Learn more about it HERE. I promise that you will be just as blown away as we were.
Our next discovery is the KinderLabs’ KIBO robot. KIBO starts the youngest children on a pathway of creative coding and robotics. This robot embraces coding and PBL from a screen free approach. Young children learn by doing as they playfully discover STEAM concepts by coding with wooden building blocks, creating sequences, and learning design processes. With KIBO, kids are learning invaluable skills in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM).
This bot is backed by TONS of research, 20 years of it to be precise! KIBO was developed by Dr. Marina Bers. It is based on years of research in early childhood development from Tufts University, including testing with thousands of children and teachers. KIBO has proven efficacy in helping kids learn STEAM. The research proves that KIBO improves students’ sequencing ability, computational thinking skills, and has a positive impact on underrepresented groups in STEM fields.
KIBO was featured in the news segment below,“Children use building blocks to learn how to code“! You can see the screen-free, fun and educational KIBO robot in action in a classroom at the McKendree Elementary School in Lawrenceville, GA. When children code with KIBO they are learning invaluable skills that will lead them on the path to success in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) skills, and future careers. As they learn all these coding skills, they will think it is just play!
Guidance for using this great little bot isn’t in short supply. KinderLabs offers tons of curriculum resources and teaching materials to ensure that you have all the tools you need to implement KIBO as soon as he arrives!
Learn more about KIBO or purchase your kit HERE. In addition, we have developed a great resource to help you get started and discover more about KIBO on our Tech Coach KIBO Playbook. Be sure to use our coupon code EDGEKIBO21 to ensure that you get the most out of your purchase. Be on the lookout for our KIBO video review that is coming soon!
Our Continued Favorites
As we are discussing early education tools we want to be sure and include the resources that we have previously discovered and vetted so we thoroughly cover all of your options.
Bee-Bot and Blue-Bot
Bee-Bot and Blue-Bot are tried and true standing favorites of ours. These bot are engaging classroom robots for early-age kids to learn STEM with a variety of cross-curricular activates. We discuss these two bots together because they are very similar. Bee-Bot is the less sophisticated of the two, while Blu-Bot is slightly more technical and offers bluetooth capabilities. These robots teach students ages 3+ about controls, directions, algorithms, sequencing, estimation and basic programming. These are perfect first robots for kids to get familiar with the rudiments of robotics & robot components itself.
Terrapin, the maker of Bee-Bot and Blue-Bot, don’t offer many teaching or curriculum resources although there are many to be found on platforms such as TeachersPayTeachers and YouTube. You can also check out our Bee-Bot Tech Coach Playbook for lots of free resources.
Another award winning favorite of ours is Cubelets. Fuel curiosity and computational thinking with Cubelets‚® robot blocks. Cubelets are made by Modular Robotics in Boulder, Colorado, USA. They are like building blocks but smarter! Students combine Sense, Think and Act Cubelets to create simple reconfigurable robots that exhibit surprisingly complex behavior.
Cubelets is an award winning, teacher trusted STEM tool. STEM Teacher, Beth Spearman discusses Cubelets, her “ABSOLUTE FAVORITE DEVICE” in her STEM lab and describes how it works in the video below.
Learn more about Cubelets or purchase HERE.
Last but surely not least, we want to discuss 3DuxDesigns. 3DuxDesign is an educational modeling system that integrates STEM education with art and design. It includes lessons and monthly design challenges that offer a fun and engaging platform to inspire students to imagine, design and build solutions to real world problems. It comes with high interest lesson plans that blend creative thinking with STEM subjects and is Common core and NGSS aligned.
3DuxDesign is an award winning architectural modeling system that is run by a former pediatrician, Marci Klein. Marci knows a bit about early development skills and what is necessary for children to properly develop them. With focus on physics, geometry, architecture, problem solving, fine motor, and complex spatial thinking, 3Dux is one tool that I have used for years and recommend every classroom have and utilize – not just younger grades.
Learn more about this fabulous product or select your kit to purchase HERE. We have negotiated a 5% discount for EDGEucating customers, which is applied when you use our link on our products page link above.
As I started out saying, at the beginning of this article, PBL is a MUST in every classroom and the earlier it gets started the better the results will be for students, teachers, and our future world. So I strongly encourage you to check out these resources that we mention and pick the ones that fight your classroom and students best and share your choice with us in the comments below. We would love to hear about your favorite.
Once you have made your choice there is nothing left but to GET STARTED! Happy PBL!