Saturday, 23 February 2013

Project-based learning, for me and you

By Amit Jain

Project-based learning (PBL) has been an especially resilient trend in the world of education – and it’s one that has directly impacted my educational experience. As a college student, I took an incredible course that combined a study of philanthropic giving with a once-in-a-lifetime project-based experience. Students were divided into teams of six, given an issue area to research, and tasked with issuing a request for proposal  (RFP) for a real $15,000 grant to local organizations in the field.

To say this was a privilege would be a massive understatement. Although the challenge was daunting, I couldn’t have been happier with the result. We targeted our RFP towards programs that engaged English language learning parents and their children in shared literacy classes to promote preschool success. Last October, our team received a progress report from the local literacy initiative that had won our grant. We were pleased to find that our grant had funded six months of literacy classes for 24 parents and children; 59% of adult attendees improved their reading skills by two or more levels, and every child entered kindergarten in the fall.

The project helped me develop valuable professional skills, but the course’s true rewards ran far deeper. I began considering new initiatives with a constant eye towards sustainability of impact; I wrote job and grant applications with a far better understanding of the reviewer’s perspective; and I learned how to build consensus on teams of diverse individuals. After graduation, while on a political campaign in Florida, I used many of the same tactics to motivate my volunteers that our leading grant applicants had used to inspire us.

My experience with the course left no doubt in my mind that PBL has potential, especially when projects are tied to real-world problems. Many educators and policy leaders agree: over the past decade, organizations from Citizen Schools to Educurious and more have integrated PBL at every learning level. I’m currently learning to teach, and as my fellow K-12 educators and I navigate a complex framework of standards and assessments, I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for the challenges of curriculum development. Still, I look forward to integrating community-based projects in my classes next year, knowing how engaged students can be when they see the impact of their learning firsthand.

In the meantime, the lifelong learner in me is itching to take another real-world, project-based course – and thanks to Coursolve, I don’t have to wait long at all. Coursolve has partnered with “Foundations of Business Strategy”, a six-week long massively open online course through the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, to offer students the opportunity to analyze the business strategies of real organizations. Since the course starts on March 4, there’s still time to sign up – there are no prerequisites and no cost of entry, so there’s absolutely no risk.

Join me and over 52,000 other students who have already opted in. Let’s learn, enjoy, and see what our minds can accomplish.

Amit Jain is an associate teacher for middle school math & science at the Edward Brooke Charter School in Boston, MA. He graduated from Brown University in May 2012 with a degree in Political Science and Economics.

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